For the Novel
Language is a powerful tool in this novel. The language of the children, the eloquence of Atticus and the language of the townspeople reflect their attitudes and often their prejudices. What lessons does Atticus attempt to teach Scout about the use of racial slurs?
- Many of the characters in the novel hold stereotypes about how individuals will behave as a result of their age, gender, race, social status, etc. Which characters are the victims of stereotyping? Do any of them break through the behavior expected of them, showing individuality and exposing the falseness of labeling people?
- In failing to arrest Boo Radley at the end, Sheriff Tate is breaking the law, as is Atticus, who knows the truth of Ewell’s murder. Do you agree with some critics that Atticus’ actions are “wrong” as well as illegal?
Point of View
- The novel begins as the voice of a mature adult recalling events from childhood and sometimes shifts to the point of view of a 6-year-old. Did you notice the shifts occurring? If so, did you find them distracting? What advantages did the author have as a result of being able to move from one perspective to the other?
- Compare the city of Maycomb to the place where you grew up, noting similarities and differences.
- The story is set in a small town in southern Alabama during the Depression of the 1930s. What aspects of the story seem to be particular to that place and time? What aspects of the story are universal, cutting across time and place? In what ways are the people you know today similar to and different from those in Maycomb?
- Did To Kill a Mockingbird hold your interest? What parts of the story held your interest most strongly? Why? What parts seemed less interesting? Why?
- Many readers see To Kill a Mockingbird as having two parts, one centering on Boo Radley and the other on the trial of Tom Robinson. How were the two stories brought together at the end of the novel?
- Harper Lee called her novel “a love story.” Is this an accurate characterization of the novel?
A central symbol in the novel is the mockingbird, described by Miss Maudie as a creature that should never be killed because it is harmless and even provides song for the enjoyment of others. Both Boo Radley and Tom Robinson are basically blameless individuals who are at the mercy of society, yet society is cruel to Boo and ultimately Tom is murdered. The symbol of the mockingbird also points to Scout, both as an innocent child and as the grown-up narrator, who “sings a song” in telling the story. Can you think of additional ways in which the following function as symbols in To Kill a Mockingbird?
- Mad dog (community gone mad; berserk)
- Treehouse (a retreat from the world)
- Camellias (the old genteel South, living in the past)
- Gun (an abuse of power–Atticus’ view; a means of power–the lynch-mob view)
- Cemented hole in the tree (stories and “singers” or storytellers being thwarted)
- Columns on buildings (persistence of the old South; a facade)
- Atticus’ pocket watch (love of an absent mother)
Additional Points for Discussion
- Other works of literature mentioned throughout the novel
- Literacy, both reading and being unable to read
- Frequent mention of particular flowers
- Actual and symbolic prisons and imprisonment
- Theories and practices of child rearing
- Unwritten social codes
- Role of imagination and creativity in the children’s lives
- The two “dramas”—the Radley plays and the Halloween pageant
For the Film
- Compare the movie to the book. How did viewing the movie compare to the experience of reading?
- What did the film change or leave out? Why do you think these characters and moments were altered or deleted? For example, when a lynch mob confronts Atticus before the trial, Scout’s innocent interference dispels the threat of violence. Compare the scene as it occurs in Chapter 15 of the novel to the film.
- What other films does To Kill a Mockingbird remind you of? How are they alike? How do they differ?
- How does the film compare to the images of childhood represented in other movies or television programs you have seen?
- As a complement to To Kill a Mockingbird, read the novel Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan. It was inspired by the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American youth kidnapped, beaten and drowned by two white men because he whistled at a white woman.
- Through studying primary source materials from the Library of Congress American Memory website, students can better grasp how historical events and human forces have shaped relationships between black and white, and rich and poor, cultures of our country. This website guides teachers and students on a journey through the Depression era in the 1930s. Activities familiarize the students with Southern experiences through the study of the novel and African American experiences through the examination of primary sources.
- Write a newspaper article for the Maycomb News Today, about people or events in To Kill a Mockingbird, and include a headline, a lead and know the who, what, where, when, why and how of the event.
- Create a collage of what you consider important images from the novel.
- Create a poster for a new movie based on the book and include pictures of today’s actors whom you might cast in the main roles.
- If Boo Radley could talk, what do you think he would say? Write an entry in his secret diary.
- Watch the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Content last updated: October 31, 2001