Contents: 1. Summary 2. The question

1. Summary
2. The question
3. How to answer the question
4. An example of an A* answer
5. Context
6. Form
7. Structure
8. Language
9. Imagery & symbolism
10. Themes
11. Character
Preparing for the exam
You will have no choice in the question.
The question will have a part ‘a’ and a part ‘b’. Part ‘a’ is on an extract from the novel. Part ‘b’ is a question which
you need to answer about the novel as a WHOLE.
The examiner gives the passage looking at how Miss Caroline interacts with Scout the first time and talks about her
father not being able to teach and shows the ineptitude of her teaching etc.
a) How does Lee use details in this passage to show the different cultures of Miss Caroline and the children?
b) How does Lee present Scout’s education in the novel as a whole?
The examiner gives the passage looking at Mr Raymond’s discussion with the children outside the court scene.
A) How does Lee use details in this passage to show attitudes towards race?
B) What is the significance of Dill in the novel as a whole?
What could the question be?
It could be focused on one of these things so make sure you revise them:
The themes:
a) Prejudice
b) Racism
c) Innocence
d) Good vs. Evil
e) Childhood
f) Growing up
g) Education
h) Justice
A character:
a) Jem
b) Scout
c) Atticus
d) Dill
e) The Ewells
f) Calpurnia
g) Boo
h) The Radleys
i) The Black Community
j) The White community
What could the extract be on?
They normally pick an extract that it is relatively well known (although not always!) They could pick:
a) The beginning
b) The end
c) Descriptions of Boo & their childhood
d) Scout’s education
e) Atticus’s defence of Tom Robinson against the lynch mob
f) The court scene
g) Description of the black community
h) Description of the Ewells
i) The trial
j) The build-up towards Bob Ewell’s attack (use of foreboding & gothic conventions)
k) Any moment when Scout learns something
l) The Tea party
What/How to revise:
What to revise?
a) The book as a whole (you actually need to read it!)
b) The plot of the book
c) Who all the characters are and their characteristics. You need to create essay plans for each character so
that you are prepared for the exam. You need to explain how they link to the themes of the text & what
Harper is trying to teach the audience
d) The key literary devices (so that you can pick these from the passage) and their effects
e) What structure means – how is structure used in the text?
What form means – how is this used in the text?
g) The CONTEXT of the book and how that influences the text & Harper’s message
h) Quotations on all the above for part ‘b’ of the question
Create plans for possible questions: cover all the themes, characters, motifs
You will find all this information in the notes I give you and there is lots of helpful stuff in Spark notes.
To revise I suggest that you take each of the above and write your own notes, summarising the main points in your
own words. Then, revise from your own notes and cut each note down to a smaller summary, so a simple key word
lets you remember everything there is to know about a subject.
Ie. If you want to revise form:
Take the revision page on form. Write your own notes on it in detail.
Then read through your notes, turning the page over to see what you can memorise from that.
Next, write out the notes again in a more limited summary. See if you can remember all your notes, just from the
limited summary.
Then, pick out some key words from the summary and see if you can remember all your notes, just from the key
Mind maps are always useful too if you are a visual learner.
I’m very proud of you all and how much you’ve improved over the last two years. I know that as long as you
revise, you’ll each reach your potential 
Your answer
There are certain things you need to include in your answer, just to get a ‘C’. These are:
To get a ‘B’, you must include in your answer:
Context, link it to the question and link it to the text, specifically
Analyse Language using PETERO, linking to theme/idea/setting/ context/ QUESTION
Analyse Structure using PETERO, linking to theme/idea/setting/ context/ QUESTION
Analyse the Form using PETERO, linking to theme/idea/setting/ context/ QUESTION
You must use PETERO and link everything you write to the question
To get an A*, make sure you fully develop your analysis of language/form/structure. Be imaginative in your
interpretations and fully explore your response to the context & Lee’s message.
This is what you will be assessed on: (The green boxes are the Assessment Objectives, the blue boxes are my
explanation of what they mean)
Assessment Objectives: English Literature Unit 1: Section A (Different Cultures prose).
AO1: Respond to texts
critically and
imaginatively; select
and evaluate relevant
textual detail to
illustrate and support
•Explore the text,
looking at how you
reach your
•Use quotations, in
* Be imaginative
AO2: Explain how
language, structure and
form contribute to
writers’ presentation of
ideas, themes and
* Detailed evaluation of
how effective form &
structure & language
are used to create an
EFFECT. (using
* This effect MUST be
linked to the message
of the novel, themes &
AO4: Relate
texts to their
social, cultural
and historical
* Link the passage to
the context of the text,
using QUOTATIONS and
full explanations
Do not regurgitate the plot. Write something meaningful about structure/form/language straight away.
Eg. for structure you could write:
The text is structured in two parts. The first introduces Scout’s early years, which is reflected in her innocent
view on the world. The second part focuses on the adult world, culminating on Boo Radley’s porch when
Scout has gained an understanding of morality and can ‘walk around’ in other people’s ‘skin.’ The structure is
circular and follows Scout’s experiences as she gains a moral education and innocently exists in a world of
prejudice and racism.
...But remember, if you are going to use this in the exam you MUST make sure you make it relevant to the
Overview of your answer:
You need to pick at least 1 out of each box and analyse. Make
sure it links to the Question
• Bildungsroman
• Chronology: Narrative structure mirrors
loss of innocence, carefree childhood
• Perspective: 1st
replaced by cynical adult story with children
person, dual
only minor parts.
perspective of
child and adult
• Epigraph
• Juxtaposition
• Circular
• Lee’s background
• Aspects of plot development
• American justice
(rising action, climax etc.)
• American Civil War
• Foreshadowing
• Great depression
• Recurring Motifs & Symbols
• Black civil rights movement
• Literary devices
• Connotations
• Dialect linked to context
• Symbolism
• Imagery
(make sure this links to the Q)
Themes: Prejudice
Good vs. Evil
Growing Up
How to structure your answer:
You could do this:
1st paragraph - Introduction:
Mention the question straight way and introduce what you are going to explore in your answer
Use a quotation
Refer to form/structure/ language in first few sentences
2nd paragraph – Form:
Analyse the form of the text and link it to the Question
3rd Paragraph – Structure:
Analyse the structure, linking in to the Question
4th Paragraph – Language:
Analyse the language, linking in to the Question
5th Paragraph – explore message & themes:
Explore the message Lee is trying to present in reference to the question. Consider other interpretations
6th Paragraph – conclusion:
Anything else you want to add? Make a conclusion relating to your interpretations.
