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"'...shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.' That was the only time I ever hear Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. 'Your father's right,' she said. 'Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'"
To Kill a Mockingbird is a 1960 novel by Harper Lee set in the Depression-eraDeep South revolving around Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, her brother Jem and their lawyer father Atticus. During the course of the novel Atticus defends a black man, Tom Robinson, who is falsely accused of rape. Despite (or possibly because of) its near-universal acclaim and status as a classic, this was the only book Harper Lee ever wrote. In 1962, it was made into a film with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, probably his most well-known role today.
Academy Award: The film was nominated for 8 Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director), and took home 3 of them, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Amateur Cast: Jem and Scout were played by Phil Alford and Mary Badham, local kids from near the shooting site. Neither had any acting experience. Phil had a few TV roles later. Mary was cast in several film and TV productions, notably Sport Sharewood in The Twilight Zone and Willie in This Property Is Condemned, where she sings "Wish Me A Rainbow". A heavy Alabama accent prevented her from moving on to an adult acting career. John Megna (Dill) was the only kid in the cast with substantial acting experience, most of it on Broadway. He went on to do many films and TV episodes (he was the "Bonk bonk on the head!" kid from the Star Trek TOS episode "Miri") before dying of AIDS at 42.
Amoral Attorney: Averted on both sides: although Atticus didn't want the case, after he was appointed to defend Tom Robinson, he saw it as his duty to defend his client to the best of his abilities, and was emotionally devastated by the outcome. Meanwhile, the prosecutor is just seen as doing his job, with Scout suspecting he deliberately held back on the cross-examination.
Animal Motifs: Tom Robinson. The Finch family. Ewell is repeatedly compared to a rooster to complete the bird imagery—meaningfully, the only flightless bird of the bunch.
Are You Sure You Want to Do That?: Atticus uses it several times in Scout's earlier years before the story as a warning during checkers matches that she was about to make a mistake: Scout never took the warning and always got trounced when she ignored it. The second time uses it for drama in a climactic moment that displays Atticus' bravery as he faces down a lynch mob, and, after asking them what they are here for, asks the question.
Asshole Victim: Bob Ewell at the end, for many reasons listed on this page.
Badass Bookworm: Atticus' surprised children learn he is the best shot in the county when he is asked to kill a rabid dog.
Badass Pacifist: Atticus Finch. He is spat upon by Bob Ewell. Atticus looks the man in the eye as he wipes the spit off with a handkerchief, and it is apparent that the man is intimidated by Atticus's mere presence. Atticus leaves without laying a hand on the contemptible man, but it is clear who the stronger of the two is.
Because You Were Nice to Me: Arguably the reason why Boo Radley began to leave gifts for the children and saved them. They didn't mock him or shun him, they merely took an interest in him, and it amused him and made him happy.
Black Comedy: Lampshaded by Scout (as narrator) during the attempted lynching. Quote: "A sickeningly comic aspect of an unfunny situation."
Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Dolphus Raymond is a white man who has children with a black woman—although he has to pretend to be the town drunk so that the town can deal with it. A white man fathering children with a black woman was unremarkable. What the other white residents couldn't forgive him for was actually acknowledging his children and living with his family in the black part of town.
Whilst not quite as awesome as the above example, Scout and Jem's neighbour Mr. Avery manages to get one when he tries to help when Miss Maudie's house catches fire.
The rabid dog scene.
And a more pragmatic one: after the Shaming the Mob episode in front of the jail, Braxton Underwood reveals that he was sitting in his window with a shotgun the whole time.
Bittersweet Ending: Tom Robinson is falsely convicted and is shot dead by cops and Atticus' faith in the justice has taken a big hit as a result. But Bob Ewell is killed and his name made a laughingstock and Scout becomes friends with Boo Radley, with the implication that he may be better understood by the community. Not to mention that the sheriff lets Boo off the hook for killing Bob to save the children and without her abusive father around, Mayella will probably be able to move on to a better life.
Bookworm: Atticus takes a lamp and a book and sits in front of the jail reading all the night when he wants to defuse the attemps to lynch Robinson.
Boyish Short Hair: Scout in the movie (her hair length is not mentioned in the book, only that she has bangs).
Catchphrase: "Catchphrase" is perhaps too flippant a description of it, but Atticus often comforts Scout and Jem by telling them, "It's not time to worry yet."
Chekhov's Gun: Chekhov spends roughly ten chapters boasting about the gun he keeps on his mantle.
Children Are Innocent: Scout and Jem's relatively innocent personalities and their father's liberal influence means that they don't fully comprehend the systemic racism in their town. Jem's naive confidence that Tom will be acquitted is the biggest example.
It's the reason for the books Non P.O.V. Protagonist. We can see Tom's trial through the eyes of Scout, who lacks the cynicism and casual racism of the adults and see how tragic and incomprehensible it really it.
Somewhat of a tragic subversion of the trope since Atticus proves Tom innocent so conclusively that pretty much EVERYONE knows the truth- but he's convicted, sentenced and ultimately killed while trying to escape just because he's black.
