The title of the book is To Kill a Mockingbird. The mockingbird can be interpreted as a symbol of childhood innocence. “To kill a mockingbird” thus means loss of innocence in the most violent way. Set during times of racially torn Maycomb County, Alabama, a character named Scout Finch was caught in the middle of a social disruption. Being the daughter of a white lawyer defending a black male accused of rape, she is constantly heckled by town folks and occasionally haunted by a phantom that hasn’t seen light in years. In spite of the hardships, she emerges as a heroic, resourceful, and strong (both physically and mentally) character to be remembered.
Maycomb County in the book is a steaming pot boiling with overt racism, rampant white supremacy, and disturbing social unrest. Atticus Finch, the father of Jem and Scout, has taken on the case of a black man, Tom Robinson, who is accused of rape of Mayella Ewell. The citizens of town do not take this news very kindly as Scout and Jem often hear remarks such as “Yonders some Finches” (Harper, 1960, p. 291). But this does not affect the children too much until the day of the court hearing, when Tom is convicted of the crime. The children sulk home, and Jem go on about how “it ain’t fair.” His father Atticus reassures Jem that life isn’t always fair by saying “No son, it’s not fair” (Harper, 1960, p.164). When they get home, Scout realizes that this event makes her grow up faster than she could ever imagine. Her youth days are no longer innocent.
The plot unfolds nice and simple. Scout Finch, or Jean Louise, is having fun with her brother Jem (Jeremy Atticus Finch). And then along came a new friend, Charles Baker Harris, also known as Dill to his friends, train their sights on another member of this boring town. Boo Radley, as Scout as the gang tend to call him, is the phantom that resides in the Radley house. Scout goes on a great deal about how the pecans from the pecan trees in the Radley house will kill you, what crimes Boo happened to pull off, and accounts from neighbors. They then focus on the point of getting Boo to come out of the house so he could hang with Scout and her friends. But their plan is foiled when Atticus, Scout and Jem's father, finds out, and tells the children to “stop tormenting that man” (Harper, 1960, p. 115). This is where we see Scout use one of her traits that isn’t useful. Being a little rat that she is, Scout then spits out the entire plan on how they were trying to get Boo Radley out of the house. But there wasn’t anything serious. It was just putting a note in the windowsill. But even then, Atticus tell the children to not try and attempt to get Boo to come out, but there were better things to do for the remainder of the summer. Eventually, Dill has to leave back home for Meridian, Alabama, and Scout and Jem go to school. We don't hear anything about Jem at school, but we sure do hear about Scout’s first day at school, and it didn't sound fun. When Scout gets caught reading, her teacher, Ms. Caroline, told Scout to tell her father to stop teaching her how to read. Scout, who had been reading all her life, protests this, Ms. Caroline abruptly puts an end to it by saying “Your father doesn't know how to teach. Have a seat” (Harper, 1960, p.47). So then later on when screams of the teacher were heard, everyone rushed to figure out what happened, we meet Little Chuck Little, who then instructed that the door be closed. What happened was a mouse escaped from Burris Ewell’s hair, and so when Little Chuck got Ms. Caroline a cup of water, Ms, Caroline forced Burris to go home and wash himself. Naturally, Burris refused to do so. After Ms. Caroline told Burris that he was going to get reported, he went out into the hallway, cursed at Ms. Caroline by saying “Report and be ***ed to ye!”(Harper, 1960, p.26) wandered around, and returned outside. Ms. Caroline felt a brief spasm of depression afterwards, so everyone in class try to encourage her away from the depression. They then tell Ms. Caroline to read them a cat story. Ms. Caroline feels better, thanks the children by saying proceeds to tell them the story. We skip ahead and we see Scout trying to explain how Walter Cunningham is poor and cannot simply take a quarter from Ms. Caroline. Scout has yet demonstrated the trait of being overly noisy, and she receives a “dozen quick little pats” from Ms. Caroline, via ruler (Harper, 1960, p.22). Being forced to serve punishment in the corner of the classroom, the bell rings and Scout sees Ms. Caroline holding her head in her hands.
Later on, we see the observant side of Scout. A trait that is rarely seen in characters in books. Scout can often be found explaining things when bored, or simply when she wants to. She observes some hair colors during the trial of Tom. But at the end of the book, Scout makes an important observation on whether Jem was the one who killed Bob Ewell, or if Bob Ewell killed himself, on accident. Heck Tate, the county sheriff, insists that Jem did nothing, but Atticus insists that Heck Tate stop by saying “Heck, it’s mighty kind of you and I know you’re doin it from that kind heart of yours, but don’t start anything like that” (Harper, 1960, p.45, but then Scout chimes in with the fact Bob had been struggling to hurt Scout, which Jem pulled him off, preventing Scout from falling into the ice cold death grip of Bob. Atticus then gets the idea that when Bob got pulled off, Jem had somehow obtained the knife (Harper, 1960, p.457). Another important observation made was when Scout was the only one to notice a “inside shutter move” (2 in the Radley house, which naturally made her scared. A less useful observation was when Scout dragged Atticus have shaven to show her interpretation of “the world’s endin’”. (Harper, 1960, p.112). It was snow. Another useful observation was her explanation of how Walter Cunningham was poor when he refused to take a quarter from Ms. Caroline (Harper, 1960, p.37). Despite having to receive the punishment of getting whipped with ruler and then standing in the corner. But Scout got her message clear. She is an observant person.
As we get to the final trait (physical and mental strength). Scout is known to be fiercely protective of her friends and especially her father, Atticus. She is not afraid to confront characters such as Cecil Jacobs and her cousin Francis who are not respectful of her father’s deed. For example, Cecil Jacob made derogatory comment that Scout’s daddy defends blacks (used the n-word in the book) (Harper, 1960, p.129). Scout does not like this at all and threatens to beat him up. When Scout goes home to confront her father about this, Atticus explains to her the case about Tom Robinson (Harper, 1960, p. 130). Afterwards, Scout commits to a “policy of cowardice” (Harper, 1960, p. 154), but not for long. Next comes Cecil, who goes around saying that “Scout Finch wouldn’t fight anymore, her daddy wouldn’t let her” (Harper, 1960, p. 154). They underestimated her tremendously. When Francis visits, he uses the same insult, but this time, Scout does the talking with fists (Harper, 1960, p. 145). Scout then gets tackled by her Uncle Jack, who tells her that she is in trouble and reminds her that violence is not always the answer (Harper, 1960, p. 145).
In the end, Scout manages to crawl out of the bowels of the chaotic Maycomb County. All these happen in the span of three years (age 6-9), the most vulnerable and precious years of one’s childhood. Instead of flowers, honey, and fairytales, Scout is showered with a series of events in a town deeply divided along the color line. “It is not fair” as Jem would say. Atticus would chime in “no son, it is not fair.” It is a painful truth that one must stand to reality regardless of his/her age. For Scout, her childhood is cut short by the dark side of humanity. She comes to realize that childhood is like a mockingbird: you have to kill it in order to grow up; and it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. Scout is the hero of the story to bring forth this truth.
Reference (APA formatting)
Lee, H. (1960). To kill a Mockingbird. New York, NY: Harper Collins.