Bear in mind that you do not need to stick to this. Look at my A* example. I refer to structure in the language
paragraph and I mention context in the structure paragraph. For an A* you need to explore the question and you’ll
struggle to do so if you stick to the above too rigidly.
This is an annotated example of an A* answer:
a) How is Atticus presented as a good parent in the text as a whole?
Atticus, a responsible parent, lives with his family in a narrow –minded small town in America, during which time
there existed widespread prejudice and racism. Lee uses this context to reflect one of her key messages: the tragic
consequences of a town that rests on prejudice. The context of the novel predates the era of the American Civil
Movement, meaning that the black people were segregated from their white neighbours. However, while the
backdrop of the novel reflects this theme, Atticus is used as a vehicle to reflect Lee’s own views: the need to be fair,
just and to understand others, which he says won’t happen “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus tries to teach these views to his children, not in an overly didactic way but allowing them to make their own
decisions and learn from mistakes. He is seen as a good parent as he teaches his children key moral messages
through the text while not being too authoritative.
Lee uses the form of a buldingsroman to follow Scout’s journey from childhood naivety to an appreciation of the
need to understand and consider other people. It allows the text to be quite didactic but in a very subtle way as the
reader follows Scout’s mistakes and learns from them. Scout first sees Atticus in quite a negative light and says to
Miss Caroline, “Atticus ain’t got time to teach me anything.” However, Scout sees teaching in a very literal way and
what Atticus actually does is much more subtle. Miss Caroline is very troubled that Scout already knows how to read,
yet the reader knows this is a very positive thing. The contrast between Atticus’s good teaching and the teaching of
Miss Caroline allows the reader to identify the faults in the education system in this context. The ineptitude of Miss
Caroline in contrast to Atticus, the good parent, foreshadows the travesty that is presented by the justice system
later in the text. This reinforces Lee’s theme of prejudice and inequality.
Scout learns the importance of understanding others from Atticus. The children first cast Boo as a monster, with
“blood-stained” hands and eyes that “popped.” Lee uses gothic imagery to portray Boo as an evil and malicious
figure, making him sound quite like Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankeinstein’. However, by using fantastical language, it reflects
their immaturity. Later, we see that Scout has grown-up and learnt Atticus’s moral lesson. By the end she uses more
mature language, with no childish embellishment. She sees that Boo “was real nice.” Atticus replies, “Most people
are when you finally see them.” This is an important moral lesson, which confirms Atticus’s role as a good parent and
through him, the reader learns Lee’s social message also.
Atticus is also a great role model. He shows the importance of a conscience, “If I didn't, I couldn't hold up my head in
town." He is also presented with a great amount of humility. When he is given the gifts from the black community,
"Atticus' eyes filled with tears. He did not speak for a moment.” The short sentences symbolise Atticus’s inability to
communicate at this moment as he overcome with emotion. He eventually responds, 'Tell them - tell them never to
do it again. Times are too hard...." The ellipsis reinforces this inability to express his feelings at this moment as he is
too grateful. The characteristic of humility is an important thing to have as a parent and as a role model.
However, some might argue that Atticus actually has too much humility. He fails to protect him children from Ewell
as Atticus does not expect him to attack the children – he fails them by having too much faith in Ewell to be a good
person. Through the foreshadowing towards the end of the book, the reader anticipates that something will happen,
“..QUOTE..” However, Atticus does not. This could suggest that Atticus had failed his children on this occasion.
Nevertheless, Atticus does present himself overall as a highly moral parent. Lee uses him as a vehicle to present her
‘mockingbird’ metaphor with the message that we need to protect innocence and those vulnerable. Both Boo Radley
and Tom Robinson are likened to mockingbirds, with Tom’s death described as, “the senseless slaughter of songbirds
by hunters and children.” The extended metaphor across the book allows both the reader and Scout to learn the
need for equality and reveals the consequences of prejudice and racism. In some ways, even Atticus could be seen as
a mockingbird, his strong belief in mankind makes him vulnerable to disappointment. This is reinforced by his birdlike surname, ‘Finch’. However, this is a great attitude to have and therefore makes him a great role model to his
children and thus a fantastic parent. If I had an ‘Atticus’ in my family, I would be nothing but proud.
Comment [f1]: Themes
Comment [f2]: Context
Comment [f3]: Context
Comment [f4]: Quote in intro
Comment [f5]: Answering Q
Comment [f6]: Form
Comment [f7]: Exploration
Comment [f8]: Link to Question
Comment [f9]: Structure
Comment [f10]: Theme
Comment [f11]: Precise quotation
Comment [f12]: Language
Comment [f13]: Language
Comment [f14]: Link to question
Comment [f15]: Deep analysis linked to
Comment [f16]: Structure
Comment [f17]: Alternative
Comment [f18]: Alternative
Comment [f19]: Personal response
Context pg 1
Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, in
Monroeville, Alabama, a sleepy small town similar
in many ways to Maycomb, the setting of To Kill a
Mockingbird. Like Atticus Finch, Lee’s father was
a lawyer. Among Lee’s childhood friends was the
future novelist and essayist Truman Capote, from
whom she drew inspiration for the character Dill.
These personal details notwithstanding, Lee
maintains that To Kill a Mockingbirdwas intended
to portray not her own childhood home but rather
a nonspecific Southern town. “People are people
anywhere you put them,” she declared in
a 1961 interview.
In high school, Lee developed an interest in English literature. After graduating
in 1944, she went to the all-female Huntingdon College in Montgomery. Lee
stood apart from the other students—she could have cared less about fashion,
makeup, or dating. Instead, she focused on her studies and on her writing.
Transferring to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Lee was known for
being a loner and an individualist. She did make a greater attempt at a social
life there, joining a sorority for a while. Pursuing her interest in writing, Lee
contributed to the school’s newspaper and its humor magazine, the Rammer
Jammer. She eventually became the editor of the Rammer Jammer.
In her junior year, Lee was accepted into the university’s law school, which
allowed students to work on law degrees while still undergraduates. The
demands of her law studies forced her to leave her post as editor of
the Rammer Jammer. After her first year in the law program, Lee began
expressing to her family that writing—not the law—was her true calling. She
went to Oxford University in England that summer as an exchange student.
Returning to her law studies that fall, Lee dropped out after the first semester.
