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Themes and Messages in To Kill a Mockingbird

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From analysing Harper Lee’s renowned novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, it becomes apparent Harper Lee expertly explores and incorporates various themes and values in “TKAM” to challenge societal attitudes. Harper Lee explores various significant themes, formulating her perspective, then cleverly incorporating her perspective through the book’s various ideologies, textual convention and literacy devices. These themes were revolutionising, innovating her controversial book in a revolutionising society experiencing social reformation. Her usage of these themes challenged the prominent societal attitude, influencing the audience’s perspective on society and its fundamental ideologies. The prominent themes, Harper Lee incorporated into “TKAM” are interrelated to racial inequality and morality, being “racial equality leads to social degradation and human nature affects social behaviour and outcomes”.

The prominent ideologies Harper Lee incorporates into “TKAM”, interrelate predominantly to racial inequality and its significant effects on society. Harper Lee explores the concept of racism by formulating and incorporating her interpretation of racism in “TKAM” in several significant symbolic ways. However, the predominant theme introduced to readers is rather ominous and possesses dire warnings, “Prejudice and segregation leads to social degradation and only unity can sustain a society.” The morphodite snowman constructed in Chapter 8 by Scout and Jem is a prominent example of Harper Lee’s creative interpretation, representing symbolic significance. Symbolically, the snowman conceptualises various significant ideologies and values relating to American society during the 1930s, aimed at demographics experiencing social reformation during the 1960s.

The Snowman’s morphodite nature encompasses the various communities inhabiting Maycomb’s fundamental dependence with each other. The snow and mud within the snowman, represent the white and African American population, with their fundamental dependence being interpreted through the mud and snow necessary in forming the snowman. This displays that separation (racial inequality) between these components (population) would consequently result in the deterioration of this bond, thereby resulting in social degradation and disparity. The court trial and racial inequality Tom Robinson experienced between chapters 17 and 21 is a significant occurrence in “TKAM”, building rising tension, consequently impacting “TKAM” climax. The trial’s procedure relates to the symbolic significance of the morphodite snowman. Contextually, the trial was significant in establishing a widening gap in the fragile connection between the 2 communities of Maycomb, building tension thereby resulting in aggressive disparity in Maycomb’s community leading to social degradation. Harper Lee’s incorporation of these themes displayed significant symbolism, encouraging unity and equality, effectively challenging societal attitude by displaying the degradation America would experience, therefore making unity and racial equality necessary to achieve a perfected America. Contradicting the traditionalists' societal attitude of segregation, Harper Lee effectively contrasted the predominant traditional societal attitude about segregation by introducing and incorporating themes about equality and segregation’s consequences.

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Through Harper Lee’s interpretation, another prominent value of “TKAM” relates to morality and human nature, conceptualising the characters and their unique attributes, These characters are mediums Harper Lee uses to represent societal attitudes through their personalities and actions, consequently influencing their interpretation on society. The character’s interaction and action can be equated to the theme “Real Human Nature significantly influences our social behaviour and outcomes”. The Cunninghams are predominant examples of contrasting characters in ideologies and beliefs. The Cunninghams are representations of good-hearted and productive members of society, possessing a proud heritage and symbolising personified justice and racial equality. Harper Lee effectively utilised them as a medium to represent the genuine virtue of human nature, allowing readers to contemplate their human nature. Atticus refers to the Cunninghams as respectable, hard-working and proud individuals, displaying their positivity and commitment. Possessing good mannerisms, The Cunninghams represent genuinely virtuous human nature, being mirrorable characters to Atticus, another kind and respectful individual.

Readers can identify the ideologies and personalities of the Cunninghams and their further involvement in the story through their attributes, with their virtuous nature exemplified during the trial between chapters 20-21. A Cunningham member was the only jury who believed in the innocence of Tom Robinson and was not influenced by prejudiced beliefs. Harper Lee deliberately uses these mediums, to portray her interpretation on society and the ideal American citizen in a revolutionizing social reformative society. Harper Lee’s incorporation of Cunningham's ideologies and behaviour blatantly contradicted the predominant social attitude towards African Americans, effectively making readers contemplate their decision and attitudes. Harper Lee also displays the integral flaws of America’s proclaimed fundamental ideologies about freedom and equality, challenging societal attitude about patriotism. Contrasting the virtuous Cunninghams, the Ewells are the epitome of scum in society, symbolising trash and being a disgrace on Maycomb’s society due to their condemnable behaviour. Atticus refers to the Ewells as immoral, dishonest, foulmouthed and trash, displaying his disapproval of the Ewells. Many members of Maycomb share the disapproval. Bob Ewell is the predominant representation of an aggressive drunk and patriarchal bastard, committing many atrocities such as sexual harassment, abuse, assault and negligence, becoming more apparent during Chapters 27 and 28. Bob Ewell attempted to assault and murder several residents of Maycomb including Jem and Scout for humiliating him in the court trial. Bob Ewell would have succeeded if not for the invention of Arthur Radley. Harper Lee effectively utilises the Ewells as a medium to express her opinions on traditionalist attitudes towards African Americans and its significant flaws, including the decaying of society and its severe consequences. She also introduces the concepts of justice and disapproval of these individuals, challenging attitudes of racial superiority. Overall Harper Lee contrasted the predominant social attitude on morality by introducing 2 families of contrasting ideologies and their representation of real people.

In conclusion, Harper Lee expertly explores themes revolving around unity and morality, incorporating them through “TKAM” formation through its various attributes to challenge societal attitudes. These attributes represent symbolic significance, formed through the book’s textual convention and literacy devices, effectively challenging traditional and discriminatory societal attitudes towards minority communities by preaching about unity, morality and unforeseeable consequences due to racial inequality. This made “TKAM” controversial in a revolutionising society. Overall, the structure of “TKAM” was effective in incorporating Harper Lee’s interpretation of these themes, allowing Harper Lee to effectively express and explore themes that challenged societal attitudes.

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Themes and Messages in To Kill a Mockingbird. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
“Themes and Messages in To Kill a Mockingbird.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
Themes and Messages in To Kill a Mockingbird. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Mar. 2024].
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