Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Original Publication Date: 1960
This Edition: April 2010
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Harper Lee’s classic novel of a lawyer in the Deep South defending a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.
One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has earned many distinctions since its original publication in 1960. It won the Pulitzer Prize, has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, and been made into an enormously popular movie. Most recently, librarians across the country gave the book the highest of honors by voting it the best novel of the twentieth century.
I first read To Kill A Mockingbird in high school and have always been entranced by the title. I picked up the book this time with the intention of finally getting to the bottom of the mockingbird imagery.
It was this line on page of 119 of my edition that sparked my interest:
“…but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Harper explains through Miss Maudie:
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t end up in people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (119).
Scout, looking back on her childhood as a full-grown adult, realizes that many of her memories were painted in pure black and white before Atticus’s famous case. Atticus was right, Dill was her fiancee, and Boo Radley was scary. As Scout grows, the colors begin to blend together into shades of grey, but one motif continues to rise above them all: innocence.
For Scout, innocence is something she’s never had to consider until the case. There was right, wrong, black and white. Innocence itself shifts the book from these two primary colors into something much murkier, causing Scout to finally examine things from all angles, including her own beliefs and the culture around her. The mockingbird, to me, is a symbol of innocence. They don’t do anything but “sing their hearts out,” which is seen as a innocent and heartwarming pastime (119). Other birds may ruin, disorder, or corrupt, but the mockingbird does none of these things and therefore remains above others.
As to who the mockingbird directly represents, I couldn’t say for certain. One this read, the mockingbird imagery doesn’t fit one particular character – it brought out the pure white, the innocent, in a few different characters and occasionally highlighted the darkness in others.
Sometimes I read these novels again and feel like nothing has changed from my first read in high school/college/whenever. I had forgotten the poignancy of To Kill A Mockingbird. Just in my quick read, I’ve found a few moments where I have to sit the book down and just think about the magic and profoundness of the book I’ve just read. That simple feeling is why this book will remain a classic with me always.