This year was the height of the American civil rights movement and the period in which black people carried out political protests to gain equality. The novel explores similar accounts to Lees childhood and is told through a childs perspective which is vital as this enables the reader to learn moral lessons along with the narrator as they progress through the novel- these lessons prepare them for the harsh events to come in the second part of the novel. The story is set in the 1930s and takes place in Maycomb County, Alabama located in the southern part of North America. This is important as it took longer for slavery to be abolished in the South and even when it eventually was, racism was still embedded in society. The title of To Kill a Mockingbird has a literal link to the plot the mockingbird is one of the key themes in the novel.
Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are the mockingbirds in the story- they are both kind and gentle people who are generally misunderstood by many. Harper Lee develops this theme through her use of taught lessons, metaphors, and character descriptions. Harper Lee firstly introduces the principal of mockingbirds through Atticus when he says, Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hitem, but remember its a sin to kill a mockingbird. The metaphorical meaning at first is ambiguous to Scout and the reader. However a better understanding of the principal is gained when Scout asks Miss Maudie to explain.
Miss Maudie then goes on to clarify to the children one of Atticus fundamental beliefs when she says they dont do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. Thats why its a sin to kill a mockingbird. From this the reader can infer that the mockingbird is used to represent innocent people who do not do wrong. This use of metaphor enhances Lees idea on the fact that mockingbirds do nothing but give and are completely harmless therefore to kill them would be what she believes to be immoral. In addition to this as the noun sin is used it reinforces Atticus belief of how unethical it would be to obliterate the innocent. Furthermore, Harper Lee constantly reminds the readers of the theme of mockingbird by her use of the extended metaphor.
After the demise of Tom Robinson, Mr Underwood goes on to describe the death as the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children This phrase portrays Tom Robinson as a vulnerable songbird which persuades the reader to think that the killing of Tom Robinson was sinful. Moreover it relates back to the theme which amplifies the unfairness of the killing even further. Within this description of Toms death Harper Lee uses the technique of sibilance to enhance the harshness of Tom Robinsons death. Also the noun slaughter makes the murdering of Tom sound more brutal whilst the adjective senseless emphasises the fact the killing was unnecessary and perhaps done through hatred.
Harper Lee uses description of characters to indicate who the mockingbirds of the novel are. Arthur (Boo) Radley is described to have feathered hair which shows the reader that not only is he innocent but he resembles the features of a bird. This only strengthens the themes of the mockingbird and innocence and how they coincide. Mr Heck Tate realises that Boo is a mockingbird as he wants to protect him after Bob Ewells death. Mr Tate understands the principal of mockingbirds and demonstrates this when he says, To my way of thinkin, Mr Finch, taking one man whos done you and this town a great service an draggin him with his shy ways into the limelight- to me thats a sin it shows that he is prepared to forget about the crime Boo had committed as he knows that Boo had good intentions and is innocent.
Mr Heck Tate feels that it is wrong to send Boo to court as he is aware that the judicial system has major flaws and that Boo would not get the fair trial he deserves. Therefore he resolves this situation by simply stating that Bob Ewell fell on his knife in order to protect Boo. Through this Harper Lee ties in the theme of natural justice and the reader understands Tates reason for doing this. Harper Lee displays Scout learning the principal of mockingbirds towards the end of the novel when she compares sending Boo to court as bring sort of like shootin a mockingbird. From this -the reader can tell that she has fully matured and has finally understood the importance of protecting those who are innocent.
She also discovers how the law can be bent at times when necessary. Harper Lee uses the theme of mockingbird to symbolise innocence and the importance of protecting those who are vulnerable and harmless. Maycomb County is a town in which most people are prejudice, however many characters begin to follow this principle as the novel progresses. This has been done to show that there is still hope for people to change in their town. There are many examples of mockingbirds in this story who are misunderstood and Harper Lee raises the awareness of how a tired old town so set in its ways can all be obliged to carry prejudice views on innocent people.
The town overreact to unfamiliarity and are not willing to accept those who are different from them – Lee stresses how corrupt Maycombs way of living really is.