Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice.
The title of To Kill a Mockingbird has
very little literal connection to the plot, but it carries a great
deal of symbolic weight in the Oscar-winning film which this year celebrates it’s 50th birthday. In this story of innocents
destroyed by evil, the ‘mockingbird’ comes to represent the idea
of innocence. Thus, to kill a mockingbird is to destroy innocence.
Throughout the book, a number of characters can be identified as mockingbirds—innocents
who have been injured or destroyed through contact with evil.
Scout Finch lives with her brother, Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus played by Gregory Peck who won his first and only Academy Award in 1963 for his role. They live in the small Alabama town of Maycomb during the Great Depression, but Atticus is a prominent lawyer and is reasonably comfortable in comparison to the rest of society. One summer, Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill, who becomes fascinated with the spooky house on their street called the Radley Place. The house is owned by Nathan Radley, whose brother, Arthur (nicknamed Boo), has lived there for years without venturing outside. The latter is played by Robert Duvall, his first ‘major’ role since his 1956 motion picture debut as an MP in Somebody Up There Likes Me.
Scout goes to school for the first time that fall and detests it. She and Jem find gifts apparently left for them in a knothole of a tree on the Radley property. Dill returns the following summer, and he, Scout, and Jem begin to act out the story of Boo Radley. Atticus puts a stop to their antics, urging the children to try to see life from another person’s perspective before making judgments. But, the children sneak onto the Radley property, where Nathan shoots at them. Jem loses his trousers in the ensuing escape. When he returns for them, he finds them mended and hung over the fence. The next winter, Jem and Scout find more presents in the tree, presumably left by the mysterious Boo. Nathan eventually plugs the knothole with cement.
To the behest of Maycomb’s racist white community, a reflection of the times in America, Atticus agrees to defend a black man named Tom Robinson (Brock Peterson), who has been accused of raping a white woman. As a result, Jem and Scout are picked on by other children. The night before the trial begins, a mob gathers at the local jail to lynch the accused man. Atticus is there to confront them. Jem and Scout, who have sneaked out of the house, soon join him. Scout recognizes one of the men, and her innocent questioning about his son shames him into dispersing the mob.
At the trial itself, whilst the children sit in the ‘colored balcony’, Atticus provides hard evidence that the accusers, Mayella Ewell and her father, Bob, are lying: in fact, Mayella propositioned Tom Robinson, was caught by her father, and then accused Tom of rape to cover her shame and guilt. Atticus provides evidence that Mayella’s wounds were inflicted her father. However, despite Tom’s obvious innocence, the all-white jury convicts him. He later tries to (apparently) escape from prison and is shot to death.
Despite the verdict, Bob Ewell feels that Atticus and the judge have made a fool out of him, and he vows revenge. He attacks Jem and Scout as they walk home from a Halloween party. Boo Radley intervenes, however, saving the children and stabbing Ewell fatally during the struggle. Boo carries the wounded Jem back to Atticus’s house, where the sheriff, in order to protect Boo, insists that Ewell tripped over a tree root and fell on his own knife.
The most important theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is
the exploration of the moral nature of human beings. It does so by dramatising Scout and Jem’s transition
from childhood innocence, in which they assume
that people are good because they have never seen evil, to a more
adult perspective, in which they have confronted evil and must incorporate
it into their understanding of the world. As a result of this portrayal, one of the story’s
important subthemes involves the threat that hatred, prejudice,
and ignorance pose to the innocent, such as Tom and Boo who are not prepared for the evil that they encounter,
and, as a result, they are destroyed. The moral voice of To Kill a Mockingbird is
embodied by Atticus Finch, who is virtually unique in the novel
in that he has experienced and understood evil without losing his
faith in the human capacity for goodness. Atticus understands that,
rather than being simply creatures of good or creatures of evil,
most people have both good and bad qualities.
connection between the film’s title and its main theme is made
explicit several times in the film: after Tom is shot,
his death is compared to “the senseless slaughter of
songbirds,” and in the last act Scout thinks that hurting
Boo would be like “shooting a mockingbird” after the family maid Miss Maudie explains to Scout: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing
but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to
kill a mockingbird.” Boo,
is all but an intelligent child ruined by a cruel fathe and is one of the film’s most
important mockingbirds; he is also an important symbol of the good
that exists within people. Despite the pain that Boo has suffered,
the purity of his heart rules his interaction with the children. In
saving Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell, Boo proves the ultimate symbol