To kill a mockingbird essay mockingbird theme

To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 1

Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those classics that you just cannot skip. Everybody has to read it at least for school and write essays about it. Notably, the issues that the author tackles in the book are quite self-explanatory. Despite that, a lot of criticism has been written about it over the years, so when one writes one’s own To Kill a Mockingbird essay, one wonders what can make my essay stand out?

The fact is, when you are a student, nobody expects to find any groundbreaking findings in your essay, not on any subject. In case with this novel, a simple summary of To Kill a Mockingbird will do. Of course, you are writing about literature and not about hunting, so you will not be writing an actual how to kill a mockingbird summary. As we have mentioned, most likely, a simple demonstrative essay on To Kill a Mockingbird will suffice.

Writing a Summary of To Kill a Mockingbird

Essentially, any demonstrative essay about literature will be a To Kill a Mockingbird book summary. Depending on your school and your teacher, your task may be either to summarize the entire book in one essay or write separate essays summarizing each or some particular chapters. If the latter is the case, then you will probably have to answer the same To Kill a Mockingbird essay questions in every paper on every chapter about which you are writing. Let us take a look at what it may look like.

An example of To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 1 summary

First of all, we realize that the narrator of the story is a six-year-old girl named Jean Louise Finch or more commonly Scout. Same as most stories, this one starts with an exposition. Lee does, however, adds a little twist to it by stating that the events that our narrator is talking about eventually lead to her brother Jem, five years older than herself, having his arm broken.

We then discover that the events take place in the rural South in the times of the Great Depression namely, in a small town called Maycomb, Alabama, in 1933. The children’s father Atticus Finch was the first generation of Finches to move there from their family farm, Finch’s Landing, founded a few generations ago by the first Finch in America, to pursue a career in law.

After this crash course in family history, we cut to a summer day in 1993 when the siblings meet a boy named Dill who came to visit his aunt Miss Haverford, a next door neighbor of the Finches. The boy is very sociable and quickly becomes great friends with the siblings. They spend most of their time readings stories and re-enacting them but get bored eventually.

This is when Dill discovers a character named Boo Radley. Arthur “Boo” Radley lives in the shabby Radley Place. He is said to be criminally insane, but his family refused to have him institutioned, so instead, they just keep him in the house all the time. Dill gets so fascinated with this Boo character in general that he becomes obsessed with learning more about this whole story. One time, he comes up with a plan to lure Boo out of the house by challenging Jem to touch the Radley Place. Jem accepts the challenge, quickly runs up to the Radley Place’s doors, and then runs back even quicker. Dill’s plan doesn’t seem to work as the kids don’t notice anyone in the house reacting in any way. Scout does, however, see a slight move of the window shutter, as if someone was peeking, but she is not sure that she is not imagining it.

Addressing To Kill a Mockingbird racism essay prompts in Chapter 1 summary

Since racism is one of the central themes addressed in the novel, chances are that it will also be among your To Kill a Mockingbird essay prompts even if you are summarizing only the first Chapter. As you can see from our general To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 1 summary, the topic of racism is not touched. So how To Kill a Mockingbird summary of chapter 1 should mention racism? Well, the answer is fairly easy. Remember that the events take place in the rural South in the 1930s a time and place where racism was so widespread that it found its way into all spheres and levels of people’s lives. It is true that addressing racism when talking about Chapter 1 of this novel will have to be something of nitpicking, but there is material for that.

Among others, we get introduced to Calpurnia, a black woman who helps around the house in Finches’ household. We already see that despite the Finches are not very rich and slavery is already abolished in the 1930s, it is still not uncommon for a white household to hire help from the black community. This illustrates the economic gap between the white and black communities at that time and place. Later, Scout mentions to Dill that old Mr. Radley refused to have his son institutioned because he would not have “a Radley kept among some negroes,” thus asserting that even a criminally insane white man does not deserve such a “punishment’ as a constant company of black people. Calpurnia refers to old Mr. Radley as the meanest man to ever have lived, because she is sincerely disgusted at what he does to his son, implicating that this is one of the many cruelties specifically characteristic of white people. So, this is what you can mention if you are writing To Kill a Mockingbird racism essay on Chapter 1 of the novel.

Addressing To Kill a Mockingbird character analysis prompts in Chapter 1 summary

Another common essay prompt when you write an essay on literature is character analysis. An essay on To Kill a Mockingbird will be no exception, and character analysis will most likely be present among your To Kill a Mockingbird essay questions. It is, however, a much easier thing to write about than racism. Usually, your To Kill a Mockingbird essay prompts will be specific, and it will tell you on which character you should focus in your To Kill a Mockingbird character analysis. If you have already read the book, then it should be no challenge to you. For example, Jem is a polite boy and responsible elder brother, while Scout is a tomboy who often understands particular social norms. Dill is smaller than Scout in size, even though he is older, which tells us that he is not so much interested in physical activities as in conversations, stories, and imagination. He also seems exotic to other kids because he comes from the faraway land of Mississippi and, being aware of that, he exploits it and sparks their interest in him even more by telling them stories from his life which they cannot verify. As for adult characters, there is Calpurnia who hails from an entirely different background but accepts the norms of both communities, thus illustrating the duality of social behavior. As you can see, describing particular characters in your To Kill a Mockingbird book summary of Chapter 1 should not be any problem.

