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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

THE NOVEL

OTHER ELEMENTS

POINT OF VIEW

Scout Finch is not only the most important character in the novel, she is also the narrator. Everything that happens is seen through her eyes.

The author's decision to use a child to tell the story is a very important element in To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout had no comprehension of the complex web of sexual fears and racial prejudice that made so many white Southerners recoil in horror at the very idea of sexual contact between a white woman and a black man. It is not even clear that Scout ever understands what rape is, even though she claims to understand.

In choosing to present the events of Tom Robinson's trial through Scout's eyes the author seems to be saying that all the analysis that might be spent exploring the roots of racism and sexual fears and insecurity would be a waste of time. None of these things are the main issue. The main issue is one of simple justice. Scout, in her innocence, sees this.

Even so, the child narrator might not be satisfactory were it not for the fact that Scout is a rather unusual child. She has her share of definite opinions and is not afraid to pass judgment on adult affairs. If Scout were a more usual child we might doubt that she is capable of understanding what is going on all around her.


Any author who sets out to write a first person story- one in which the narrator speaks of his or herself as "I"- has certain problems to face. Everything that happens in the novel must be known to this one character, the narrator. We can never see "inside the heads" of the other actors in the story. If To Kill a Mockingbird had been told in the third person- by an all-knowing narrator- or in the first person, but from the points of view of a number of different characters, it would be a different novel. We would probably be told why Atticus took Tom's case and what doubts and fears he may have had as the trial progressed. We would find out what Tom Robinson was thinking during his trial and why he tried to escape. There probably would also be much more explanation of how Tom's frame-up could come about.

Some readers feel that unless the author is very clever, first person stories tend to be too limited. Others like these novels because they can put themselves in the place of the "I" of the story and become very involved. You will have to make up your mind which group of readers you belong to.

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