"Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people’s gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”. In "To Kill a Mockingbird" symbolism is shown through different characters in Harper Lee’s essay-novel. To Kill a Mockingbird takes place during the 1930’s in a fictional town called Maycomb. The book follows a young girl named Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, her older brother Jem, and their friend Dill as they grow up. There are many interesting and unique townspeople such as Arthur “Boo” Radley, a harmless recluse deemed as a monster and Tom Robinson, a gentle black man falsely convicted of rape. Lee uses these unusual characters as symbolism of a mockingbird to illustrate how ignorance and prejudice affect innocent people.
Hidden and Obvious Symbolism in "To Kill a Mickingbird"
Lee uses Arthur “Boo” Radley to demonstrate how a community’s ignorance and rumors adversely and detrimentally affect the fate of of a harmless and heroic recluse. When Arthur was a young boy, he hung around with the wrong crowd and ended up almost getting arrested. To protect his son from prison, Arthur’s father locked him up in their house and he was never seen in public again. Since the townspeople do not see Arthur , they conjure up not only wild stories, but also negative stories about him, even bestowing the derogatory name “Boo”. When Dill spent his first summer in Maycomb, he asked Jem to describe “Boo”. Jem depicts Arthur as “...about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were blood-stained... There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time”. Essentially, Jem describes Arthur as a monster from a horror story. Since Arthur is never seen, the gossip from the adults fuel the children’s horrific and imaginative description of who he might be even though none of these rumors have been confirmed. The town sees “Boo” as a monster rather than a harmless recluse. Scout continues to believe these wild tales until the end of the story when Arthur saves her and Jem from Bob Ewell’s attack. When Scout saw Boo for the first time, “I looked from his hands to his sand-stained khaki pants; my eyes travel up his thin frame to his torn denim shirt. His face was as white as his hands, but for a shadow on his jutting chin. His cheeks were thin to hollowness; his mouth was wide; there were shallow, almost delicate indentations at his temples, and his gray eyes were so colorless I thought he was blind. His hair was dead and thin, almost feathery on top of his head”. In contrast to Jem’s description of Arthur, Scout uses words like “gray”, “delicate”, and “thin”. These words depict Arthur as a non-threatening person in contrast to Jem’s descriptions of “blood-stained”, “jagged scar” and “yellow, rotten teeth”. In fact, Arthur demonstrated heroism by risking his life to rescue Scout and Jem from physical harm. Arthur Radley fits the description of the mockingbird perfectly: he did not do anything to anyone, but townspeople make horrific stories and rumors to compensate for their ignorance. They misunderstand and unfairly treat him as an outcast. Similar to a mockingbird, Arthur is not only harmless, he displayed heroism.
Tom Robinson is a black man who was convicted of rape even though he was thoroughly proven innocent. Tom was giving his testimony and explained that Mayella Ewell asked him to come into her house. When he came in, she kissed and hugged him. Scout observes, “Tom Robinson’s manners were as good as Atticus’s...he would not have dared strike a white woman under any circumstances and expect to live long, so he took the first opportunity to run-a sure sign of guilt”. Tom is a good man who is nothing less than a gentleman. But, he also knows his place which is below a white woman.
Furthermore, when Atticus is talking to the jury he says, “And so a quiet, respectable, humble Negro who had the unitigated temerity to ‘feel sorry’ for a white woman has to put his word against two white people’s”. To the jury, a black man’s word means nothing against the words of two white people because they all are prejudice. Even though Tom was a good man, his race defined the verdict of his case before he stepped in the courtroom. The jury’s prejudice resulted in Tom’s death. Tom was the mockingbird: a respectable and humble person who had nice manners and would never hurt a fly.