Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
To Kill a Mockingbird
Truman Capote was a lifelong friend of childhood neighbor Lee, and allegedly was the inspiration for the character of Dill in her best-seller. Capote frequently implied that he himself had written a considerable portion of her novel, and some have said he ghosted the entire novel. At least one person—Pearl Kazin Bell, an editor at Harper's— has gone on record as believing his assertions were true.
The story explores prejudice in its various forms, as well as childhood and maturity. Since the story is told from the point of view of a child (Scout), the author is able to present situations without adding an explicit opinion—the reader is left to make sense of events and come to his own conclusion. Nonetheless, it is clear that the author believes strongly that the prejudiced actions of the characters are wrong, even if they are believed by the majority and by those in power.
The title of the book is taken from Atticus' advice to his children about firing their air rifles at birds: "Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird". The blue jay is a very common bird, and is often perceived as a bully and a pest, whereas mockingbirds do nothing but "sing their hearts out for us". Metaphorically, several of the book's characters can be seen as "mockingbirds", attacked despite doing nothing but good. The mockingbird represents innocence, and to kill one is to metaphorically kill innocence. Note that several of the the main protagonists are named after birds: Scout, Jem, Atticus Finch, and Tom Robinson.
The book was adapted into an award-winning movie in 1962, directed by Robert Mulligan and starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, with Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, the man he defends. The movie was also the screen debut of actor Robert Duvall. Mary Badham and Phillip Alford , both native Southerners, played Finch's children. The film received three Academy Awards, including the Best Actor award for Peck. It was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1995.
The character of Boo Radley—a mysterious neighbor who lives quietly in his dark house and is feared by the local children—gave his name to the popular British band The Boo Radleys. Demi Moore and Bruce Willis named their daughter Scout after the book's young heroine.
Analysis of Important Characters
Jem Finch is Scout's older brother. Jem undergoes crucial transformations in the work as he becomes a man. The trial of Tom Robinson is Jem's first real encounter with true evil, and the realization of its existence drives him into a sullen state. Prior to this, he had viewed the world innocently, thinking of people as being one-sided. He viewed Boo Radley, for example, as a frightening figure. Jem was able to overcome his sullenness due to the strong presence of Atticus in his life, and became a bigger person as he achieved a greater understanding of the world and how to view and treat other human beings.
Boo Radley symbolizes destroyed innocence. As a child he was abused by his father, and was driven to agoraphobia. A gentle creature, he is viewed with fear by the children, who do not come to a better understanding of him until the end of the work. He does several heroic things, including giving Scout a blanket during a neighborhood fire, and saving the kids from an assualt by the father of the girl that accused Tom Robinson of rape. His misconcieved good nature testifies to the message of the story, one of kindness and the notion that people should not make judgements on others, since human beings are not that simple.
Atticus Finch is one of the most important characters in the story. He represents morality and kindness. He defends Tom Robinson because he feels that not doing so would make him a hypocrite. Atticus serves as a guiding light for his children, always calm and patient, he allows them to come to the understanding that although evil exists, one should not dwell on that but should instead realize that the existence of this evil is a sign that there is work to do, and progress to make. His strong presence in his children's lives prevents them from becoming symbols of destroyed innocence, such as Boo Radley and Tom Robinson.
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