Essay by E. Ryan

Essay About To Kill a Mockingbird

By Emily Ryan

         The book To Kill a Mockingbird was written by Harper Lee, a young woman from Alabama. Published in 1960, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. The story is set in the lazy Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama. It takes place during the Depression and focuses mainly on prejudice and the old, grand families of the white people in the deep South. The mood of the story is humorous but can be sad or serious at times. To Kill a Mockingbird is told from the point of view of a young girl named Jean Louise (Scout), whose father is a lawyer. The author uses the first person participant perspective of a child so that you can discover things as she does and learn through her innocence and lack of prejudice. Lee wants to shock you with the prejudice towards blacks just as Scout is shocked by it. During Tom Robinson’s trial, Scout’s friend Dill gets very upset when the prosecutor treats Tom with disrespect. It shows that children don’t have the prejudices of adults. Mr. Raymond Dolphus understands how the children feel, though, when he says “Because you’re children and can understand it…Let him get a little older and he won’t get sick and cry…Maybe things’ll strike him as not quite right, say, but he won’t cry.”

         The main themes of To Kill a Mockingbird are putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, courage versus cowardice, innocence versus experience, prejudice, love versus hatred, and kindness versus cruelty. The idea of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes occurs often throughout the book. One example is the incident when Atticus is keeping watch at the jail and a crowd of men comes wanting to hurt Tom Robinson. Scout talks to Mr. Walter Cunningham about his entailment. Her innocence and kindness makes him stand in Atticus’ shoes for a moment and feel ashamed at his rash anger. Then he realizes what he is doing and leaves, taking the rest of the men with him. Another example of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is the time when Scout stands on Boo Radley’s front porch, and she can understand how attached Boo became by watching her, Jem, and Dill out his window. The theme of courage versus cowardice is evident when Atticus is compared to Bob Ewell. Although Mr. Ewell appears to be brave by confronting Atticus and saying that he will kill him, he is really just a coward because he would never actually dare to do that. Mr. Ewell is a destructive in childish ways, picking on helpless people like Helen Robinson or Jem and Scout. Atticus is the brave one, because he stands up for what he believes. The theme of prejudice is shown in the attitude the town has towards the blacks and in the inevitable verdict of guilty in Tom Robinson’s case. Tom never really had a chance from the start. “Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the moment Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.” Prejudice is also shown in humorous situations like at the Ladies’ Missionary Society Tea when the women are discussing the blacks. Miss Gates, Scout’s teacher, is also prejudiced when she says that persecuting the Jews is wrong, but she does the same to the blacks. Mr. Raymond Dolphus has to pretend to be drunk in order to be accepted by Maycomb, because they don’t understand why he wants to live with black people.

         One of the messages the author tries to convey is that you should live according to your conscience no matter what others say about you. Atticus is the main character who portrays this. The way he raises his kids shows that he cares about what he feels is right, not what everyone else says is right. Atticus lets Scout wear pants and act however she wants, but he won’t let her fight other children because they insult her. He wants his children to care about following your conscience and being respectful to other’s opinions. Another example is the Tom Robinson case. This case is very controversial, because it is a white woman accusing a black man. Although Atticus was appointed to the case, he did not have to accept it or he could have defended him halfheartedly. But Atticus felt that it was his duty to accept the case and try to help the black man, Tom, have a fair trial. The reasons Atticus gives for his decisions are that “if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.” The town, though, did not approve of his decision. They felt that it was wrong to defend a black man. Jem and Scout, Atticus’ kids, are teased at school about their father defending blacks. Although Atticus does not want her to, she fights several children who insult Atticus. Atticus does many things to show that he is not prejudiced against blacks, unlike many other people in Maycomb. He protects Tom in jail, even when it threatens his own safety like when the crowd of angry men came wanting to hurt the black man. Atticus makes sure no one bullies Tom and shows care for Tom’s family by visiting them and treating them kindly. He treats Calpurnia well also. Atticus allows his children to go to her church, and lets Jem, Scout, and Dill sit in the balcony at court with the blacks.

         I enjoyed reading the book To Kill a Mockingbird. Its blend of humor, seriousness, and sadness make it an interesting story. I found that the characters were very easy to relate to, especially Jem and Scout. My favorite character is Jem, because he is sensitive and kind but also stands up for what he feels is right. He becomes more like Atticus, his father, as the novel goes on. To Kill a Mockingbird taught me just how evil and despicable prejudice is. It also showed me why I should live by my own convictions.

This book is perfect for teenagers and up. I recommend To Kill a Mockingbird to anyone who likes books about growing up and learning to follow your conscience.

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