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The American literature would have never been the same without the contribution of the worldly-famous Harper Lee. One of her greatest novels that was published back in 1960 and that also won a Pulitzer Prize is “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Sold in more than 30 million copies and translated in over 40 languages, this fictional novel is considered one of the best in the American literature. And even now, after so many years, the novel continues to enthral those reading it. The novel presents the story of a six-year-old girl nicknamed Scout, her older brother nicknamed Jem, and their widowed father named Atticus. The events take place during the Great Depression (1933-1935).
What makes this novel so highly appreciated is the way the author chooses to emphasize complex social, ethical, and moral issues, all in a simple narrating style. She tackles subjects such as injustice, racism, and oppression and exposes them in a manner that can be understood and recognized even by the youngest readers, as these examples are both naïve and simplistic. The combination of symbols and motifs present in this novel is the thing that makes it a moving and thoughtful sequence of events.
The theme that is the most present in the Harper Lee’s book is the permanent fight between good and evil. The first time this issue is brought forth is when the author discusses the changes that both Jem and his little sister Scout encounter when going from their childhood innocence to their adulthood experience. At first, they are of the opinion that all people they know are good, but this is because they haven’t met other people outside this setting. The moment they have to confront evil, their opinions with respect to the world surrounding them significantly change. Probably because she’s younger, Scout still manages to keep her faith in humanity, but her older brother, Jem, is convinced that human nature and honesty are more filled with evil than he imagined.
Atticus Finch, their father, is the embodiment of high moral tone in the novel, because even though he has encountered evil many times before, he still managed to preserve his faith in goodness. He is of the opinion that people have both bad and good qualities and he stresses the importance of appreciating the good qualities as well as accepting the bad qualities in each person and treating everyone with sympathy. He shares his opinions with his children, lecturing them over good and bad qualities and letting them understand that it’s not impossible at all to live their lives without losing their faith in humanity or becoming sceptical over everything.
Moral education is another aspect that makes an important theme of the story and it’s highly present in nearly each discussion Atticus has with his children. One significant scene that marks the importance of moral education and that is considered a counterpoint with respect to Atticus’ education happens at school. There, Scout has many discussions with her teachers and confronts them, as she believes they are not concerned about neither her nor her colleagues’ needs. While Atticus is capable of understanding his children by putting himself in their shoes and does this without having deep background knowledge in teaching, Miss Caroline is unable to attain the same success, not even with all her years spent in college learning pedagogy.
The theme of social diversity is also present in Harper Lee’s novel, especially through the hierarchy of Maycomb, which in most cases confuses children, as it is presented as ridiculous and damaging. One very good example here happens when Scout claims she’s unable to understand the main reason why Aunt Alexandra doesn’t allow one of her friends spend time with Walter Cunningham.
Worth mentioning is that the title of the book – “To Kill a Mockingbird” – has an important significance and symbolic weight, although it’s not literally connected with what is presented in the novel. Here, the “mockingbird” is the symbol of innocence, as they are small birds that don’t appear to do any harm to any living things. Thus, the meaning of the title “To Kill a Mockingbird” implies damaging or actually killing the innocence. Some of the characters of the novel can be seen as representations of a mockingbird, such as Jam, Boo Radley, Dill, Tom Robinson or Mr. Raymond. Each of them is an innocent person who happened to go through a lot and had to interact with evil. Even the last name of the two main children characters, Jem and Scout, is Finch, which is actually a kind of small bird. This illustrates that children can’t defend themselves in the evil and racist world built up in Maycomb and that their innocence is eventually destroyed by Maycomb’s world.
Boo Radley can be used as a way to evaluate children’s growth throughout the novel, as their attitude towards this character suffers major changes from the beginning of the story to its end. At first, children associate Boo with superstitions. Nevertheless, as the story develops, Boo takes on a different form. Scout starts to see him as more human, which is proof that she has become a better and understanding person. Boo is seen as the good that can be found in every person, which is why he happens to be one of the greatest mockingbirds of Lee’s novel.
To conclude, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is by far one of the best novels written by Harper Lee and one that should be included in every person’s reading list. Worth mentioning is that the book was written based on the author’s observations of her family, her relatives, her neighbours, and an event that marked her childhood and that happened close to her hometown. Combining children’s world with the world of grown-ups and mingling the elements from these two worlds together is what makes this novel special and probably one of the main reasons why it brought the author one of the greatest prizes in literature.