One of the most classic Southern Gothic novels, To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee from a little girl Scout's perspective, tells the story of the struggles for justice in an Alabama town during the Great Depression. Scout's dad, Atticus, defends a black man against a white girl’s accusation of sexual assault and faces disapproval from the whole town. Through Scout’s perspective, we see, in a sense, how everyone around her are "mockingbirds"—all innocent but affected by the deep-rooted injustices in society.
On the surface level, Tom Robinson, as a black man, is a definite "mockingbird" who is incarcerated and eventually shot due to societal prejudices. Robinson gets accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, and is sent to trial. However, during the trial, it is discovered that Mayella’s bruise was on her right eye so the person who attacked her must have used their left hand, yet Tom’s left hand is useless. All Tom ever did was slightly push Mayella to stop her from kissing him. It was clear to all that Tom had nothing to do with Mayella’s bruises during the trial but Tom is still sent to prison, and shot. Despite Atticus’s clear evidence and reasoning that Tom was innocent, the community still chooses to believe the white man Bob Ewell.
Although white, Scout and her family are all "mockingbirds" who are judged by the community due to their unpopular belief in racial equality. At school, Scout’s classmate, Cecil Jacobs, yells, “My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an’ that n****** oughta hang from the water-tank!” (131). Scout’s dad, Atticus, simply wants to defend an innocent Black man; there is nothing wrong about defending an innocent man, but the whole of Maycomb County goes against them, purely because Tom is Black. Atticus even receives several death threats and attacks from white men disapproving of his choices. While Scout and Jem could have been enjoying their childhood innocence, they have to confront attacks from the community for their father’s choices.
Digging deeper, in a sense the whole white community is also a "mockingbird" due to their lack of knowledge of what is right and wrong, leading them to follow the evils of power dynamics. Nearly the whole community supports Bob instead of Tom despite clear evidence suggesting otherwise. However, the white community is still innocent in a sense as the issue of racism is not in their hands to control. They were born, taught, and raised to tout white supremacy; this has been going on for generations and generations.
Throughout the book, Scout narrates all the events surrounding Tom Robinson’s unfortunate death, which shows the entrenched racial prejudices in society, thereby implying the difficulty of going against racial norms. Everyone in this book were "mockingbirds" in some ways, either by being who they are, supporting equality, or following the habits of their ancestors. What To Kill a Mockingbird reveals is a need for education on justice and a change in society so that one day nobody will be judged purely by their identity.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Harper Perennial, 2005. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!