The film To Kill A Mockingbird holds many different criteria for which it can be judged. Some of the most striking aspects of the film concern the point of view of the narrator, and the symbolism as well. Our first-person narrator is Scout Finch, who is five when the story begins and eight when it ends. From the first chapter, though, it’s clear that Scout is remembering and narrating these events much later – after all, the second paragraph of the novel begins, “When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to [Jem’s] accident” (1. 2).
For the most part, Scout recounts the events from her childhood perspective, as she understood them at the time, rather than imposing an adult commentary. This makes the narrative perspective a naive one: often we get descriptions of events just as she experiences them, without commentary on what they mean, or a commentary that is humorously innocent. But having the adult perspective be there in the background, even if it isn’t in play for most of the narration, means it can pop out when it’s needed to point out important things that the narrator realizes only later, to make sure that the reader sees them too.
I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird…. ” “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 corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mocking bird. ” Those lines from Harper Lee’s novel reveal a theme that speaks of innocence and innocence lost in this astounding work.
In one line she exposes the nature of destruction that lies in certain characters and the eternal struggle between good and evil, innocence and experience. The one symbol that epitomizes this struggle is the mockingbird. The bird is seen as innocent, not deserving death or pain, even though there are those who would inflict it without cause. Peeling away the layers of the book to reveal which characters represent the mockingbird, is a daunting task, as there are aspects in many different characters.
Many critics would agree that Tom Robinson, the unfairly accused black man in the story, is the obvious mockingbird symbol. Innocent of the crimes of which he is accused, Tom dies by the hands of others who would kill indiscriminantly because of color, like those who shoot at any or all birds no matter what kind they are. I would put out for consideration, however, that Tom is not the only mockingbird in the story. It is filled from top to bottom with mockingbirds, each one doomed in a particularly sad or poignant way, destined to come face to face with mankind’s own injustice and hatred of that which he fears.
There are other characters who embody the mockingbird symbolism and one pair would be the children, Jem and Scout. They are innocent of the emnity the rest of the town feels is normal. The townsfolk wallow in their racially charged hatred of African Americans. The children, however, cannot understand the bias felt by the rest of the town, indicating that even in that day, Lee recognized that racism is a learned trait and not an innate one.
Yet, the rest of the town cannot and will not protect the innocence of the children. Instead, they indoctrinate their own children with the hatred they accept as normal. What did Jem and Scout do to deserve the derision of the other children and the scorn of the rest of the town? Nothing. They are innocent in the entire situation, yet guilty by their relationship and association with their father, Boo Radley is another metaphor for innocence destroyed and the symbol of the mockingbird.
Every town has its Boo Radley, whether it be in the form of the 70 year old child-man who continues to ride his bicycle through town and ring the little bell, or the 80 year old cat lady that everyone calls a witch and avoids like the plague. There is the one person who stands out as “different” or odd no matter what town you come from. These people are feared or loathed if for no other reason than that they are strange according to the standards of the town. In the case of Boo, he was just pale, quiet, and in need of protection from the outside world.
He is taunted. Children run up and touch the door of his house. They try to break in. In all this, Boo does nothing. Innocent of the craziness caused by the hatred breathing around him, Boo was still the object of ridicule, fear, and derision. In the end, this mockingbird kills in order to protect other innocents, but in doing so rids the world of something harmful and destructive. He is not guilty of wronging something that lives to make the world a better place. He kills so that true innocents may live.
Boo is the savior that Jem and Scout desperately need and saves them at just the right moment. Another unwilling mockingbird symbols rests in the character of Atticus Finch, the kind and gentle attorney who is assingned the job of representing a dead man, Tom Robinson. Taking the case with full knowledge that Tom would die with either verdict, he deseprately tried to give Tom what every human being deserves, justice and a fair trial. However, his stance on fairness and blind justice would only bring him – and his children – pain and suffering in the long run.
Having the blood of an innocent man on his hands is something that Atticus refuses to allow the town people to force upon him. He knows that his stance could cost him his life. He knows his children are in danger. He knows that the same people who love him on Sunday will be willing to beat him to death in the heat of a riot. Yet, Atticus refuses to allow his integrity to be murdered along with Tom Robinson. While Atticus, in his heart, wants to believe that people are still innately good, the people of the town do everything in their power to destroy that belief with their actions.
The theme of the mockingbird is one that is played out not in one character, but in many. They all share attirbutes of goodness, innocence, kindness, and harm to none, yet the other characters who are placed in direct juxtaposition to the mockingbirds of the novel reveal that in this one symbol, many different facets of a character may be revealed.
- To Kill a Mockingbird. Dir. Robert Mulligan. Perf. Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, and Phillip Alford. Universal-International, 1962. Film.