She soon moved to New York City to follow her dreams to become a writer.
Context pg 2
No crime in American history-- let alone a crime that never occurred-- produced as
many trials, convictions, reversals, and retrials as did an alleged gang rape of two
white girls by nine black teenagers on a Southern Railroad freight run on March
25,1931. Harper Lee was five years old when nine young black men were accused
of raping two white women near Scottsboro, Alabama. The original nine young black
defendants were accused of raping two white women on a freight train, and eight
were quickly convicted in a mob atmosphere. The juries were entirely white, and the
defense attorneys had little experience in criminal law and no time to prepare their
cases. As each of the nine cases successively went to the jury, the next trial was
immediately begun. All but one of the defendants were sentenced to death on rape
convictions. It was eventually established that the men were all innocent by which
time they had served between 6 and 19 years in prison.
Many prominent lawyers and other American citizens saw the sentences as spurious
and motivated only by racial prejudice. It was also suspected that the women who
had accused the men were lying, and in appeal after appeal, their claims became
more dubious. There can be little doubt that the Scottsboro Case, as the trials of the
nine men came to be called, served as a seed for the trial that stands at the heart of
Lee’s novel.
The story of the Scottsboro Boys is one of the most shameful examples of injustice
America’s history. It makes clear that in the Deep South of the 1930's, jurors were not
willing to accord a black charged with raping a white woman the usual presumption of
innocence. In fact, one may argue that the presumption seemed reversed: a black was
presumed guilty unless he could establish his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. The
cases show that to jurors, black lives didn't count for much.
The Scottsboro boys with their lawyer, under guard, 1932.
Context pg 3
The American Civil War (1861 – 1865)
The American Civil War took place between 1861 and 1865. It
occurred when a group of Southern states, including Alabama,
formed the Confederate Sates of America and broke away from the
main union of states. After four years of bitter fighting they were
defeated and rejoined the Union. One of the results of the Civil War
was the end to black slavery when the 13th Amendment finally freed
all slaves in the Southern states.
Although in theory the Negroes were equal to the whites, in fact
most of them continued to live separate lives, reluctantly accepting
their inferior status. To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930’s, yet by
the this time – seventy years since the end of the war – the
situation for Negroes had hardly changed. Negroes were still
segregated. When Lee wrote the novel in the 1950’s things had
begun to change, with civil disturbances and rioting proving that
the black people were no longer prepared to put up with their
inferior status.
Segregation - The policy or practice of separating people of different races,
classes, or ethnic groups, as in schools, housing, and public or commercial
facilities, especially as a form of discrimination.
Context pg 4
The Great Depression
• The Wall Street Crash of 1929 caused many shares suddenly to become
worthless and poverty swept the country.
• The Great Depression lasted from the end of 1929 until the early 1940’s.
• In 1933, at the worst point in the Depression, more than 15 million
Americans – one-quarter of the nation’s workforce – were unemployed.
• President Roosevelt made substantial attempts at economic recovery.
After the National Recovery Act, Roosevelt told the people ‘they had
nothing to fear but fear itself’. However the strategies he put in place took
time to lift the depression.
Franklin D. Roosevelt – 32nd president of
the United States.
In Office from 1933 to 1945
Context pg 5
The Black Civil Rights Movement
• The Civil Rights Movement took place in Alabama during the 1950s and 1960s.
• Efforts made to guarantee African Americans equal access to public and private
transportation, schools, voting booths, economic opportunities, and housing caused
tremendous social turmoil all over the South, where legal discrimination against black
Americans was most pronounced.
• From Alabama emerged two of the leading figures in the struggle. Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. came to prominence here as a spokesman for African Americans seeking
equality, while Governor George C. Wallace became the symbol for white resistance to
racial integration.
• Boycotts, demonstrations, and protest marches by Civil Rights activists provoked
sometimes violent responses from whites determined to resist integration.
• In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, making it illegal for
any American to be discriminated against.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa
Parks, a black seamstress, was
arrested for refusing to obey a
Montgomery bus driver's order
to give her seat up for a
boarding white passenger as
required by city ordinance.
Some blacks sat at “all
white” lunch counters and
others rode “freedom” buses
through the south where
they helped others in the
fight for equal rights.
Many whites also believed in
equality for all. Together, blacks
and whites, marched for Civil
Context pg 6 – The Ku Klux Klan (The KKK)
Men in an organization called the
Ku Klux Klan used terror and
cruelty to frighten African
Americans. They did not want
them to try to be equal in any
The Ku Klux Klan even
used murder as a tool
of terror.
In August 1955, fourteen-year-old
Chicagoan Emmett Till visited
relatives in Mississippi. At Bryant's
Grocery and Meat Market, a store
owned by a white couple, Roy and
Carolyn Bryant, Till is said to have
whistled at Mrs. Bryant. Several days
later, on Aug. 28, Till was kidnapped,
brutally beaten, shot, and dumped in
the Tallahatchie River.
Context 6 1
Context pg 7
The story is set in a small town in the southern state of Alabama. Although the town,
Maycomb County, is fictitious, there are references to real places. The state capital,
Montgomery, is referred to on several occasions as is reference to the industrialised
northern part of the state and the rural southern part, where Maycomb is situated.
Maycomb is a small town in Alabama. Most of the population and that of the
surrounding community are poor. The population has remained virtually
unchanged for decades, with the result that newcomers are not accepted
Cars are few, cinemas non-existent. The people are very religious, mainly
Baptist or Methodist. Everyone knows everyone else and local gossip is
The Negroes are segregated and most people want them to remain so.
Anyone who does not conform to accepted patterns of normal behaviour,
like Boo Radley or Dolphus Raymond, is regarded as an oddity. So little
happens that major events such as the rape trial are regarded as a day out
for the whole county. Maycomb is a “tired old town” that is long overdue a
You must analyse form in the exam
Form is the type/style of a text. There are two things you could write about regarding form, but you
MUST make them relevant to the question.
Make the examiner really aware you are talking about form ie.
“the form of the bildungsroman is used to...”
“the form of the two narrative perspectives is used to...”
They two comments are:
a) Bildungsroman – the text is a ‘coming-of-age’ novel.
b) Narrative Perspective: 1st person perspective.
Child Perspective vs. Adult perspective
What effect do both these features have?
