To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee. The literary debut of an American writer, by profession a lawyer, was accompanied by a resounding success. Immediately after its publication, this book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. It was translated into twelve languages and together with the William Faulkner’s novel The Thieves and Carson McCullers’ novel, The Clock Without Arrows, was a bestseller for 145 weeks. Undoubtedly, in the novel, there is the influence of the best representatives of the school of the southern novel who include:
- William Faulkner
- Thomas Wolfe
- Robert Penn Warren
- William Styron
Their literary achievements of the first half of the 20th century allowed American critics to call this period “the southern literary revival.”
1960 called by historians and sociologists the year of Africa was marked by the aggravation of racial conflicts, which was reflected in the work of American writers. Harper Lee’s novel is a novel-warning, a novel-prediction of violent protests and demonstrations of the second American revolution of 1963.
Representation of the Racial Conflict in the Novel
Describing a remote province with a picturesque terrain, manners, customs, and views, the author skillfully characterizes the life of the American South in general. Maycomb is an old, small city where it’s always very hot, where all people know each other, and when you call on the phone – you don’t need to name yourself because the telephone operator knows everyone by voice.
Not being an autobiographical book, the novel in many ways reflects the traditional way of life of the American town of Alabama, in which the writer herself was born and grew up. Trying to change the environment from within, Harper Lee introduces the reader into the social situation that has developed in the 1930s, connected with slavery in the territory of America. When writing an essay on To Kill a Mockingbird, you can add that the abolitionist movement that was formed in this period was of a religious and ethical nature. Representatives of various religious denominations opposed the slave trade and slavery. In one of their petitions directed to the American Congress, representatives of one of these movements wrote that the Almighty Creator equally loves and forgives those who languish in slavery.
The novel takes place in the city of Maycomb, Alabama in the thirties of the 20th century, during the childhood of the author. The unhurried provincial life of this typical and sloppy southern city explodes because of a lawsuit over Tom Robinson who was falsely accused of raping a white girl. All of the events are shown through the prism of the perception of the eight-year-old girl Jean Louise. This principle of narration makes the story alive and entertaining. The world of childhood, filled with special smells, sensations, mysteries, horror stories, games, discoveries, and knowledge of the surrounding reality, captures the reader from the first pages and magically holds to the very end. This is the main charm and attractive force of the novel.
Harper Lee can almost always accurately retain the intonation, style of thoughts, and perceptions inherent in an eight-year-old child. The choice of the epigraph is not accidental: Lawyers, probably, too, once were children. Jean Louise does not analyze the events, but emotionally, sincerely and sharply reacts to the falsity and injustice of the world around her. She is perplexed by the inconsistency and illogicality of adults. For Jean Louise (nicknamed Scout) the essence of people is in their kindness. All of them are the same for her, that is, they are good. The voice of the main character is often joined by the voice of her alter ego, grown up and wise Harper Lee herself. It sounds not only in detailed digressions about the history of Maycomb, history of the family, but also in the position and words of no less important hero of the novel – attorney Atticus Finch. Harper Lee once noticed that his concept of life is the heart of the novel. Drawing the wrath and contempt of almost the entire white population of the town, he takes on the hopeless case of the black man Tom Robinson. Atticus not with words but with his actions demonstrates to his children his life credo: before the court, all are equal, and if not me, then who?
Analysis for the Essay on To Kill a Mockingbird
The trial of the black man Tom Robinson happened because of the set foundations – a society is divided into white and black, and therefore – the good and bad. This is a turning point in the novel. The experience of children of local attorney Atticus Finch, who observed the process, very subtly convey the author’s relationship to reality. Everyone knew that the case was deliberately doomed. This was also known by Atticus Finch. But still, the boundless sense of duty, honor, and justice make the lawyer take up the case. Robinson will die when trying to escape. However, the edifying thought will remain – evil is a rarity and an exception and there are more good things in the world than bad.
All inhabitants of the town are subject to traditional racial prejudices. That is why the novel is, first of all, a novel about the formation of the human person.
Harper Lee finds shows the adult world through the children’s eyes, without simplifying it. In the center of the narrative, there is a little girl who makes adults speak and act.
In the eyes of the child, the world is divided into Good and Evil. Her observation of the adult world can destroy or strengthen her desire for Good. There are two plot lines of the novel:
- Childish, which is the backdrop of this work, since the whole narrative is on behalf of a six-year-old girl.
- Adult, which portrays the tragic side of the entire population of Maycomb, and is connected with the judicial process over the black man.
The Meaning of the Title
When writing an essay on To Kill a Mockingbird, you can also analyze the title of the work. The title of the novel can also be related to one of several episodes of the novel: Atticus bought a pair of guns for exercise in sports shooting to his children. But such a gun could shoot a bird. And Atticus’s words that it would be the greatest sin to kill a mockingbird – the innocent bird that does not eat berries, but only sings for joy – grows toward the end of the novel to the level of the parable, when an uncompromising lawyer Atticus, capable of defending black Robinson in court despite public accusation of Maycomb, has to compromise. For trying to protect a black person, Atticus had to deal with the following:
- His children are attacked when they return from school in the evening
The son of the neighbor’s family, Radley, who accidentally turns out to be at the scene of the crime, completely desocialized, is deprived of contact with people, because he committed a crime in adolescence for this crime, his parents held him in the house as a prisoner.
With special sympathy and love, Harper Lee presents black citizens in the novel. There are no bad or evil, on the contrary, all evil and injustice comes from whites. This fact allowed some American literary critics to see typical for many white writers of America and not always justified idealization of black people, their natural kindness, and call this the black racism of white Southern writers. However, this definition can be challenged by the position of the writer, clearly expressed in the novel: all people are created free and equal in rights, regardless of skin color, and to protect the humiliated and insulted people. The title of the novel contains the hope for a fair punishment of a scoundrel who questions this basic idea of humanism and democracy.
Motifs of the Novel
When you’ll be preparing an essay on To Kill a Mockingbird, you can also talk about motifs present in the novel.
- Gothic details. The forces of good and evil seem bigger than the Southern town itself. Harper Lee includes gothic details to her novel, adding drama to her story. The term Gothic refers to supernatural things, haunted and gloomy settings, and so on. The Gothic elements in the novel include the fire that devastates the house of Miss Maudie, snowfall, kids’ superstitions about Boo Radley, a mad dog, and the night of the Halloween party. These elements are usually absent in Maycomb. They create tension and foreshadow events of the trial.
- Small-town life. The town’s old-fashioned values are another motif of the novel. Harper Lee highlights good-natured feel and slow-paced life of Maycomb. To study deeply the forces of good and evil, the author juxtaposes Gothic images and town’s values. The horror of the fire is extenuated by the comforting image of the citizens of the town uniting to save the possessions of Miss Maudie.