The definition of symbolism (according to Dictionary.com) is “the practice of representing things by symbols or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character.” Symbolism is depicted in many different stories, movies, books, articles, and other events in society and media. Although a symbol is meant to represent a main idea, the actual meaning of it depends on the individual that is being exposed to it. Symbols can transform inanimate objects into living things, nature into people, and even people into animals. In To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee uses many different characters to show that mockingbirds, although all they do is sing their hearts out, sing a song that many people just glance over.
Mr. Arthur (Boo) Radley represents a mockingbird because he never got in anyone’s way, in fact not many people saw him, but he still gave Scout and Jem many things; gifts, lessons, and their lives. Boo’s song is very mysterious at first, but the reader’s later discover that he is kind, and stays inside because he does not have the faith, hope, nor patience to deal with the world. Scout says later on, after having the honor of meeting Mr. Arthur, that she and Jem had “given him nothing, and it made me sad.” (Page 373) The county of Maycomb has caged Boo like a pack of dogs running a raccoon up a tree; there’s nowhere for him to go and he’d rather be in the cage than in their jaws. Boo Radley is one of the more obvious people that represent the mockingbird, while it takes a little more thought and a different perspective to discover others.
Another example of a mockingbird is Tom Robinson; an African-American man that was wrongly accused, set the foundation for new hope in Maycomb, and ended up dying for honestly no reason at all. Tom’s bad reputation was spread from himself to his family and his defense attorney, Atticus Finch. While explaining the situation to his children, Atticus points out, “Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.” (Page 101) I think this quote is very important to who Tom is, because Maycomb had trapped another bird in a cage; gathering up all of Tom’s honor, dignity, credibility, and hope and then hanging them just out of arm’s reach. Tom tried and tried to recover and keep singing his sad little song, but eventually the darkness took over and his voice faded out with one last squawk. Unfortunately, this caged bird lost its chance to fly which truly shows how repressing and blind Maycomb truly is.
An additional example of a mockingbird would me Mr. Raymond, the town drunk. Mr. Raymond had a tendency to woo women of African American descent and have children with them, which Maycomb didn’t approve of at all. On page 268, Mr. Raymond declares the truth and reason behind his public intoxication, “I try to give ‘em a reason, you see. It helps folks if they can latch onto a reason… that’s why he won’t change his ways. He can’t help himself, that’s why he lives the way he does.” Mr. Raymond is one of the people who is used to being a mockingbird and won’t stop singing what song he wants, though he still has to keep the honest reason hidden behind a fake bottle of alcohol. Lee uses Mr. Raymond effectively and conveys the struggle of being a mockingbird; expressing that they don’t only sing sad songs.
Harper Lee portrays the endless struggle of just singing in To Kill a Mocking Bird, by giving mockingbirds the appeal of never ending kindness and then ripping regularity out of the reader’s grasp. Many people would argue and say that mockingbirds represent innocence, but that’s just because they only hear the notes and feel that the bird is gracing them with their song; when really they’re crying for help. Arthur Radley, Tom Robinson, and Dolphus Raymond sadly show that mockingbirds don’t just sing for other people to enjoy it; but to bring some enjoyment into their own lives.
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