Lee uses the form of the bildungsroman to show Scout ‘coming-of-age’. She learns to recognise the
importance of empathy and understand the metaphor of “walking around” in other people’s shoes. Yet,
as Scout learns, the reader learns also so in this way the novel is quite didactic (instructional.) Lee
uses Atticus as a mouthpiece for her views on social morality and prejudice as subtly teaching the
reader about small town America and how prejudice is an evil thing.
Lee uses the two different narrative perspectives to show Scout as a young girl. She is naive and has
no awareness of social issues, unlike the older perspective who is looking back on this time. This
allows the text to be didactic as the reader follows Scout’s journey to understanding and learns of
the consequences of prejucide, rascism and injustice. By seeing the world through Scout’s eyes we
are able to notice things we might not normally do, in a fresh way. As it is written in first person,
from Scout’s perspective, we allow for any distortion or exaggeration. The events of the novel take
place over several years, and Scout indicates the changes that she and Jem experience in this time.
One example is that she begins as a tomboy but later in the novel accepts the need to behave in a
more conventionally feminine role. She also learns, mostly from Miss Maudie, that this does not mean
she has to give up her independence – that she can compromise in unimportant matters without
betraying what she really values. We do, however, see other viewpoints as people speak, so it is
possible for the reader to compare them. The novel gives a huge range of such opinions, too many to
list here. Sometimes these are predictable and conventional (the spoiled and over delicate ladies of
the Missionary circle) while at other times they are quite unconventional (think of Mr. Dolphus
Raymond). Some questions to consider are these:
As you read the story do you see things from one viewpoint or does the viewpoint change?
Does the author manage to show convincingly the viewpoint of characters younger than herself
(such as Scout, Jem, Dill and Walter)?
How far does the author signal to you, as the reader, which views are ‘right’, and how far does she
allow you freedom to make your own judgments?
The Structure
You must include analysis of structure in the exam.
Aspects of structure you could talk about:
Chronology: Narrative structure mirrors loss of innocence, carefree childhood replaced by cynical adult story
with children only minor parts.
Aspects of plot development (rising action, climax etc.)
Recurring Motifs & Symbols
Chronology: Narrative structure mirrors loss of innocence, carefree childhood replaced by cynical adult story
with children only minor parts.
In order to get a good mark you need to analyse these in depth and explain how they link to the QUESTION.
Chap 1-11: shows the children’s childhood and lessons they learn. Boo as the monster.
Children’s prejudice in Part 1 foreshadows the more dangerous adult prejudice in Part 2 (link to theme:
consequences of prejudice)
Chap 12-21: Trial
Chap 22-31: Aftermath of Trial, Mr Ewell’s downfall at the hands of Boo Radley. Boo as the saviour.
Epigraph a phrase, quotation or poem that is set at the beginning of a text. The epigraph may serve as a preface, as a
summary, as a counter-example, or to link the work to a wider literary canon.
Can be a brief quote or motto.
“Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.”
-Charles Lamb
An essay by Charles Lamb, an English writer in the late-18th and early-19th century.
There is the time-honoured tradition of making fun of lawyers as not quite human (even Shakespeare did this). More
to the point, lawyers can seem the opposite of children: while kids are innocent and say just what they feel (no
matter how embarrassing), lawyers plot and scheme and say whatever they need to in order to win their case (or so
the stereotype goes). Linking lawyers to children suggests these two opposites perhaps aren’t so different after all,
and reminds us that lawyers really are people just like everyone else.
Structurally Circular:
How many readers recall, by the end of the novel, the first sentence (“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother
Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow”)? This statement is soon forgotten, amidst a mass of narrative detail,
but this incident, which Scout does not see and Jem cannot recall, is the defining moment or climax of the entire
The first part of the novel is an account of Scout's early years, taking her first days at school as a starting point.
Most of this section is about the search for Arthur “Boo” Radley. The second part shows Scout becoming more
able to understand the adult world, which is mirrored by the more serious events that occur at this point in her
In the conclusion, however, Harper Lee brings the two narratives together - the stories are not separate. While
Scout and Jem have been thinking more about the trial and less about Boo Radley, Arthur has not forgotten
them. His appearance in the final chapters is almost miraculous - it is plausible (believable in its context) because
it is so understated. There is no direct account of Arthur Radley's attack on Bob Ewell. It is inferred from the
sounds Scout hears and what Heck Tate discovers at the scene.
Aspects of plot development
Major Conflict: Childhood innocence threatened by evil side of human nature Struggle to maintain faith in human
Rising Action: Encounters with Boo
Atticus defends Tom Robinson
Climax: jury finds Tom guilty
Scout & Jem realise morals that Atticus teaches are not in reality
Falling Action: Tom shooting = injustice
Ewell’s threats
Sherriff protecting Boo
• A long episodic novel can easily lose its way, but Harper Lee has a very organic sense of a single story with a
unifying or central theme (the mockingbird theme) which is illustrated by the examples of Arthur Radley and
Tom Robinson.
Foreshadowing is when the writer provides hints at what will happen later in the book.
• Oak tree – foreshadows Boo’s goodness
The shooting of the dog foreshadows the death of Ewell. Ie. Putting down an inherently evil thing/ person
with no possible for redemption
Miss Caroline’s ineptitude in education foreshadows the ineptitude of the court scene
Mr Raymond: outside the court – he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the white community: foreshadows
Atticus’s views
END: Foreshadowing used A LOT to increase tense gothic atmosphere
When two things are put next to each other to show they are similar or different.
Try to mention structure in the beginning:
Eg. The text is structured in two parts. The first introduces Scout’s early years, which is reflected in her innocent
view on the world. The second part focuses on the adult world, culminating on Boo Radley’s porch when Scout has
gained an understanding of morality and can ‘walk around in other people’s skin.’ The structure is circular and
follows Scout’s experiences as she gains a moral education and innocently exists in a world of prejudice and
This is a general example, without a question in mind. Make sure your response links to the question
You need to analyse the language of the quotes you pick. Ie. Use PETERO
What does the literary device add to the text? How does it link to the
A good way of analysing language is to talk about the connotations of words used and
what effect they have (linking to theme/question.
