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To Kill A Mockingbird Themes

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"To Kill a Mocking Bird" by Harper Lee is renowned as a great text because of the important moral values it displays. The themes of the text such as growing up, courage and prejudice were particularly significant issues during the authors time, yet have never lost their importance Harper Lee highlights these themes through the use of language techniques, structure and symbolism.

The nature of growing up is portrayed through Scout and Jem's travels from childhood to maturity and the accompanying growth in their ability to see things from the point of view of others. Their change of attitude, in Chapter 16, to Mr Dolphus Raymond is an example of this. He is a white man from a rich family who is looked down upon be the white community because he lives with a black woman and her children. However, Scout and Dill learn that by pretending to be permanently drunk he gives the white community a reason for his chosen way of life. He explains to Scout and Dill that he does not drink much. He tells them this because they are young and without set attitudes they are more able to understand. Scout realizes that his "perpetrated fraud" is only to escape society's prejudice. This is the beginning of a change in Scout's outlook on life. Atticus continually encourages Scout and Jem in their growth and, leading by example, guides his children towards the high standard of moral values that he thinks make an honourable human being. This gives the text value because Harper Lee is effectively using Atticus as a moral example not only for his children, but for the reader as well.

A part of Scout and Jem's growth is the development of courage. It takes great courage to stand up for what is right rather than always taking the "path of least resistance." Atticus' willingness to defend a Negro, Tom Robinson, in spite of strong criticism, is the novel's classic example of courage and honorable character. In stark contrast to the offensive and abusive behaviour of Mr Robert Ewell, Atticus holds true to his character and morals in the court room. He maintains his sense of dignity, and does not get outraged by the pending result of the trial, despite the fact that he knows it will be blatantly unfair and based on prejudice - "This is clearly a case of black or white"(pg 224).

Even more predominant than the theme of courage is the theme of prejudice. This theme underlies Atticus' fight for Tom Robinson's justice and Scout and Jem's changed attitude to Mr Dolphus Raymond. Prejudice also engulfed the mob in chapter 15 but was overcome by the childlike innocence of Scout when she talked to Mr Cunningham. Harper Lee adds value to the text by drawing the reads attention to prejudice and the mistreatment of the innocent, and although attitudes are gradually improving, these issues still exists in our society and continually need to be addressed.

The structure, language and symbolism of the novel serve to emphasise and sharpen these major themes. Lee structures the novel such that a theme that underlies one chapter is again referred to in another, from different point of view. For example the close positioning of the shooting of the mad dog (chapter 10) and Miss Dubose's death from a morphine overdose (chapter 11) presents contrasting ideas about the theme of courage. The mad dog incident displays the more common view of courage, the quality of mind that enables one to encounter difficulties and danger with firmness and lack of fear. Miss Dubose's battle with her morphine addiction shows a different view of courage, continuing to pursue something even though you know you are fighting a loosing battle. This is a valuable lesson for the reader as many people place far less value on this less obvious form of courage.




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