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Who Is the Mockingbird in 'To Kill a Mockingbird': Critical Essay

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In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the author, Harper Lee, tells a story about two young children, who live in a period of racial discrimination against African Americans. The reader learns about the characters’ experiences that shape their moral views about people of different social classes and races. Lee portrays African Americans as a segregated community that was considered inferior and constantly faced social injustice, yet they were respectful to the whites, despite the cruel and unfair treatment they endured.

Throughout the novel, African Americans are portrayed as a segregated community that was considered inferior by whites. In fact, segregation was evident everywhere in Maycomb, and blacks were treated as second-class citizens. For example, they lived in a separate area called the Quarters, which was located “outside the southern town limits” (157). To get to their settlement, one had to pass the town’s dump. They also attended a separate church, where they “worshiped in it on Sundays, and white men gambled in it on weekdays” (157). Whether it was the courthouse square or the Maycomb County courthouse, African Americans had to sit in a separate area.

They had to also wait for white folks to enter the courthouse before they could. Whites did everything to degrade blacks and demonstrate their power and superiority. When the residents of Maycomb found out that Atticus was appointed to defend Tom Robinson, who was accused of raping a white woman, they got very furious. Both adults and children proudly exhibited negative feelings and made derogatory remarks toward African Americans. For instance, Jem’s classmate, Cecil Jacobs, told him, “My folks said your daddy was a disgrace, and that “[racial epithet] oughta hang from the water tank!” (102). Even Atticus’ close relatives were filled with racism and hatred towards blacks. At Christmas dinner, Scout’s cousin, Francis called Atticus a “[racial epithet]-lover” (112). He then repeated the hurtful comments by adding that Atticus “has turned out a “[racial epithet]–lover” and we’ll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb again. He’s ruinin’ the family, that’s what he’s doin’.” (110).

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The author also portrays African Americans as constantly facing social injustice. The best example in the novel is Mayella and her dad’s action against an innocent black man, named Tom Robinson. It all begins when the young woman falsely accuses him of beating and raping her. During the trial, Tom tries to explain that he never had bad intentions and tried to only show kindness to Mayella. He testifies that he passed her house “going to and from the field every day” (255). He then states that he got invited inside the house many times by the young woman and was asked to do small chores. Since Mayella was poor and didn’t really have any friends, Tom felt sorry for her. He was probably the only person who was nice to her. Unfortunately, the young lady betrayed his kindness. Tom became a victim and an easy target because of his skin color. After she tries to kiss him, out of respect for her, he refuses to kiss her back and tries to leave. Unfortunately, on his way out he hears her father say, “.. you goddamn whore, I’ll kill ya.” (260). Horrified and scared, Tom runs as fast as he can.

Little does he know that Mayella will be later found “lying on the floor in the middle of the front room” pretty badly beaten up and that she will accuse him of raping her (p.223). Right away, Tom Robinson is charged with assault and rape, without any sufficient evidence or thorough investigation. During the trial, he’s treated unjustly because of his race and skin color. By the end of the trial, it’s clear that Tom Robinson is innocent and yet, when Judge Taylor polls the jury, their verdict is “Guilty… guilty… guilty… guilty…” (282). The jury that consisted of all white men finds the young African American man guilty. Finally, Harper Lee presents a black community that is honest and respectful towards whites, despite the cruel and unfair treatment they received from them. The African American residents of Maycomb show their gratitude to Atticus for helping Tom Robinson, by giving and surprising him with gifts. For example, it states, “ The kitchen was loaded with enough food to bury the family: hunks of salt pork, tomatoes, beans, even scuppernongs.” “ They - they ‘appreciate what you did, Mr. Finch”. (286). Even though the community is poor, they do everything in their power to show their appreciation for Atticus Finch. In the courthouse, when Jem and Scout realize there are no seats available for them, Reverend Sykes takes them to the balcony where black folks sit and four men give “their front–row seats” to the children. (p.219).

The African American community tried to show their respect and gratitude in every way they could. Loyalty was another quality that many blacks possessed. One of the best examples would be Calpurnia, who is Mr. Finch’s housekeeper. She is a very strong and smart woman who plays an important role in Scout and Jem’s upbringing as well as their lives. In fact, she can be considered as the only mother figure to the children. Tom Robinson is another character in the novel, who constantly shows respect and kindness. For example, he helps Mayella around the house without expecting anything in return. When she tries to kiss him, out of respect for her, he stops Mayella in a very polite way. He mentions the incident in his testimony, “She says she never kissed a grown man before an’ she might as well kiss a nigger.” (260). Tom never took any advantage of the young lady. Throughout the history of the United States, African Americans have continuously faced racial discrimination from whites. The author, Harper Lee, does a great job exploring the topic and educating readers about the unfair treatment and cruelty many blacks experience. However, Harper Lee could have given us more insight into characters, like Tom Robinson. We never really learned about his life, his family, or his feelings. After all, he does play a major role in the novel. He is the one that brings the title to life - he is the mockingbird, who was wrongly accused and got killed in a cruel way.

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Who Is the Mockingbird in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Critical Essay. (2023, September 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from
“Who Is the Mockingbird in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Critical Essay.” Edubirdie, 25 Sept. 2023,
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Who Is the Mockingbird in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Critical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Sept 25 [cited 2023 Nov 30]. Available from:
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