The circumstances of his death are different in the movie Tom doesn't even make it to the sentencing, dying after getting struck by what was supposed to be just a warning shot as he escaped the vehicle that was taking him back to the prison to await sentencing, since he didn't believe that the sheriff would be able to keep him safe.
Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Dubose. At least, Atticus tries to get the children to see her as one.
The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: After learning how Bob Ewell died (killed by Boo Radley when he'd tried to kill Scout and Jem), Sheriff Tate tells Atticus that his official story will be that Bob fell and impaled himself on his own knife. Given the nature of Bob's actual killer, Atticus understands the Sheriff's decision, as does Scout.
Corrupt Hick: Bob Ewell has this trope down to a science, what with accusing Tom Robinson of rape, probably responsible for the rape and abuse of his daughter, attempting to kill Scout and Jem and being an all-around not-nice person. This is nicely averted by the town sheriff Heck Tate, however, who is quite a kind man. There is also Link Deas, Tom's employer, who risks jail to stand up in court and speak out of turn bearing witness to Tom's integrity. It should be noted that even though Bob Ewell and his brood are considered the lowest of the low, the townsfolk only take his word instead of Tom Robinson's because Bob is white.
The biggest aversion of this trope comes in the Cunningham family. They're so poor that little Walter Cunningham can't have lunch every day, but Atticus points out that the family is scrupulously honest, and pay in potatoes if they can't pay in cash.
False Rape Accusation: All evidence seem to point in that direction. Not that it matters to the jury, anyway.
Family Honor: Aunt Alexandra cares a great deal about preserving this for the Finches, believing that they are not just "run of the mill people." It motivates many of her actions throughout the book, most notably trying to get Scout to act more feminine.
Fanfic: Most writers seem to have forgotten that Scout may be a tomboy but she is also a church-going small-towner from pre-1950s Alabama—many of the things that they have her do in fan fiction (especially High School A.U.) would give the real Scout a massive attack of the vapours.
First Snow: Scout's reaction to seeing snow for the first time in Alabama is thinking it's the end of the world.
Foregone Conclusion: Played with; although it's pretty clear to the adults (and the reader with any awareness of life and racial relations in 1930s Alabama) how Tom Robinson's trial will end, the novel itself is being told from the perspective of innocent and na´ve children who don't realize this.
Follow the Leader: The book Wish You Well by David Baldacci seems just a little too similar to this one.
Grounded Forever: In a non-comedic example, Boo Radley as well as his real life counterpart literally had this done to him by his abusive father, and ended up with an (undeserved) reputation as an Ax-Crazy recluse.
Heat Wave: Atticus Finch defends an innocent black man on a brutally hot day, accused of rape on a brutally hot day.
Heroic Albino: While perhaps not in the medical sense, Boo Radley is extremely pale from being kept in his house for many years.
Hey, You!: For an unspecified reason, Scout and Jem call their father "Atticus", instead of "Dad".
Could have something to do with how Atticus seems to hold himself and his children to equal standards, thus they refer to him as an equal.
Could also be because Atticus' wife died when Jem and Scout were quite young: without a mother present to call Atticus 'dad', Jem and Scout would never hear anyone refer to their father but by his name, and they'd probably copy that behaviour.
Humans Are Flawed: One of the book's many points is to show that while some people are huge bastards, there are also plenty who are kindhearted and altruistic, such as Atticus Finch. It also shows that people are capable of change, such as Mr. Cunningham, who was implied to be the only member of the jury to originally vote "innocent" before being swayed to the guilty side after several hours, and that some humans get a reputation of being bastards when they really are some of the noblest, such as Boo Radley.
I Die Free: Mrs. Dubose is determined to break her morphine addiction before she dies, despite adding withdrawal symptoms to her chronic pain.
"Did she die free?" asked Jem.
"As the mountain air," said Atticus. "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."
Innocent Inaccurate: Both comic examples, like Jem frequently being a Know-Nothing Know-It-All to a Scout who doesn't know better than to believe him, and dramatic ones, like his confidence right up until the last minute that the jury will acquit Tom.
In Medias Res: The novel starts with the sentence: "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow." That happens at the end of the book. The effect seems to be that of an adult Scout mentioning it in a conversation, then explaining the background with the rest of the book. Which makes it How We Got Here as well.
Mood Whiplash: The Finches and Miss Maudie have all sorts of fun with the snow...then that night Miss Maudie's house burns down.
Moral Dissonance: Tom Robinson implies that Mayella's father sexually abused her in less than a sentence—one left out of the film note "She says what her pa do to her don't count.", and it is never brought up again, even though Lee wrote the book in the 1960s. This is because it was considered scientific fact that parental incest was imaginary on the part of the child, up until about the '70s. Modern readers, especially high schoolers, are often shocked that this aspect wasn't given greater weight.
