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Themes In To Kill A Mockingbird

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Autor: 24  •  November 20, 2010  •  1,056 Words (5 Pages)  •  839 Views

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To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, may appear to be a simple story about childhood and life in a Southern town, but upon close examination it is a complex novel dealing with themes of education, moral courage, and tolerance. Through the eyes of Scout Finch, the young protagonist, novelist Harper Lee educates the reader about the importance of a moral education, as opposed to a formal education, the difference between traditional bravery and moral courage, and prejudice vs. tolerance.

In the early chapters of the novel, Scout Finch joins her brother Jem at school. School is something that the precocious Scout has been looking forward to attending. Her first day proves to be a disappointment when Jem (Scout's primary playmate at home) tells Scout that they are not to play with each other, and when Scout gets into trouble for educating her teacher about a fellow student, Walter Cunningham, who belongs to a family that doesn't take charity. Her worst disappointment of all is when her teacher, Miss Caroline, tells Scout that Atticus has been teaching her the wrong way. Instead of feeling pride for her reading skills, Scout is made to feel ashamed. She tells her father that she will not return to school, but he compromises with her and tells her if she goes to school that they will continue reading just as they always have. Through their talks on the porch and at night, Atticus teaches Scout more than she will ever learn at school. The most important lesson he teaches her is how to treat people. The moral education Scout receives from Atticus is juxtaposed by Lee in the novel with formal education, which is depicted mostly as rigid, narrow-minded, and not very useful.

In addition to the theme of moral education, Lee explores the notion of bravery vs. moral courage. Scout, Jem, and their friend Dill tend to define bravery by the risks people are willng to take. To these children, accepting a dare is the truest test of one's bravery. Jem accepts Dill's challenge to touch the door of the Radley house, where the neighborhood bogeyman, Arthur "Boo" Radley, lives. Jem also views bravery by how skillful one is with a gun. When Atticus shoots the rabid dog, Jem earns a new-found respect for Atticus. Their notion of bravery changes during the Tom Robinson trial and at the end of the novel. Tom Robinson is an African American and a respected member of the black community. He is a hard worker and a man with a good heart. However, he's been accused by Mayella Ewell, a white woman, of attempted rape. In the fictional town of Maycomb, where the characters reside, there is a great deal of racism and Tom seems doomed to be found guilty of raping Mayella Ewell because he can't possibly receive a fair trial when the jury is comprised solely on white men who operate under the racist assumption that all black men are not to be trusted, that all black men lie, and that all black men are after their women. Despite the negative repercussions he is sure to suffer (and does), Atticus agrees to take the case because he believes in Tom. Atticus is subsequently spit on by Mayella's father, Bob Ewell, called a "nigger lover," and must face down a crowd of angry white men who are looking to lynch Robinson before the trial. Throughout the entire ordeal, he maintains his dignity and imparts his wisdom about moral courage to his children. Bravery, he tells them, has nothing to do with shooting a gun, it has to do with doing the right thing even when you know you're licked before you start.

Finally, the third theme that Lee explores


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