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Symbolism is used extensively in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The theme of prejudice in the novel can be best perceived through the symbol of the mockingbird. Atticus advised his children that if they went hunting for birds to "shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit " em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (96). Miss Made explains this further by saying that "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 corncrib's, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (96).
Bluejays are considered to be the bullies of the bird world. They are very loud, territorial and aggressive. The bluejays represent the prejudiced bullies of Maycomb, such us Bob Ewell. Mockingbirds, on the other hand, are innocent and all they do is sing beautiful songs; they would not harm anyone.
Tom Robinson is an example of a mockingbird. Tom never harms anything or anyone. The only mistake Tom made was to help Mayella and hack wood. Mayella accused Tom of raping her. When asked if Tom was the man who raped her, she replied and said that he "most certainly is" (192).
He is unmistakably innocent, but still, those around him must sin and kill a mockingbird. "Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed" (247). After Tom was killed for attempting to escape from prison, Mr Underwood wrote in an editorial that he "simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children" (247). The parallel between killing a mockingbird and killing a cripple man, Tom, is apparent here. Both of them are completely defenseless before their persecutors and, thus, it is sinful for them to be killed in that way.
However, Tom Robinson is not the only mockingbird in the story. Boo Radley is another harmless creature who falls victim of cruelty. He is unjustly regarded as an evil person and used as the scapegoat for all the bad happenings around town. Women are afraid of him and so are children. When the sheriff decided that he would not arrest Boo Radley for killing Bob Ewell and that would present his death as an accident, Atticus asked Scout if she understood the meaning of this decision. Scout replied that she did.
Her exact words were: "Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" (282). Boo here is also compared to the gentle bird and again it would be a 'sin' to punish him. The symbol of the mockingbird can be applied to Boo Radley from another point of view as well. The mockingbird has no song of its own. It just imitates other birds. Therefore it makes itself present and is seen through other birds.
In the same way, Boo Radley is seen through the eyes of other people. He does not have a character of his own. What the reader knows about him is what other people say. He is believed to " dine on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, his hands were blood-stained; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time" (19). Of course, none of these stories about him is true. In fact the stories tell us more about the people who spread them rather than Boo Radley himself.
Not only them, but Jem and Scout were mockingbirds in the story as well. Their last name, Finch, is another type of songbird. Being so young in a society so locked up in itself was like Jem and Scout locked in Maycomb where tolerance was very limited and prejudice overflowed. Also, like a mockingbird trapped in a cage. Jem and Scout have their innocence taken away at a very early age. In a sense, its like killing a mockingbird.
Symbolism is indeed used extensively in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The symbolism reveals the prejudice and narrow-mindedness of the citizens of Maycomb County, their fears and the immoral things they did. It also reveals an attempt to purify people from these feelings, by a hero figure, a model to the community, Atticus Finch, as well as his two children, who surely follow in his footsteps. The story ends with the reading of a book by Atticus, The Grey Ghost, another symbol perhaps for Boo Radley whose "face was as white as his hands and his grey eyes were so colourless" (276), a description fitting to one of a ghost.
Before she falls asleep, Scout describes the story, which happens to be about someone falsely accused of doing something he never did, exactly like Tom Robinson and Boo Radley, the two mockingbirds of the story so horribly treated by others. The closing of the novel with another symbol for the two victims of human malice suggests the power Harper Lee sees in symbolism, which carries the message better than words. At this point she seems to agree with J. B. S. Haldane, a British Scientist, who stated: "In fact, words are well adapted for description and the arousing of emotion, but for many kinds of precise thought other symbols are much better.
Perhaps this is the reason Harper Lee chooses to declare her rejection of prejudice and racism through the use of symbols; because they are more effective than words.
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