A STEP BEYOND
To Kill a Mockingbird
TERM PAPER IDEAS
- Discuss the concept
of a gentleman that is presented in Chapter 11, where Atticus shoots the
mad dog. How does that definition of gentlemanly behavior contrast with
the philosophy of self-expression? With the "macho" concept of
- Who is responsible
for Tom Robinson's death? What answers do various characters in the novel
give to this question? What answer do you think best represents the author's
point of view? What do you think?
- What does the author's
physical description of the town of Maycomb tell you about the people who
live there? Notice especially the description of the town in Chapter 1.
Doesn't the insistence that Maycomb is a lazy town where nothing ever happens
make you feel that something very ominous is going to occur before long?
How can this be?
- Jem Finch is one of
the most important and complex characters in the novel. How does his relationship
with Scout change over the course of the story? Who do you think resembles
Atticus the most- Jem or Scout?
- Both Miss Maudie and
Aunt Alexandra represent types of the southern lady. How do the two characters
differ? How are they alike? What does Scout learn from each of them?
- Describe the differences
among the Finches, the Cunninghams, and the Ewells. What do you think of
the novel's suggestion that individual members of the same family more often
than not run true to type? In considering this question, pay attention to
what the novel says about why this is so, noticing especially what Atticus
has to say about heredity versus environment.
- How important is
it to the novel that the narrator, Scout Finch, is a child at the time the
events of the story take place?
- Harper Lee has said
that the South is "the refuge of genuine eccentrics." What do
you learn from the various eccentric characters in the novel, for example,
Boo Radley and Dolphus Raymond? Can you think of any reasons why a society
that is very conscious of class and family tradition might also have more
than its share of eccentrics?
- Do you think the character
of Scout is a convincing portrait of childlike behavior? Why or why not?
- The voice you hear
telling the story of the novel is actually that of the adult Jean Louise
Finch telling you about events that happened when she was a child. At what
points in the novel do you become aware of this? How does this adult narrator's
reflections contribute to your understanding of the people of Maycomb? How
does the adult Jean Louise create suspense by hinting at certain developments
yet to come in the story?
- Some readers have
objected that the black characters in the novel are two-dimensional and
thus the story presents a superficial view of the problem of racial prejudice.
Do you feel that this is a valid criticism? In thinking about this question
you might want to read a novel by Richard Wright, or some other black author
presenting a view of life under segregation. How do the two viewpoints compare?
- Why does Mr. Underwood
come to the aid of Atticus in defending Tom Robinson from the mob? Contrast
Mr. Underwood's behavior with the decision of Heck Tate to file a false
police report about Bob Ewell's death. How do the two men's ideas about
- What does the story
have to say about the importance of tradition? In framing your discussion,
notice that there are times when the narrator approves of tradition, for
example, in defending old-fashioned ideas about education, and ridiculing
Miss Caroline's modern ideas about how to teach reading. On the other hand,
Atticus, the hero of the story, criticizes Aunt Alexandra for being too
concerned with family traditions. And he himself violated these traditions
when he became a lawyer instead of a farmer.
- Some readers think
that Jem's broken arm symbolizes the wound that the system of segregation
inflicted on white southerners. What do you think of this idea? What evidence
can you find in the story that the author might have intended to make the
broken arm a symbol?
- When To Kill a Mockingbird
was first published in 1960 a number of reviewers compared the character
of Scout with Frankie, the tomboy in Carson McCullers' play The Member of
the Wedding. You might like to read The Member of the Wedding for yourself
and discuss how the two characters are alike. Or, if you think they are
very different, why you think the comparison is a bad one.
- Discuss how Scout's
attitude toward superstition changes over the course of the novel. Don't
forget to talk about the final chapter in the story, where Atticus reads
to Scout from the novel The Gray Ghost. Why doesn't Scout find such stories
- Why do you think
the scene in which Jem and Scout build a snowman was included in the novel?
- Contrast the characters
of Miss Maudie and the newspaper editor Mr. Underwood. How can two individuals
whose values are so different both be "good" characters?
- What is the significance
of Scout's criticisms of progressive education? If innocent children are
sometimes wiser than the adults around them, as the story seems to be saying,
why doesn't the narrator trust a system of teaching that depends on children's
ability to learn through instinct and their own initiative?
Kill a Mockingbird Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]
© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of PinkMonkey.com