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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

THE NOVEL

OTHER ELEMENTS

THEMES

END OF INNOCENCE

Another theme of the novel is the transition from innocence to experience. At the beginning of the story Scout's world is limited to the boundaries of her immediate neighborhood. She feels safe and secure, and totally confident that the way things are done in her home is not just the right way, but the only way. The arrival of Dill, who comes from a broken home and has lived in another state, gives Scout her first hint of a variety of experiences beyond her narrow horizons. Then, on her first day of school, she begins to discover that not everyone agrees that the way things are done in Maycomb, Alabama, is necessarily correct. She also learns that sometimes it is necessary to compromise in order to get along. Even though Scout's teacher's ideas about how to teach reading may be wrong, Scout must respect the teacher's authority. Her own father advises her to ignore the teacher's ban on reading at home, but to pretend to go along with the teacher's methods while in the classroom. This kind of social hypocrisy is new to Scout, and she is surprised to hear her very moral father advocating it.


As the story progresses, Scout encounters many more examples of the complexity of human motivation. Sometimes characters who do evil things, such as Mayella Ewell, are nevertheless more pitiful than hateful. On the other hand, it is possible for some individuals to do the right thing for quite unexpected reasons. Mr. Underwood does not like blacks and is a mean-spirited person in general, yet he alone helps Atticus during his vigil at the jail.

By the final chapters of the novel, Scout has learned that good and justice do not necessarily triumph every time. Harmless individuals such as Tom Robinson and Boo Radley can become victims through no fault of their own. And sometimes "the system" can do nothing to defend them. In one of the final scenes of the story, the sheriff puts compassion ahead of the letter of the law so that Boo Radley will not have to face the ordeal of publicly proving his innocence. This ending is hopeful because of the compassion shown by the sheriff but it is also troubling by suggesting there sometimes may be a conflict between the spirit of justice and the letter of the law.

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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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