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To Kill a Mockingbird

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Title and Publication:

To Kill a Mockingbird, published in New York by J. B. Lippincott, 1960

Author:

Harper Lee

Setting:

The small, depression-era southern town of Maycomb, Alabama provides a backdrop for the brooding Gothic theme. Harper Lee seems to impress upon her readers how poverty reinforces the hypocritical nature of a race-based class system.

Characters:

Scout: the narrator and protagonist of the story. Scout learns about the goodness of people as well as the dark side of humanity.
Jem: Scout's older brother, Jem serves as protector. His presence also highlights Scout's youthful innocence.
Atticus: The proud, moral, respected father.
Tom Robinson: The accused but apparently innocent rapist.
"Boo" Radley: The mysterious neighbor.

Possible First Sentence:

  • Have you ever judged a person by his or her appearance?
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a captivating book that explores difficult topics.
  • Sometimes, it takes a lot of courage to do what you feel is right.
  • Things and people aren't always what they seem to be.

Possible Themes:

Think about these questions and points as you read the book. They will help you determine a theme and develop a strong thesis.

The Link Between Ignorance and Racism:

Harper Lee seems to demonstrate that people who are caught up in the misery of ignorance and poverty resort to racism as a way to hide their own shame and low self-esteem.

Casting Judgement:

Scout first mimics "Boo' Radley until she discovers his kindness and bravery.

Much of the town casts judgment upon the accused Tom Robinson, despite the hard evidence to the contrary.

The Mockingbird:

The mockingbird stands for innocence in this book. Some of the "mockingbirds" in the book are characters whose goodness was injured or squelched: Jem and Scout, whose innocence is lost; Tom Robinson, who is killed despite his innocence; Atticus, whose goodness is almost broken; Boo Radley, who is judged for his apparent weirdness.

Plot:

The story is narrated by a young girl who goes by the name of "Scout" Finch. Scout's real name is Jean Louise, a name that is not fitting for a tomboyish, rebellious girl like Scout.

Scout lives in the small Alabama town of Maycomb in the 1930s with her brother, Jem, and her widowed father, Atticus. Another presence in the house is the stern but ultimately kind-hearted African-American housekeeper named Calpurnia.

The story takes place during the depression, but the Finch family is better off than many in this small town, as Atticus is a successful and respected lawyer.

Two main themes that permeate this book are judgment and justice. Scout and Jem learn lessons about judging other people through the character of Boo Radley, a mysterious and reclusive neighbor. Early in the story, the children poke fun at Boo, but they ultimately discover his goodness.

This theme is also present in the developments surrounding the character of Tom Robinson. Robinson is a poor African-American field hand who is accused and tried for rape. In the process of defending Robinson, Atticus is able to provide evidence that the young man is innocent. Nonetheless, because of the racist nature of white society in that time and place, the young man is convicted.

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