Another way is to look at imagery & symbolism. Or... you can comment on any of the
a descriptive word
It was a hot summer
a word which provides more information about a verb, an adjective or another
I always have toast
It was a very hot summer
the use of a number of words close together starting with the same letter or sound,
to create a particular effect
A mountain of moving muck
the use of a number of similar vowel sounds close together
She'll have to go home alone
the story of the writer's own life
Dramatic irony
the audience is aware of the fate of a character whilst the character themselves
displays ignorance of their fate
a figure of speech by which a harsh or unpleasant fact is given a milder or more
gentle expression
He passed away
exaggeration for the sake of emphasis, but without intending to deceive
A thousand, thousand thanks for your help
a picture formed in the reader's mind by the writer's use of language, often with the
help of special literary devices such as metaphor, personification and simile
the writer says the opposite of what he means, in order to make the real meaning
more emphatic
What a clever boy you are (when the writer means 'you aren't very bright!')
a figure of speech whereby a part of an object or an idea is used to represent or
suggest the whole
The crown represents the whole of the monarchy
No 10 Downing Street represents the government
an image in which the writer refers to one thing as being another
The moon is a balloon
the sort of emotions and atmosphere evoked by a piece of writing
Happy, sad, tense
the story as told by the writer
the voice telling a story. Either the writer telling the story in the third person or a
character speaking in the first person
the name of something
Either a proper noun Fleet Street, Christmas Day or a common noun dog, tree
words that sound like their meaning
Snap, snip, crackle, spit
a statement that is superficially self-contradictory or non-sensical, but on closer
inspection says something of sense or wisdom
The child is father of the man
giving an object human characteristics
The sound of the stream chattering away to itself
all the events in a story or drama in a logical sequence
writing which is set out in separate lines, and often verses, with particular
importance given to rhythm and to the effect of word order, and sometimes using
a word which stands for a person's name or a noun
I, me, he, she, they, it, them, us
continuous writing, not structured in separate lines like poetry, and usually divided
into paragraphs
A play on words where two words have a similar sound but different meanings,
usually for comic effect.
In what place will I find the plaice
Shakespeare used them a lot!
Rhetorical question a question asked for effect only, not requiring an answer
Are we downhearted?
the use of the same or similar sounds in equivalent positions, usually at the ends of
lines of poetry
A birdie with a yellow bill,
Hopped upon my window sill
the movement of the sound of words, especially important in poetry
the use of mocking or contemptuous language to wound or hurt
You ought to live in a pigsty. Your manners would be perfect there.
the time and place in which the events of a story or drama take place
describing one thing as being like another
The moon is like a balloon
the way a piece of writing is organised and constructed
the approach a writer uses to produce a particular effect
Images, descriptive language, suspense
the way a verb is formed to show when something takes place
He kicked the ball
She will go to the cinema
I go shopping
the general subject/s that a piece of writing is about
the attitude in which a text is written
Angry, formal, humorous
one of the sections into which a poem is divided, consisting of a number of lines also known as a stanza. Verse can also mean poetry in general, as opposed to prose.
Character is established through imagery.
The description of Bob Ewell ("A little bantam cock of a man rose and strutted to the stand")
precisely conveys his cockiness; Mayella's underlying nervousness is conveyed by the description
of her as, “a steady-eyed cat with a twitchy tail." Dill is described as," a pocket Merlin" while
Walter Cunningham's poverty is emphasised by the phrase, “He looked as if he has been raised
on fish food." Scout's disgust of Mrs Dubose is conveyed through vivid imagery," Her face was
the colour of a dirty pillow-case, and the corners of her mouth glistened with wet, which inched
like a glacier down the deep grooves enclosing her chin."
The mockingbird is the most significant symbol in the novel. This repeated image and its key
symbol of an innocent creature make it a strong image. The mockingbird first appears in chapter
10 when Atticus is telling the children how to use their shotguns, “Shoot all the bluejays you
want, .. but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Miss Maudie explains that this is because
mockingbirds are neither harmful nor destructive and only make beautiful music for people to
enjoy. Thus these birds are symbols of innocence and goodness. The symbol for Boo Radley and
Tom Robinson is not drawn together until Scout's comment at the end when she recognises that
the public exposure of Boo Radley would be,"sort of like shootin' a mockingbird."
Both characters have mockingbird traits:
They both show kindness - Boo to the children; Tom to Mayella.
They are both innocent - Boo of the evil persona with which he is associated and Tom
of the crime of rape.
Both are victims of prejudice.
Both are imprisoned and potentially vulnerable - Boo is imprisoned in a separate
world to protect him from people's prejudice if exposed. Tom is imprisoned and later
killed as the result of people's prejudice.
Atticus is a mockingbird also. Atticus does not shoot, even though he is the best shot in
Maycomb county because he thinks his skill with a gun gives him an unfair advantage over other
people. Atticus has also sung Tom's song of truth to the people of Maycomb but has not been
heard. His humanity and acceptance of others epitomises the mockingbird theme. The children
learn the importance of not killing innocent creatures shown in the way that Jem tells Scout not
to squash an insect.
This theme is kept alive throughout the novel, constantly reminding the reader of its importance:
After the mad dog incident
When waiting for the jury's verdict, "when the mockingbirds were still."
In Mr Underwood's article about Tom's death, "The senseless slaughter of songbirds
by hunters and children." This imagery develops the theme of heartlessness and
inhumanity in Maycomb county.
When Scout and Jem are on their way to the pageant "High above us in the darkness a
solitary mocker poured out his repertoire in blissful unawareness of whose tree he sat
in."The mocker in the oak tree as Jem and Scout pass the Radley lot in chapter 28
represents Boo who could be said to sing his heart out for "his children" when they
need him.
Harper Lee invites the reader to consider the word "mocking" and all its associations:
The children mock Boo's life as they make fun of and imitate it.
Mayella accuses Atticus of mocking her
The trial is a mockery of justice
The missionary tea ladies' hypocrisy is a mockery of the Christian life they pretend
Human values are mocked
Other symbols:
Symbolism is evident in the novel in a less obvious way also.:
The Radley house with its closed doors and shutters and austere front presents the
privacy, isolation and unfriendliness of the Radley place. The closed shutters become
symbolic of the Radley's closed minds and intolerance. Boo moving the shutters to
watch the children symbolises Boo wanting to break through the imprisoning attitudes
of his family.
The oak tree beside the Radley place represents Boo's character and his desire to
communicate when presents are left in the tree. When the children stand near the
tree, Boo establishes contact again by delicately placing a blanket on Scout's shoulders
without her realising.
Boo saves the children's lives under the oak tree and Bob Ewell is found dead under the
Scout and Jem's snowman represents how superficial skin colour is to the essence of a
human being.
Mrs Dubose's camellias represent the prejudices which cannot be brushed off easily.