To Kill a Mockingbird

The Coexistence of Good and Evil

The most important theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is the book’s exploration of the moral nature of human beings—that is, whether people are essentially good or essentially evil. The novel approaches this question by dramatizing Scout and Jem’s transition from a perspective of childhood innocence, in which they assume that people are good because they have never seen evil, to a more adult perspective, in which they have confronted evil and must incorporate it into their understanding of the world. As a result of this portrayal of the transition from innocence to experience, one of the book’s important subthemes involves the threat that hatred, prejudice, and ignorance pose to the innocent: people such as Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are not prepared for the evil that they encounter, and, as a result, they are destroyed. Even Jem is victimized to an extent by his discovery of the evil of racism during and after the trial. Whereas Scout is able to maintain her basic faith in human nature despite Tom’s conviction, Jem’s faith in justice and in humanity is badly damaged, and he retreats into a state of disillusionment.

The moral voice of To Kill a Mockingbird is embodied by Atticus Finch, who is virtually unique in the novel in that he has experienced and understood evil without losing his faith in the human capacity for goodness. Atticus understands that, rather than being simply creatures of good or creatures of evil, most people have both good and bad qualities. The important thing is to appreciate the good qualities and understand the bad qualities by treating others with sympathy and trying to see life from their perspective. He tries to teach this ultimate moral lesson to Jem and Scout to show them that it is possible to live with conscience without losing hope or becoming cynical. In this way, Atticus is able to admire Mrs. Dubose’s courage even while deploring her racism. Scout’s progress as a character in the novel is defined by her gradual development toward understanding Atticus’s lessons, culminating when, in the final chapters, Scout at last sees Boo Radley as a human being. Her newfound ability to view the world from his perspective ensures that she will not become jaded as she loses her innocence.

The Importance of Moral Education

Because exploration of the novel’s larger moral questions takes place within the perspective of children, the education of children is necessarily involved in the development of all of the novel’s themes. In a sense, the plot of the story charts Scout’s moral education, and the theme of how children are educated—how they are taught to move from innocence to adulthood—recurs throughout the novel (at the end of the book, Scout even says that she has learned practically everything except algebra). This theme is explored most powerfully through the relationship between Atticus and his children, as he devotes himself to instilling a social conscience in Jem and Scout. The scenes at school provide a direct counterpoint to Atticus’s effective education of his children: Scout is frequently confronted with teachers who are either frustratingly unsympathetic to children’s needs or morally hypocritical. As is true of To Kill a Mockingbird’s other moral themes, the novel’s conclusion about education is that the most important lessons are those of sympathy and understanding, and that a sympathetic, understanding approach is the best way to teach these lessons. In this way, Atticus’s ability to put himself in his children’s shoes makes him an excellent teacher, while Miss Caroline’s rigid commitment to the educational techniques that she learned in college makes her ineffective and even dangerous.

The Existence of Social Inequality

Differences in social status are explored largely through the overcomplicated social hierarchy of Maycomb, the ins and outs of which constantly baffle the children. The relatively well-off Finches stand near the top of Maycomb’s social hierarchy, with most of the townspeople beneath them. Ignorant country farmers like the Cunninghams lie below the townspeople, and the white trash Ewells rest below the Cunninghams. But the black community in Maycomb, despite its abundance of admirable qualities, squats below even the Ewells, enabling Bob Ewell to make up for his own lack of importance by persecuting Tom Robinson. These rigid social divisions that make up so much of the adult world are revealed in the book to be both irrational and destructive. For example, Scout cannot understand why Aunt Alexandra refuses to let her consort with young Walter Cunningham. Lee uses the children’s perplexity at the unpleasant layering of Maycomb society to critique the role of class status and, ultimately, prejudice in human interaction.

Book Summary: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Introduction

This 281-page novel was written by Harper Lee, and a publication done in 1960 by J. B. Lippincott & Co in New York. It won a prize, the Pulitzer Prize, shortly afterward and has now become one of the best references to classic modern American literature.

The characterization and storyline are lightly influenced by the author’s childhood observations and memories of her neighborhood and family in Monroeville, Alabama. She relates the plot to the events that took place in her hometown at the age of 10 in 1936.

Harper Lee highlights how poverty cements the duplicitous nature of society’s race-based class system. She demonstrates how people who are caught up in the jumble of ignorance and poverty turn to racism to mask their shame and low self-esteem.

Characters

The following figures are some of the characters in the novel and are discussed as the main characters in this To Kill a Mockingbird book summary:

Jean Louise Finch (Scout): the protagonist and narrator of the novel. Scout comes to understand the goodness and the dark side of people.

