Symbolism in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Subject: 📚 Literature
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 854
Topics: To Kill a Mockingbird, Symbolism, 📗 Book
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To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It is one of the most popular novels assigned and read by students worldwide. It was praised for its capability to tackle the sensitive topics of racism and prejudice from the perspective of a coming to age child. The novel tells the story of Scout and Jem, two young children raised by their widowed father, Atticus. Atticus teaches his children to be empathetic and just to individuals, regardless of their background. Atticus defends a black man accused of raping a white woman, and even though he tries his best to ensure that his client is atoned for the crime, Tom, the accused, is still murdered (Damayanti, 2019). The author heavily explores the children’s moral education, showcasing how certain acts such as murder committed by good people are protected and viewed as fair. The author uses symbols such as the mockingbird, the rabid dog, Miss Maudie nut grass and Mayella Ewell geraniums to explore themes such as racism, prejudice, and morality, thereby educating the reader on the occurrence of these social issues during the 1950s.

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Mockingbirds in the novel are used to symbolize purity and innocence. “Remember, it is a sin to kill a Mockingbird,” were the words Atticus told  Jem and Scout (Sastrawijaya, 2021). According to Atticus and Miss Maudie, mockingbirds are innocent creatures that never harm anyone as their only intention is to create music. By singing, they make the world a better place, and therefore killing these creatures would only be a sign of cruelty and evil (Damayanti, 2019). Several characters in the novel represent mockingbirds, such as Tom Robinson. He is an innocent man convicted of a crime he did not commit and is eventually murdered. His conviction was mostly because he was a black man, which automatically made him guilty even though he had not committed the crime. Mr. Underwood’s compared the shooting of Tom to the “senseless slaughter of songbirds” (Sastrawijaya, 2021).

Another example is Boo Radley. He is a legend who is misunderstood by society. For example, some rumor he eats squirrels and cats and likes to peep into other people’s homes at night. He, however, is a sweet and innocent man who ends up protecting the children from Ewell’s father committing murder.

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Rabid Dog

The rabid dog in the novel is utilized to showcase the extent of racism in the region. The dog is labeled a mad dog as it has contracted a disease that makes it a danger to individuals. The dog symbolizes Maycomb County, afflicted with the disease of racism. It has become a dangerous place for black people who do not fit in. Even though guns and killings are among the key things that Atticus finds immoral, he shoots the dog as he believes it is an action that will benefit the greater good (Dalton, 2022). It symbolizes that he is willing to take necessary measures to end the racism in the county. It is why he defends Tom, even though they have a color difference, with him being white and Tom being black. The townspeople refuse to help with the dog even though they benefit from it being dead. It is the same way that the jury refuses to do the right thing of letting Tom go even though Atticus has proven his innocence in the courtroom.

Miss Maudie’s Nutgrass

Miss Maudie nut grass symbolizes how hard it is to get rid of something once it has established its roots. Even though she cuts it down, it continues to grow, and she realizes that the only way to get rid of it is to dig down and pull the grass by the roots. The nut grass symbolizes how racism and gossip spread quickly and are hard to eliminate once they establish themselves in a region. Racism has established itself in Maycomb County, and even though individuals such as Atticus try to put an end to it, it continues to grow and spread (Foss, 2021).  The same is witnessed with gossip, which has destroyed the reputation and self-esteem of Boo Radley.

Mayela Ewell’s Geraniums

The final symbol is Mayela Ewell’s geraniums. Mayela grows beautiful geraniums in a flower pot in front of her home. Hateful family members, including her father, surround her, but she still finds the time to grow something beautiful. The flowers symbolize good in every individual in a region engulfed with prejudice and racism (Khadka, 2020). Even though she makes heinous accusations against Tom that eventually lead to his death, she can still grow beautiful flowers. It showcases that if she wanted, she could have done the right thing and ensured that Tom was forgiven as she had falsely accused him.

In conclusion, Harper uses symbolism to showcase the social issue of racism and prejudice that had been rampant in the 1950s. These symbols include the mockingbird, rabid dog, Miss Maudie’s nutgrass, and Mayela’s geraniums. Each of these symbols allows the understanding of the central theme of racism and the characters in the novel. The author carefully places these symbols in the novel to educate the reader and engage one’s mind when reading the book.

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  1. Dalton, D. (2022). Considering the Audience for a Comprehensive Understanding of To Kill a Mockingbird. Journal of Student Research at Indiana University East4(1).
  2. Foss, M. O. (2021). Teaching About Whiteness and the Complexity of Racism Through To Kill a Mockingbird (Master’s thesis, University of South-Eastern Norway).
  3. Khadka, R. (2020). Journey from Innocence to Experience in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (Doctoral dissertation, Faculty of English).
  4. Martha Damayanti, D. (2019). Addressing Terms in To Kill a Mockingbird Novel by Harper Lee. Addressing Terms in To Kill a Mockingbird Novel by Harper Lee.
  5. Sastrawijaya, M. D. (2021). The character and moral values in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Inference: Journal of English Language Teaching3(1), 81-87.
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