“I’d rather you shoot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit them, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (Lee 99). A mockingbird is a North American bird that imitates the calls of other birds and hums beautiful songs. In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, symbolism is used rather extensively throughout the entire book; much of it references the extreme racism and prejudice that prevailed in the Southern United States during the nineteen thirties. Lee’s influential use of racial imagery to symbolize various characters from the novel can be identified and analyzed through the actions of the children, lawyer Atticus Finch, the blacks, and the racist whites. The title character ties into the significant theme of innocence and purity; exemplified through numerous characters throughout the novel. In contrast, the blue jay signifies the cruel, racist people of the world. Harper Lee uses animal symbolism, such as the mockingbird and the blue jay, to represent the various race relations between characters throughout the novel. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens; don’t nest in corn cribs… that’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (Lee 100). Symbolism is used quite frequently in the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, to epitomize several characters as well as the numerous racial relations in the South during the early twentieth century. The mockingbird plays a momentous role in the story; to allow Harper Lee to explore the depths and detail of discrimination during that period of time (“Race Relations in To Kill a Mockingbird” 1). A mockingbird is a distinct, harmless bird who doesn’t do anything to hurt other beings; just to create lovely music for the world to enjoy. An evident representation of innocence, gratitude and purity, the mockingbird is the spark of hope and happiness in a dark world overshadowed by racism. The mockingbird represents virtue and “the killing of them symbolizes the effect that senseless and ignorant evil can have on that innocence” (“Symbols in To Kill a Mockingbird” 1). Therefore, illustrating how the mockingbird, a symbol of joyfulness, communication and harmlessness, can be demolished by the perils of darkness and evil that flourishes in the novel. As one can see, the titular character, the mockingbird, signifies all the harmless, blissful beings in the world; pierced by the hazards of malevolence and racism, who should not be mistreated or abused. “Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad” (Lee 307). The novel includes various characters who depict an essential motif throughout the story: innocence versus evil. The mockingbird only sings other birds’ songs and is therefore, seen through the other birds. For example, Arthur Radley and Tom Robinson exemplify the significant icon, the mockingbird, through their actions, thoughts, and portrayals in the novel in addition to the fact that the people of Maycomb County only knew them by the rumors spread about the town. The two characters don’t have their own “songs” and their identities are shaped by other people’s opinions (“Symbols in To Kill a Mockingbird” 1). Arthur Radley, as demonstrated by the quote above, is an utterly significant character throughout the story who “symbolizes both goodness, graciousness, and the lessons that Scout and Jem learn” (“Symbols in To Kill a Mockingbird” 1). The innocent, harmless persona of Arthur “Boo” Radley parallels the blatant representation of the pure, blameless mockingbird, for as Scout realized at the end of the novel “shootin’ Boo Radley would be like shootin’ a mockingbird” (Lee 304). Furthermore, Tom Robinson, a black man convicted of raping a white woman, is also clearly manifested as a mockingbird. He is an honest person “who has in no way pained or harmed anybody and is directly and deliberately shot by society not because of justice by prejudice. The jurors sentence him to death not because he did anything wrong but because of the prejudice” (“Race Relations in To Kill a Mockingbird” 1). Therefore, the mockingbird represents the vulnerability of the black population, including Tom Robinson, who was harmed by the hazards of evil at the end of the novel. If one were to rephrase Atticus’s words “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” to “it’s a sin to kill an innocent man” then this further illustrates how people like Tom Robinson or Arthur Radley should not be harmed or injured by evil or injustice. Harper Lee uses creative and effective language as well as vital symbols to compare and contrast the various characters in the novel. “Bluejays are viewed as the bullies of the bird world. They are very loud, territorial and aggressive” (Smykowski 2). The mockingbird is not the only significant symbol that represents various characters in the novel. The blue jay exemplifies the racist ‘bullies’ of Maycomb County, such as Bob Ewell who deliberately accused Tom Robinson of raping his daughter, Mayella. Bob Ewell is an essential symbol in the story who inflicts several conflicts between the characters. People like the Ewell family signifies sheer laziness, lack of knowledge and ambition yet they believe they are superior over the black population solely based on the color of their skin, even though the blacks are the innocent, kindhearted mockingbirds Therefore, Harper Lee uses the cruel symbol of the blue jay to personify characters such as Bob Ewell throughout the novel. Not everybody in the meanspirited Ewell family is a bluejay, though. For example, the daughter, Mayella, is a fallen mockingbird who has lost her sweet, innocent song for she was harmed by the dangers of her abusive, cruel father, Bob Ewell (“Race Relations in To Kill a Mockingbird” 2). The blue jay, in addition to the significant mockingbird, illustrates various characters in the novel including Bob Ewell and the rest of the prejudiced ‘bullies’ of the town. At the beginning of the novel, the audience is introduced to life in Maycomb, the small town where the majority of people are friendly; such as the Finch family, yet can be judgmental and bigoted; such as the Ewell family. For instance, the community is evidently divided into two separate sections: the blacks (who mostly represent mockingbirds) and the whites (such as the Ewell family who symbolize the blue jay). The black populace, are simple, hardworking, innocent and respectful people while the white population are the lackadaisical, racist people who place themselves on a pedestal solely based on the color of their skin. Additionally, the community categorizes one another based on social status and skin color when Atticus says “....Maycomb’s usual disease. Why reasonable people stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up…” (Lee 187). Therefore, the white population strongly despise the blacks; bearing animosity towards each other. The essential trial of the alleged rape of Mayella by Tom Robinson allows Harper Lee to explore the contrasts between the blacks and the whites as well as the extreme racial prejudice in Maycomb County. Tom Robinson, a clearly manifested mockingbird, is part of the innocent, hardworking, loyal black population, who is abused by the intolerant biased Bob Ewell. Though Atticus proved Tom not guilty, the white courtroom imprisoned him because of racial status. The relations between the various people and segregated groups in the novel are exemplified through animal symbols such as the mockingbird and the bluejay. In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, symbolism is used to communicate and exemplify various ideas throughout the story; much of it referencing the severe racism that flourished in the Southern United States during the early twentieth century. Lee’s powerful use of imagery and animal symbolism to exemplify several different characters from the novel can be recognized through the actions of the Finch family, the black populace, and the racist white population.The titular character, the mockingbird, ties into the essential motif of innocence, purity, and gratitude as seen through the actions of numerous characters throughout the novel, including Arthur Radley and Tom Robinson. On the contrary, the blue jay signifies the cruel, prejudiced people of Maycomb County, Alabama (“Smykowski” 2). Harper Lee uses animal symbolism, including the innocent mockingbird and the cruel blue jay, to exemplify the various race relations between the characters throughout the novel.
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