Jeremy Finch (Jem): Scout’s older brother who appears as a protective figure. In his shadow, Scout’s youthful innocence is highlighted.

Atticus Finch: The proud, moral, and respected father, Scout’s father.

Tom Robinson: The accused but seemingly innocent rapist who is shot dead trying to escape prison.

Arthur “Boo” Radley: The neighbor who is clouded and hidden in mystery.

Casting Judgment

Judgment is a major theme in To Kill a Mockingbird. The two notable instances where judgment comes out are:

Scout’s burlesque towards “Boo” Radley till she, later on, discovers his kindness and bravery.

Most of the town’s citizens already had their minds made up that Tom Robinson was guilty of raping Ewell’s daughter, Mayella, contrary to the evidence that came out during the trial.

Symbolism of Mockingbird

The mockingbird is used to symbolize innocence in the novel. The symbolism is portrayed in the instances where the goodness and innocence of some characters were bruised and crushed. For instance, Jeremy and Scout’s innocence is lost; Tom Robinson is tried and convicted of rape despite him being innocent; Atticus almost had his goodness broken; Radley is viewed by both adults and children as being weird overlooking his kindness and bravery.

The story is told by the little six-year-old girl Jean Louise Finch nicknamed Scout. She is a rebellious girl who has tomboy tendencies.

The storyline is based in Maycomb, a small town in Alabama in the 1930s where Scout lives with her elder brother Jem, and her father, Atticus, who is widowed. They have a housekeeper named Calpurnia, who is a stern kind-hearted African-American. They also befriend Dill, a small boy who comes to visit and stay with his aunt every summer.

The timeline is placed during the depression where the status of her father as a respected and successful lawyer alleviates the Finch family from the harshness of the depression gripping the small town.

The two major themes in the novel are judgment and justice. Scout and her brother get to learn some crucial lessons about judging others through the character of Boo, the cryptic and solitary neighbor. Early in the story, the children mimic and mock Radley, but they, later on, come to experience his goodness.

The judgment theme is depicted in the circumstances that befell Tom Robinson, a poor African-American field attendant who is accused and put on trial for rape. He was charged with trying to rape a white woman Mayella Ewell. Atticus is appointed by Judge Taylor as Robinson’s defense against the disapproval of many of the town’s citizens. Despite the apparent evidence that proves Tom’s innocence, the jury convicts him. The racist nature of the white supremacy society places all odds against Tom.

After being humiliated in court, Bob Ewell sets out on a revenge mission against the Finch’s as he spits into Atticus’ face; he tries breaking into the Judge Taylor’s house; he menaces Robinson’s widow, and he later attacks Scout and her brother as they walk home at night. Boo comes to the rescue of the children where Jem is injured, a fight erupts, and Bob is killed.

The dominant element of style the author applies in To Kill a Mockingbird is storytelling. Her talent has been described in several reviews as “tactile brilliance.” She narrates her story in a visual and cinematographic fluid prose merging scene after scene without jolts of transition.

The narration style adopts two perspectives; one that of the young girl growing up in hardship and problematic era and that of a grown-up woman reflecting on her childhood memories. The method of narration applied allows the author to fuse the simplicity of childhood observations with the adulthood situations intricate with veiled motivations and unquestioned custom. By adopting a child’s perspective, the author efficiently applies satire, parody, and irony.

The novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been classified as both a Southern Gothic Bildungsroman. The weird and near-supernatural traits of Boo and the aspect of racial injustice concerning Tom Robinson underwrite the quality of the gothic in the novel.

Atticus Finch and the Legal Profession

One of the most profound effects To Kill a Mockingbird has had is to create a model of integrity for the legal profession in Atticus Finch’s characterization. Several practicing professionals have cited the influence Atticus had on their decisions to join law school or shaped their ideology during school days and afterward during practice.

Despite the heroic depictions, some critics have come up to maintain the assertion that his figure is irrelevant in the modern profession as he existed in a past era where racism and injustice were the order of the day. They draw their assumptions from the notion that he does not put his skills to use against the racist status quo in Maycomb.

A controversial earlier draft of the novel, which was titled Go Set a Watchman, was released on July 14, 2015. The draft was completed in 1957 and is set in a timeline 20 years after the time depicted in To Kill a Mockingbird. The plot is based on the adult Scout Finch who has traveled to Alabama from New York to visit her father. She is then confronted by the intolerance still existing in her society. The novel was intended to be the first in a trilogy with a smaller novel in between the two.

Conclusion

To Kill a Mockingbird was introduced in the classroom as early as 1963. It has been featured in several other lists that describe its impacts, for instance, it was voted as the “Best Novel of the 20 th Century” by readers of the Library Journal. It is placed in the fifth position on the list of Modern Library’s Readers List of the 100 Best Novels in the English language since 1900. This to kill a mockingbird summary is an insight of the general impacts the novel has had on the society.