They have to be tugged by their roots. The fact that Mrs Dubose leaves a camellia for
Jem after her death is so as to remind him of courage and tolerance.
A theme is a central idea in the text which are linked to the writer’s message. The novel is concerned
with many themes which are presented through the moral landscape of a small town. The key themes
in the novel are:
Growing up
Parents and children
Man's inhumanity to man
Good vs. Evil
Growing Up
There are also other themes highlighted throughout the novel, which make this novel so absorbing
and real. These include: religious bigotry, loneliness, society, family life. Although all of these ideas
can be looked at separately, all of the themes work together to present Harper Lee's firm
Two major types of courage are emphasised in the novel: "real courage" when you continue what you
are doing even though you are fighting a losing battle ( e.g Mrs Dubose's battle with her morphine
addiction, Atticus' decision to defend Tom Robinson.)
The other type is about fighting against evil and prejudice. Act of bravery are needed to override
prejudice. Example are: Mr Underwood's article about Tom Robinson, Boo Radley's heroic act when he
rescues Jem from Bob Ewell, Atticus' stand against prejudice and hypocrisy in the Maycomb
Look at how Jem rescues his trousers at night from the Radley place, Little Chuck standing up to
Burris Ewell in class, Miss Maudie's optimism after her house has burnt down, the way that Mr Link
Deas speaks out for the Robinsons.
Growing up
The main focus of growing up is on Scout and Jem. They become aware of changes within themselves.
Some changes are physical, as in Jem's adolescent growth, and some are to do with understanding
other people and a growth in social and moral awareness. The children have to learn about the
prejudice that is "as much Maycomb as missionary teas" and they discover "the simple hell people give
other people." In the process of growing up the children learn the value of self-control, tolerance and
The story is narrated by Scout. Her naivety and childish view of the world is highlighted by the
reader, often understanding events better than Scout herself. Over the course of the novel, Scout
learns various lessons:
From Calpurnia that politeness should be shown to all people even if their manners
differ from your own.
From Atticus to control her hotheaded rashness and to appreciate the various
meanings of courage
From Atticus to learn tolerance and to be able to turn the other cheek
From Aunt Alexandra the value of being a lady
From Heck Tate and Atticus, the destructive implications of society's prejudice
At the end of the novel, Scout has successfully managed to take on Atticus' key lesson - that of
seeing another person's point of view. Her behaviour with Boo has dramatically transformed from
that at the beginning. (compare her earlier fears born out of ignorance and superstition with what
reality now presents to her )
Jem's growing up is quicker and radical. At the beginning of the novel, Jem likes to play superstitious
games about Boo Radley with Scout and Dill. The start of Jem's period of maturing is marked when:
Jem goes to get his trousers and Scout comments,"Jem and I first began to part
Jem begins to recognise Boo's human side and the childish games discontinue. He weeps
for Boo when he realises what Boo's life must be like.
Jem becomes more separate from Scout and Dill, particularly after his punishment involving Mrs
Dubose. He breaks "the remaining code of our childhood" by telling Atticus that Dill the runaway is in
the house. Jem is also proud of showing Scout his first signs of physical maturity and he suffers
teenage angst in his response to the injustices of the trial. Although not a child anymore, he has
problems in coming to terms with the adult world, which poses a number of contradictions to him.
It is through emulating Atticus' fine example that Jem comes through this painful period. He has
learned from Atticus' example when he tries to comfort Scout about her mistake after the
pageant."Jem was becoming almost as good as Atticus at making you feel right when things went
This is arguably the most prominent theme. Prejudice is directed towards groups and
individuals in the Maycomb community.
(1) Racial prejudice:
Look at the trial of Tom Robinson, Aunt Alexandra's attitude to Calpurnia, The Missionary tea
ladies, black and white segregation in Maycomb,the lynch mob, attitudes to black people in
(2) Class and family prejudice:
a) Look at Jem's comments about family,, Tom's sympathy for Mayella, treatment of the
Cunninghams, Aunt Alexandra's snobbish obsession with educating the children about
their superior family background, how the Finches are treated....
b) The Radleys and the Ewells. The Ewells are seen as the lowest class of whites; the Radleys
are misunderstood - why?
c) Prejudice against girls / women:- Look at Jem's comments to / treatment of Scout Atticus'
views, Scout's education of a woman's position in society ( Miss Maudie - religion - chap 5,
Atticus - law of all male jury -chap 23, Aunt Alex - conduct and dress code -look for a sense
of inequality ' abuse of women ( Mayella )
(4) Boo Radley:
Look at how prejudice is fed by fear, rumour, superstition, ignorance) Consider the
devastating effect of prejudice on Boo's childhood / adulthood. Contemplate the general
attitude towards Boo, Scout's fear, the way Nathan treats his brother, etc...
(5) Tom Robinson:
Look at his treatment before and during the trial; consider the aftermath and his death,
particularly Maycomb's reactions. Tom is disadvantaged not only by his skin - colour, but also
by his class and gender. Note how Harper Lee wants us to perceive him (as an honest, hardworking, honourable man ) in comparison with the distorted misrepresentations that he has to
(6) Those who challenge prejudice and stereotypes:
Look at how Atticus directly challenges prejudice; consider his maxims ( standing in another's
shoes, tolerance, sympathy, courage to stand up for what you believe in, preserve justice )
How far does Atticus actually challenge prejudice, given the verbal attacks he received for
defending a black man?
Parents and children
Atticus shows his children love and respect. He does his best to bring them up to be
rational, tolerant and sensitive. Aunt Alexandra criticises his parenting; her attitudes to
parenting are in sharp contrast to those that Atticus adopts. Calpurnia is also a mother
figure in the childrens' lives: Atticus is grateful to her for this role and he trusts her
implicitly. Scout and Jem are fortunate in the adults who care for them. They learn
something form each, and know that they are loved. What sort of parents are Tom and
Helen Robinson?
Other children have less happy experiences. Bob Ewell is not a good parent. His children
are filthy, unhealthy and uneducated. There is a hint that he has molested Mayella and
there is clear evidence of physical violence within the household, directed at his children.
Mayella's pathetic and dangerous attempt for some affection shows how damage Bob
Ewell has inflicted. She lives out of fear of her father who cares little for his parental
Dill and Boo Radley are also damaged children. Dill suffers from his parents' indifference
and finds a substitute parent in Atticus. Dill is starved of love making him only able to live
in the world of dreams and fantasies. Boo is the victim of a bigoted father who sacrifices
his son's emotional and physical health to his own prejudices. This family, with its secrets
and its closed shutters, demonstrates the damage that can be done when human beings
are deprived of the emotional environment they need to grow to their full potential. His
confinement and stunted development leave him a broken shell, unable to cope in the
outside world.
