In To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee uses memorable characters to explore civil rights and racism in the segregated Southern United States of the 1930s. Told through the eyes of Scout Finch, you learn about her father Atticus Finch, an attorney who hopelessly strives to prove the innocence of a black man unjustly accused of rape; and about Boo Radley, a mysterious neighbor who saves Scout and her brother Jem from being killed.
Written by: Harper Lee
Type of Work: novel
Genres: bildungsroman (coming of age novel); civil rights movement
First Published: 1960 by J. B. Lippincott
Setting: 1930s; Maycomb, Alabama
Main Characters: Scout Finch; Atticus Finch; Jem Finch; Tom Robinson; Bob Ewell; Boo Radley
Major Thematic Topics: Jim Crow Laws; prejudice; civil rights; racism; defining bravery; maturity; feminine vs. masculine; women's roles in the South; effects of the mob mentality; perception; inconsistency of humanity; gender roles; integrity
Motifs: superstition; Boo Radley; weeds; education in the classroom versus small town education
Major Symbols: mockingbirds; snow; birds; rebirthing fire
Movie Versions: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
The three most important aspects of To Kill a Mockingbird:
- The title of To Kill a Mockingbird refers to the local belief, introduced early in the novel and referred to again later, that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Harper Lee is subtly implying that the townspeople are responsible for killing Tom Robinson, and that doing so was not only unjust and immoral, but sinful.
- The events of To Kill a Mockingbird take place while Scout Finch, the novel’s narrator, is a young child. But the sophisticated vocabulary and sentence structure of the story indicate that Scout tells the story many years after the events described, when she has grown to adulthood.
- To Kill a Mockingbird is unusual because it is both an examination of racism and a bildungsroman. Within the framework of a coming-of-age story, Lee examines a very serious social problem. Lee seamlessly blends these two very different kinds of stories.