Originating from the late 19th century, symbolism is a literary element that uses images and indirect suggestion to express ideas, emotion and/or states of mind. It plays a role in of some of the most remarkable books ever written, such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ revolves around the life of young narrator Scout (Jean Louise) Finch.
Throughout the story, the readers seeing things from Scout’s perspective, learn about the town ‘psychopath’ and the trial of a young black man. In her novel, Lee uses the mockingbird to symbolize Tom Robinson and Boo (Arthur), Radley. Connecting them all through three specific traits, their good nature, innocence, and subject to unnecessary cruelty. This is shown through Tom and Boo’s kindness when trying to help others, their innocence from the accusations made against them and unfair punishments dealt to them.Tom Robinson and Boo (Arthur) Radley are both display the good-nature of a Mockingbird.
They are both shown to have honorable character and pure hearts, similar to mockingbirds, who are said to not want to do ‘anything but sing’. Literary specialist Mary Esselman explains, “Boo is revealed to be a gentle soul through his unseen acts” (‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ 292) and ‘Novel’s for Students’ conveys that Tom Robinson is, “A humble, good-natured black man… victim of a racist white society” (Esselman). Originally, Jem and Scout feared Boo Radley, the town spook, but later discover that he is a really nice person. Tom Robinson was a good black man who got in trouble for trying to help a white woman. Both Boo and Tom’s actions in To Kill a Mockingbird exemplify their good nature.
In the novel Atticus explains to Scout, “‘You were so busy looking at the fire you didn’t know it when he Boo Radley put the blanket around you'”(Lee 95) and Tom says in his trial, “‘I felt right sorry for her Mayella Ewell'” (Lee 264). When Miss Maudie’s house caught fire, Atticus instructed Jem and Scout to stand in front of the Radley house. It had been snowing outside earlier and was very cold. While they were standing Boo slipped a blanket on to Scout’s shoulders to keep her warm. Boo didn’t even stick around to accept a thank you. Also, as Tom said in his trial, he felt sorry for Mayella, and had helped her with chores from time to time. He would not accept payment for his help when she offered.
Both Tom and Boo freely gave their time and possessions without expecting anything in return, displaying their natural good nature.In addition to having good nature, mockingbirds are known to be innocent creatures, just like Tom Robinson and Boo Radley. Neither committed the crimes they were accused of. According to R. A. Dave in his article ‘To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee’s Tragic Vision’, “Both Arthur Radley and Tom Robinson, who are punished for no crimes they ever committed, are the representatives of all innocent victims” (Dave). Tom is convicted of rape at his trial in Maycomb but is clearly innocent. Atticus has full confidence in Tom’s innocence when he states in his closing speech that “‘The defendant is not guilty'” (Lee 271).
Boo’s situation is not as clear but in the very end it is indirectly revealed from Scouts almost-asleep state that Mr. Arthur Radley, “‘hadn’t done any of those thingsrumors…'” and that, “‘…he was real nice…'” (Lee 376). At the very end of her novel, Lee includes a short discussion between Scout and Atticus.
After her eventful evening, Scout is falling asleep as Atticus reads The Gray Ghost to her. Before she falls completely asleep she repeats what Atticus was reading to her to prove that she had been paying attention. Though it isn’t certain that she was talking about Boo and not ‘Three-fingered Pete’ from The Gray Ghost it can be inferred that it was meant to allude to Boo’s situation.Unfortunately for innocent mockingbirds, they tend to be subject to cruelty. Boo is undeserving of his father’s harsh punishment, while Tom is unjustly sentenced in court, and gratuitously killed. In the article, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Mary Esselman explains, “Boo is a real person who has been cruelly deprived of a normal life” (Esselman), while R.
A. Dave describes Tom as, “a humble, good-natured black man… victim of a racist white society” (Dave). The basis for Wesselman’s and Dave’s analysis can be found in the novel. Harper Lee writes, “Mr. Radley’s boy was not seen or heard from again for fifteen years”(Lee 000).
Boo experiences cruelty from his father, who locked him up on house arrest longer than clearly appropriate for an adolescent prank. Similarly, Tom was also undeserving of his punishment. The character Atticus Finch describes, “‘Seventeen bullet holes in him. They didn’t have to shoot him that much'”(Lee 268). After losing all hope in a fair trial, Tom attempts to escape the jail. While he is climbing over the fence, the jail guards open-fire on him. It would have only required one bullet to stop him from escaping.
Instead, they aimed to kill and continued shooting him after he fell, as Atticus describes, it came to a total of seventeen bullets in his body. It is shown through Harper Lee’s use of symbolism that both Tom Robinson and Boo Radley encompass the traits of a Mockingbird. Tom, who tries to help Mayella Ewell, is unjustly convicted and brutally killed.
Boo, who takes care of Scout and Jem, is locked away by his father and demonized by the townspeople. Through Lee’s use of the mockingbird, readers can better understand Tom and Boo’s character. Oftentimes, symbolism is used to help show the characteristics and/or importance of the person or object being symbolized.