The Coexistence of Good and Evil
The most important theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is the book’s exploration of the moral nature of
human beings—that is, whether people are essentially good or essentially evil. The novel approaches
this question by dramatizing Scout and Jem’s transition from a perspective of 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 of the transition from innocence to experience, one of the
book’s important subthemes involves the threat that hatred, prejudice, and ignorance pose to the
innocent: people such as Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are not prepared for the evil that they
encounter, and, as a result, they are destroyed. Even Jem is victimized to an extent by his discovery
of the evil of racism during and after the trial. Whereas Scout is able to maintain her basic faith in
human nature despite Tom’s conviction, Jem’s faith in justice and in humanity is badly damaged, and
he retreats into a state of disillusionment.
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. The important thing is to appreciate the good
qualities and understand the bad qualities by treating others with sympathy and trying to see life
from their perspective. He tries to teach this ultimate moral lesson to Jem and Scout to show them
that it is possible to live with conscience without losing hope or becoming cynical. In this way, Atticus
is able to admire Mrs. Dubose’s courage even while deploring her racism. Scout’s progress as a
character in the novel is defined by her gradual development toward understanding Atticus’s lessons,
culminating when, in the final chapters, Scout at last sees Boo Radley as a human being. Her newfound
ability to view the world from his perspective ensures that she will not become jaded as she loses her
The Importance of Moral Education
Because exploration of the novel’s larger moral questions takes place within the perspective of
children, the education of children is necessarily involved in the development of all of the novel’s
themes. In a sense, the plot of the story charts Scout’s moral education, and the theme of how
children are educated—how they are taught to move from innocence to adulthood—recurs throughout
the novel (at the end of the book, Scout even says that she has learned practically everything except
algebra). This theme is explored most powerfully through the relationship between Atticus and his
children, as he devotes himself to instilling a social conscience in Jem and Scout. The scenes at school
provide a direct counterpoint to Atticus’s effective education of his children: Scout is frequently
confronted with teachers who are either frustratingly unsympathetic to children’s needs or morally
hypocritical. As is true of To Kill a Mockingbird’s other moral themes, the novel’s conclusion about
education is that the most important lessons are those of sympathy and understanding, and that a
sympathetic, understanding approach is the best way to teach these lessons. In this way, Atticus’s
ability to put himself in his children’s shoes makes him an excellent teacher, while Miss Caroline’s
rigid commitment to the educational techniques that she learned in college makes her ineffective and
even dangerous.
The Existence of Social Inequality
Differences in social status are explored largely through the
overcomplicated social hierarchy of Maycomb, the ins and outs of which constantly baffle the
children. The relatively well-off Finches stand near the top of Maycomb’s social hierarchy, with most
of the townspeople beneath them. Ignorant country farmers like the Cunninghams lie below the
townspeople, and the white trash Ewells rest below the Cunninghams. But the black community in
Maycomb, despite its abundance of admirable qualities, squats below even the Ewells, enabling Bob
Ewell to make up for his own lack of importance by persecuting Tom Robinson. These rigid social
divisions that make up so much of the adult world are revealed in the book to be both irrational and
destructive. For example, Scout cannot understand why Aunt Alexandra refuses to let her consort
with young Walter Cunningham. Lee uses the children’s perplexity at the unpleasant layering of
Maycomb society to critique the role of class status and, ultimately, prejudice in human interaction.
Man's inhumanity to man
Dolphus Raymond's remark epitomises what happens within the closed society of Maycomb. There are
many examples of the "hell" of isolation, of being outcast, of being denied what is necessary to
sustain human happiness.
The negroes have no education and are by and large illiterate
Black people receive pitiful wages and have no job prospects yet they are expected to
be grateful for any mercies.
Black people are derided and insulted. At best they are referred to as "niggers"; at
worst they are seen to be immoral and criminal.
The casual way in which Nathan shoots at black people demonstrates a society who
totally disregard black people as human beings with rights.
Miss Maudie doesn't treat the black people as outcasts. Indeed, she challenges such
prejudice, along with Atticus.
Children are emotionally and physically abused within the loose family structure (
Mayella, Boo Radley )
Parents mistreat or ignore their children (Dill)
There is also the hell of class consciousness which keeps sections of the community in
isolation from one another. Look at how Scout tells Cal that Walter is not "company" as
he is a Cunningham. Later she learns from her mistake and is deeply upset that Aunt
Alex refers to Walter as "trash."
Aunt Alexandra tries to reinforce class divisions by showing her horror that Calpurnia
took the children to church.
The injustice of the trial. Tom is imprisoned and later killed as a result of people's
The trial is a mockery of justice.
The missionary tea ladies speak out against prejudice and yet mistreat their fellow
human beings.
Character Grid – use this to focus your notes (you may need much more space!)
What are they
like / general
Miss Maudie
Boo Radley
What others
think of them?
Role in the novel?
Key quotes / page
Scout is a very unusual little girl, both in her own qualities and in her social position. She is unusually
intelligent (she learns to read before beginning school), unusually confident (she fights boys without
fear), unusually thoughtful (she worries about the essential goodness and evil of mankind), and
unusually good (she always acts with the best intentions). In terms of her social identity, she is
unusual for being a tomboy in the prim and proper Southern world of Maycomb.
One quickly realizes when reading To Kill a Mockingbird that Scout is who she is because of the way
Atticus has raised her. He has nurtured her mind, conscience, and individuality without bogging her
down in fussy social hypocrisies and notions of propriety. While most girls in Scout’s position would be
wearing dresses and learning manners, Scout, thanks to Atticus’s hands-off parenting style, wears
overalls and learns to climb trees with Jem and Dill. She does not always grasp social niceties (she
tells her teacher that one of her fellow students is too poor to pay her back for lunch), and human
behavior often baffles her (as when one of her teachers criticizes Hitler’s prejudice against Jews
while indulging in her own prejudice against blacks), but Atticus’s protection of Scout from hypocrisy
and social pressure has rendered her open, forthright, and well meaning.
