The Innocence Within
Thoughts are like seeds that take root in our minds. They spawn feelings and more thoughts that can have powerful consequences. In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, the views of the townspeople in the 1930’s Southern town of Maycomb greatly impact the lives of two innocent men. The people make false accusations against Tom Robinson and Arthur “Boo” Radley because they are different. These characters are representative of the author’s reoccurring symbol of the mockingbird, which signifies innocence, and subjects them to vulnerability. Tom Robinson and Boo Radley, although innocent, fall victim to the hatred of society and thus emerge as mockingbirds. Tom Robinson, is black man, who is wrongfully accused of raping a white woman; while Boo Radley is believed to be a criminal because of the rumors the townspeople say about him. Because these men do not fall into the norm, their lives are greatly affected by the thoughts and opinions of the townspeople.
The mockingbird is a powerful symbol that is repeatedly seen throughout the novel. The bird is representative of the innocence and susceptibility of certain characters. Shooting birds in Maycomb is a past time, and one day, while Jem is practicing his shot, Atticus reminds him, “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (103). A mockingbird is a harmless creature that does not harm anyone or anything. Atticus doesn't mind his children shooting blue jays because they are ordinary birds who cause problems, but he feels that mockingbirds are innocent creatures whose lives should be preserved; therefore, it would be a sin to kill a mockingbird. Tom Robinson and Boo Radley exemplify the mockingbird because they are peaceful people who have no intentions of evil. Yet they are “killed” both physically and emotionally by the false accusations of the town. Tom Robinson is wrongfully convicted of rape and eventually killed in prison, whereas Boo Radley is killed emotionally because he is not accepted by society. Since it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a sin to kill innocent souls like Tom and Boo. When Scout tries to understand why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, Miss Maudie elucidates Atticus’s opinion more clearly by stating, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy...They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (103). Mockingbirds sing and make beautiful music; however they mimic the songs of other birds, so they are seen through others. Tom and Boo are like mockingbirds because they are subject to the perceptions of the people of Maycomb. The townspeople knew these characters based on what others said about them. Consequently, Tom and Boo do not have their own “song” and are portrayed by others’ views of them. The mockingbird emerges as a metaphor for the wrong in harming innocent and defenseless people.