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Symbols in the Novel To Kill A Mockingbird

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To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel written by author Harper Lee in 1960, however the time period of the novel is during the 1930’s. The novel uses various different symbols and their meanings to deepen the reader’s understanding and perception of the text, the mocking bird being the most prominent. The novels main focus is on innocence and purity and the transition of this to evil. The symbol of Tim Johnson displays this transition along with the fight against racism. The Radley house also represents this change from good to evil, but also shows the relationship of Boo and his family diminish as well. These symbols although very different, all convey a similar message. This allows Lee to get across the message of innocence to evil in a way more people will understand.

The most prominent and important symbol in To Kill A Mockingbird, is that of the mocking bird itself. The symbol is used by Lee to help the audience understand the innocence and purity that some characters in the novel possess. According to Miss Maudie “Mocking birds don’t do one thing [wrong]” (Pge: 98). That is why “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” (Pge: 98). To kill a mockingbird refers to killing the innocence someone has. Characters like Tom Robinson and Scout (Jean Louise) Finch both have this innocence and purity at the beginning, but over the course of the book; lose it all. Aunt Alexandra comes to stay with Scout to have some “feminine influence” (Pge: 138) on her and to help her transition into a lady. This exposes Scout to the world and the evils of it at such a young age and diminishes her childlike innocence. Tom Robinson was innocent in the rape case against the Ewell’s. However, because of Maycomb’s ideology that “Negro men are not to be trusted around women” (Pge: 223), the jury comes to the decision that he is guilty, stripping him of his innocence. So, Harper Lee uses the symbol of the mockingbird to give the audience an understanding of a character’s innocence and purity and how quickly and easily it can be stripped away by a society plagued with prejudice.

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The Radley house has a very deep, symbolic meaning; representing the change from good to evil. “Inside the [Radley] house lived a malevolent phantom” (Pge: 9) named Boo (Arthur) Radley. Boo was once like any other normal kid innocent and ignorant, but then in an incident where he was in with the wrong crowd; his dad Nathan Radley punished him horribly for it. Boo Radley was not seen again for fifteen years. The Radley house was “Once white with a deep front porch and green shutters, but had long ago darkened to the colour of slate grey yard around it. Rain rotted shingles drooped over the eaves of the verandah” (Pge: 8-9). This description symbolizes Boo’s relationship with his family. The relationship was once perfect like the white house but now has been rotted away to evil. Lee uses the Radley house as another symbol to represent the change from purity and innocence to that of evil.

Harper Lee utilises another symbol in Tim Johnson (the mad dog) as a transition from innocence to evil. A dog is widely known as a symbol for loyalty and friendship. This is what Tim Johnson starts off as, a normal dog; harmless to anyone, but once he has rabies, he becomes harmful to the town of Maycomb. The rabies turn Tim’s innocence and harmlessness into evil and harmfulness. Lee also uses Tim Johnson as a symbol of the fight against racism. The sheriff, Mr Tate is called in to take care of Tim Johnson but says he “can’t shoot well and [Atticus] know[s] it.” (Pge: 104). Mr Tate then throws the gun at Atticus, “The rifle cracked. Tim Johnson leaped [and] flopped over.” (Pge: 104). Atticus turns out to be the only one who can save Maycomb from Tim, just like he is the only one who is able to combat racism and defend Tom Robinson. So, Harper Lee uses Tim Johnson as a symbol for the transition from innocence to evil and also as Tom Robinson and the battle against racism.

Harper Lee uses many different symbols in To Kill A Mockingbird to convey the message of innocence to evil. The symbols of the mockingbird, the Radley house and Tim Johnson are all very different but have a very similar meaning; this being the change from innocence and purity to evil and harmfulness. Lee assists readers in understanding this idea with more symbols rather than just one symbol that only a few people can relate to.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does The Mockingbird Symbolize In To Kill A Mockingbird?

The symbol is used by Lee to help the audience understand the innocence and purity that some characters in the novel possess.

What Does Tim Johnson Symbolize?

Tim Johnson might symbolize the racism and intolerance of the town of Maycomb.

What Does The Blanket Symbolize In To Kill A Mockingbird?

The blanket is a symbol of protection and kindness towards Jem and Scout.

What Does The Mad Dog Symbolize In To Kill A Mockingbird?

The mad dog represents how institutional racism can unfairly accuse a handicapped black man of raping a white woman.

What Does Atticus Finch Symbolize?

Atticus symbolizes morality and reason.

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Symbols in the Novel To Kill A Mockingbird. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
“Symbols in the Novel To Kill A Mockingbird.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
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Symbols in the Novel To Kill A Mockingbird [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from:
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