Harper Lee’s Mockingbirds and Education

The mockingbird symbolizes innocence. Birds in general tend to symbolize freedom but the mockingbird in particular is particularly innocent and free. Perhaps, unlike bluejays who interfere with people’s lives and eat their gardens or nest in the wrong places, mockingbirds cause no trouble. Mockingbirds bring only joy to the world and take nothing away. As a symbol of innocence, the mockingbird is representative of Tom. Therefore, killing something innocent is the most barbaric of all things.

To kill a Mockingbird” is a novel of education because it teaches readers about virtue and truth and injustice in an effort to expose the hideous parts of society and maybe make it a little better. A novel is a great vehicle for this kind of education because, unlike a story or a fable or a religious text, it isn’t overtly moralistic. It doesn’t just state the conclusions, it makes the reader work for them. In other words, the conclusions of the meaning of injustice and racism and love and truth and innocence are clear but implicit. But they are not dogmatic. As a result, the reader and the main character, Scout, learn the things that are important in life together.

Race relations and Atticus Finch

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, race relations in Maycomb were no different than race relations in any other Southern town during the era of the Jim Crow laws of 1930s. The citizens make free use of the “N” word and treat all blacks as second-class citizens. Surprisingly, most white people in Maycomb are willing to protect the reputation of their “white trash” (even though they know that the Ewells are lying), rather than support justice and protect an innocent black man. The blacks are isolated from whites (e.g., seating for blacks in balcony of court house), forced to worship separately, segregated to a particular side of town, educated separately and so on.

The predominant attitudes towards the blacks are a combination of fear and hatred. Many whites were afraid that if the blacks gained greater power, they would begin to control society or socially displace them. This fear caused varying degrees of hatred. Those like Atticus who were well-educated and secure in their own position were less likely to fear the blacks and so showed little or no hatred towards them. Others, like the Ewells and possibly the Cunninghams were so poor that one of the few things they could take pride in was being white. In order to maintain what little social status that created, it was imperative for them to keep the black race down. To allow blacks greater freedom might jeopardize the precarious position of the poor whites, which for the time being, was one step up from the bottom.

The best thing about Atticus Finch as a father is that he treats his children with distance and respect. He’s a role model in the truest sense because he lives a life that they can admire. He is not his children’s friend but he’s not their enemy. He addresses them like he does other adults and does not baby them. He expects them to live up to his expectations, to be of use in society, but he is not pushy or overbearing in any sense. I think that a lot of people forget that children have to grow up and become adults. Indulging children and making your whole life revolved around them is actually a disservice. That’s why they become obnoxious, spoiled teenagers and then spoiled adults who expect things from society that they have no reason to expect. Parenting is not entertaining because it involves raising adults, even though it’s called raising children. I just read a very interesting article about French parents in the Wall street journal. Their approach reminded me a lot of Atticus Finch’s.


Harper Lee’s style in To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s style in To Kill a Mockingbird might be characterized as down-home. Her diction, while reflective of the time and place rides a crucial line between sophisticated and colloquial speech that would be representative of Scout’s intellect and surroundings. She further deftly weaves numerous anecdotes together to show, as opposed to tell, the reader about the setting and characters. In this way it seems that the narrative blooms petal by petal until the story is told in full.
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with a frosting of sweat and sweet talcum.” (5).
Here Lee could have simply said that the heat and the humidity were unbearable before the advent of air conditioning. Instead she paints and a sort to of map of the buildings and people of the town that, given this rural landscape and agrarian, must include a description of its livestock. Images like the sagging courthouse and suffering mules show us that extent to which people and animals were subjected to heat and humidity in the summer months.
Lee is further careful to note the level of education that Scout has attained so that we readers can trust her as she guides us through the story. “Jem and I were accustomed to our father’s last-will-and-testament diction, and we were at times free to interrupt Atticus for translation when it was beyond our understanding.” (31). Here, again, rather than tell readers what Scout can understand, Lee creates this elaborate description that is at least two-fold in purpose. Not only is Scout able to understand the legalese ofher father’s profession, but she thinks on this dialogue with fondness. These are the words of her childhood. This is home.

Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout grows up in a southern town in the 1930s. She is from a prominent but not particularly wealthy family. The story is narrated in first-person but not as the events unfold. Instead, we are presented with both the perspective of Scout as an adult reflecting on her childhood and Scout the child living her childhood. Scout comes off as very intelligent and observant. Her observations are not filtered through understanding or complexity and as result present a clearer picture of what is happening. She was raised by her father Atticus Finch, and a caretaker, Calpurnia. She grows up with her older brother, Jem.

Scout is often called a tomboy because she likes to do things boys do. But I would argue that it’s not that she is a tomboy but rather that her upbringing was not cluttered with superfluous feminizing endeavors. I don’t know how many girls would be into clothes and tea parties if they were not introduced to these things by their mothers. As a result, Scout is simply a child who happens to be a girl. I think that this is yet another example of her father’s progressive and forward thinking attitude (even though, I don’t think that this particular aspect of his parenting was necessarily conscious).

**I was also a child that would probably be described as a tomboy, even though I was raised by both my parents and my mother is actually very feminine. But when I was growing up my parents were very busy getting used to a new country and we did not spend much time pursuing frivolous feminine things like shopping for clothes. I see the way that girls are being raised by her husband’s sisters and I just think that it’s so sad that they’re obsessed with Disney and being princesses. I don’t think that being feminine has anything to do with pink or consumerism but that’s the message that they are being sent. I also think that girl children acquire more feminine characteristics during puberty but these characteristics have nothing to do with the stereotypical things that are generally associated with being feminine (clothes, jewelry, pampering, and other kinds of materialism). Perhaps the world would have more Scouts in it than Kim Kardashians if more girls weren’t taught to be girly at such an early age.