A STEP BEYOND
13. In the early chapters of the novel Scout and her brother are fascinated by Dill's tales of "haints" and supernatural happenings. They are even thrilled and impressed that he has actually seen the movie version of Dracula. Dill's tales motivate them to make up their own superstitions about Boo Radley- and they dare each other to so much as touch the outside of the Radley house, as if to do so might bring on some terrible fate.
By the end of the novel, however, this childlike fascination with superstition has been replaced with a knowledge of the everyday evil of the adult world. In the final chapters, we learn that the grownups of Maycomb have even taken over organizing the children's Halloween celebrations. Having decided that the young people's pranks have gotten out of hand the adults organize a pageant that is dull and stupid. The magic has gone out of the holiday. But the threat of evil is more present than ever before, in the form of Bob Ewell who stalks and tries to kill Scout and Jem on their way home from the pageant.
In the final chapter of the story, Scout asks her father to read to her from "The Gray Ghost", a book she had always found too frightening in the past. Superstitions and scary stories have lost their power to terrorize Scout now that she has come face to face with the terrors that real life holds in store. -
14. The title is first explained in Chapter 10 of the story when Atticus warns Scout and Jem that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Miss Maudie explains that this is because the mockingbird is a harmless creature who does nothing but entertain us with its song.
Atticus makes this warning at a time when he is already preoccupied with Tom Robinson's forthcoming trial, and it makes sense to draw a connection between the mockingbird and Tom Robinson. Tom, too, is a harmless creature. He has done nothing to bring on his own troubles, and his only fault is that he tried to be kind to Mayella Ewell.
After further thought, you may think of other ways in which the title relates to the events of the story. Isn't Boo Radley another "harmless creature?" Boo is the victim of his own father and brother, who are ashamed of him and who have apparently made him afraid to leave his own house.
You might also want to discuss the ways in which the mockingbird is a symbol of the good things about the traditional southern way of life, a way of life that is being destroyed from within by the evils of segregation and racial prejudice. In this case, it is the innocent children- Scout, Jem, and Dill- who are wounded by the unthinking cruelty of the adult community. They grow up carrying a burden of guilt and shame for a system they had no part in creating. Still other victims are the eccentrics and individualists like Dolphus Raymond, who have to give up their pride and place in the community in order to live and think as they please.
Finally, you might want to answer a question like this by considering the reasons why the author has chosen a bird to symbolize victims of injustice. Notice that in the novel the author seems to be saying that simple things are superior- the beauty of Miss Maudie's flower garden is more loved by Miss Maudie than her house; the innocent children see events more clearly than most adults; and so on. Does Harper Lee mean to say that civilization is the source of evil and cruelty in the world or only that civilization is the source of customs that prevent us from attacking evil head on? You will have to decide for yourself which meanings the mockingbird of the title stands for.
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