It was a common reality in the time and place of the story. Collin Wilcox Paxton stated in Fearful Symmetry that she deliberately played Mayella this way. She revealed that girls like Mayella were common in rural North Carolina where she grew up, and it was taken for granted that they were molested, usually by a father or uncle.
The lines about how long ago her mother died, and how no one in town is quite sure how many Ewell children there are, could even be taken to imply that the youngest ones are hers.
Mayella actually confirms this herself. When she yells at Atticus (right before trying to run from the trial), she says " I got somethin' to say. And then I ain't gonna say no more. He took advantage of me. An' if you fine, fancy gentlemen ain't gonna do nothin' about it, then you're just a bunch of lousy, yella, stinkin' cowards, the - the whole bunch of ya, and your fancy airs don't come to nothin'. Your Ma'am'in' and your Miss Mayellarin' - it don't come to nothin', Mr. Finch, not... no. " She never said it was Tom that took advantage of her. She knows that Atticus is aware what her father has done, and is hoping he will bring it to light or do something about it.
Moral Myopia: Scout's teacher and a church group are shown respectively lamenting the lives of the Jews in Germany (WWII is going on in the background) and Africans. They pity the circumstances of these groups while at the same time displaying casual racism towards African Americans in their own town. Aunt Alexandra at one point calls them out.
The Munchausen: Dill is always making up stories about his home life, long past the point where Scout and Jem can be fooled, almost as if it's compulsive.
Nice Guy: Atticus Finch is acknowledged as one of the nicest guys in all fiction, a compassionate true gentleman and a kind-hearted father.
Noble Bigot with a Badge: Subverted with Heck Tate (the bigot part). He's the authority in the town, but he also displays very few racist tendencies, especially for his time and place. One of his biggest concerns is that keeping a black man in a county jail could cause a ruckus and get him killed. He's right and it almost does. He's also not defending the jail when the lynch mob comes, but it's revealed that the mob reported a dangerous criminal in the area, and sent him on a wild goose chase.
Oh, Crap: The prosecutor manipulates Tom into saying he felt sorry for Mayella, a rather odd statement for a black man talking about a white woman in the 1930s south. In the film, Brock Peters has one of his best acting moments as he realizes this.
One-Book Author: For whatever reason Lee never wrote another book. She had a second novel in the works, The Long Goodbye, and a nonfiction book based on the Willie Jo Maxwell killings, but nothing ever came of either of them. She contributed substantially to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood; this is her only other work to see the light of publication.
Pet the Dog: According to Tom, Mayella saved up a lot of money so her siblings could all go to town and get ice cream. Then again she also did it to get the house empty, so she could try to seduce Tom.
Playing a Tree: Scout is made to dress up as a leg of ham for a community pageant, but she falls asleep and fails to appear when she should. She's so ashamed, that she doesn't take off the costume while going home, and this probably saves her life when the chicken wire in it deflects a knife.
Playing Drunk: Dolphus Raymond pretends to be a drunk so he doesn't suffer backlash from the fact he's in love with a black girl (and fathered a mulatto).
The Pollyanna: Miss Maudie. After her house burns down, she focuses on how her yard is larger and that she can make it beautiful.
Pro Bono Barter: Atticus Finch accepts vegetables from Mr. Cunningham as payment for legal services.
Pyrrhic Villainy: Bob Ewell wins the court case and Tom Robinson is convicted, but Atticus makes a fool of him, which drives Bob to actions that later lead to his death.
Sheriff Heck Tate. The man displays very few prejudicial qualities, and is actually very nice. He testified at the trial, but his testimony was only objective crime scene evidence. When Boo kills Mr. Ewell, he finds out and easily traces the evidence and figures out what happened, telling Atticus (who thought his son did it in the confusion) that he won't prosecute it. In the end, he says that the death was just, and dragging it into court will just upset a man who wants to be left alone, and it avenges another very wrong death.
Atticus counts as one too, as he retains plenty of respect from the town even after he defends a black man, and he still remains an important figure.
Judge Taylor calls on Atticus to defend Tom Robinson, knowing that only Atticus would undertake the task seriously.
Judge Taylor allows for a fair trial, even if the defendant is African-American.
Red Right Hand: Averted: Tom has a mangled arm from a childhood accident, but while he's treated as if he has one, he is a good guy. It is actually important evidence that he didn't commit the crime he was accused of.
Revenge by Proxy: After Atticus Finch defends a black man whom Bob Ewell's daughter accused of raping her, Ewell is infuriated, and attempts to punish Atticus by attempting to murder the latter's children.
Title Drop: "Remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
Tomboy: Scout is one. Of course, the book is set in the 1930s when girls and women wore dresses and skirts a lot more than they do now, so being a tomboy and wearing boys' clothes was more of a meaningful statement.
Where Da White Women At?: Subverted with Tom and Mayella. Tom's not interested in her at all (and has been married, with children, for years) and while Mayella comes onto him it's mainly because she's lonely and will take anyone. But this is the stereotype the prosecution is trying to exploit.