At the beginning of the novel, Scout is an innocent, good-hearted five-year-old child who has no
experience with the evils of the world. As the novel progresses, Scout has her first contact with evil
in the form of racial prejudice, and the basic development of her character is governed by the
question of whether she will emerge from that contact with her conscience and optimism intact or
whether she will be bruised, hurt, or destroyed like Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. Thanks to
Atticus’s wisdom, Scout learns that though humanity has a great capacity for evil, it also has a great
capacity for good, and that the evil can often be mitigated if one approaches others with an outlook
of sympathy and understanding. Scout’s development into a person capable of assuming that outlook
marks the culmination of the novel and indicates that, whatever evil she encounters, she will retain
her conscience without becoming cynical or jaded. Though she is still a child at the end of the book,
Scout’s perspective on life develops from that of an innocent child into that of a near grown-up.
" Calpurnia was all angles and bones... her
hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as
"Jem and I found our father satisfactory; he
played with us, read to us, with courteous
" Our battles were epic and one-sided.
Calpurnia always won.
"Atticus always took her side."
"I felt her tyrannical presence as long as I
could remember. "
" We looked at her in surprise for Calpurnia
rarely commented on the ways of white
" In Calpurnia's teaching, there was no
sentimentality; I seldom pleased her and she
seldom rewarded me."
" Calpurnia sent me through the swinging door
with a stinging smack. I told Calpurnia to just
wait: I'd fix her..."Hush your fussin'" she
" Atticus never talked much about the
" Atticus's only answer was for him to mind
his own business and let the Radley's mind
theirs, they had a right to.; but when it
happened, Jem said Atticus shook his head
and said,"Mm, mm, mm."
" Atticus shook his head at me again."
" I've no intention of getting rid of her, now
or never. You think about how much Cal does
for you, and you mind her, you hear now?"
1. How does Scout regard Calpurnia? How does she see her?
2. What role does Calpurnia play in their lives? Is she more than just a cook?
3. What do Scout's reactions to the way Calpurnia treats her show about Scout's character? (i.e
when she says "I'd fix her." )
4. What sort of relationship does Scout have with her father?
5. What sort of a father is Atticus to the children? Do you think that Scout would like a
different sort of dad? If so, what kind?
Atticus stands for all Harper Lee admires in a father, citizen, a lawyer, a Southern gentleman and a
Christian. He has a wisdom and a perspective that make him the conscience of his town. Atticus
embodies the humanitarian values Harper Lee wishes to present, the tolerance and understanding she
sees as essential for life in a civilised society. In many ways he is an idealised character but this is no
doubt why Scout admires her father so much.
His humanitarian principles are summed up in his statement that you cannot understand another
person,"Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." At every opportunity he demonstrates to
his children how important this "Simple trick" is. Eventually Jem and Scout come to follow his
example and they come to understand not only their father, but Mrs Dubose, Mayella Ewell and Boo
Radley. These experiences form an important part of their moral education. Yet he allows the
children to learn from their own experiences as far as possible, rather than playing a heavy-handed
father figure.
He is a conscientious father. He is a contrast to the way that Mr Ewell and Mr Radley treat their
children, He is honest and straightforward with them. He is always there as a reassuring presence.
He always listens to their opinions and deals with their questions, even embarrassing ones. When
Atticus sends Jem off to apologise to Mrs Dubose, Scout says that she hates him for putting Jem in
danger. She soon ends up in Atticus' arms, getting the reassuring explanation that she needs. Atticus
always does what is best for his children, despite others attacking him for his parental style, notably
Aunt Alexander.
As a citizen he is highly respected and he has a highly developed sense of responsibility. He was
elected unopposed to the state legislature and is the only man considered by the judge to be capable
of defending Tom Robinson. Even though he knows that he probably will not win his case, his reasoning
is testimony to the high morals of the man," Simply because we were licked a hundred years before
we started is no reason for us not to try to win." For Atticus it is a matter of what is right. He
believes in defending the truth and will not be swayed from doing so, despite threats from ignorant
townsfolk. He feels it is his duty to break down prejudice and even though Scout questions his
involvement in the trial, for him it is a matter of conscience. "If I didn't, I couldn't hold up my head
in town."
Atticus is also a Christian in the true sense of the word. His attitudes throw into relief the kind of
Christianity that can condemn and execute an innocent man. His character exposes the hypocrisy of
Maycomb and societies within the town that profess to stand for Christianity.
The white ladies of Maycomb embody the narrow-minded attitudes which Atticus is trying to
overcome. Miss Maudie recognises Atticus as a truly religious man, "We're so rarely called on to be
Christians, but when we are, we've got men like Atticus to go for us," a statement which again
suggests the christ-like position of Atticus in the novel. Only through his own suffering can he hope
to "redeem" his town. When Miss Maudie says," We're paying the highest tribute we can pay a man.
We trust him to do right. It's that simple," she echoes what Harper Lee is trying to promote. Lee
expresses her moral philosophy through Atticus integrity and courage.
Atticus is also portrayed as the author's idea of the perfect Southern gentleman. He is courteous to
all, treating the abusive Mrs Dubose with great politeness and patience. His children are embarrassed
by his seeming lack of "manly" virtues but Atticus faces a mad dog, risks his life protecting Tom from
the lynch mob which he does so without fuss. It is also Atticus who rescues Miss Maudie's favourite
chair from the fire. " I thought it sensible of him to save what she valued most." Typical of a man
who is thoughtful, sensitive and perceptive.
Is he weak at any point? Some argue that he takes undue risk with the lives of himself and his
children. He must have known what Bob Ewell was capable of, especially when Bob spits in his face
saying he'd get his revenge. In chapter 23 Atticus asks his children to," stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a
minute. " and continued to reassure them that," We don't have anything to fear." Atticus seems too
optimistic in his view of people. Indeed he ends the novel in response to Scout's assertion that Boo "
was real nice" professing ," Most people are when you finally see them." Is this naive and unrealistic
or an example of his generous heart and optimistic view of human nature. His stance is to find the
best in people and see people for what they really are.
He is not a paragon or an ideal but in many ways is simply a lovable man whom we watch suffer for
what he believes in. Behind his service to others, lies a deep humility of spirit, "Atticus' eyes filled
with tears. He did not speak for a moment. ' Tell them I'm very grateful,' he said. 'Tell them - tell
them never to do it again. Times are too hard...." Atticus' response to being given lots of food from
the poor black community, grateful for what he did for Tom Robinson. His only interest was in truth
and justice, not what he could personally gain from the trial. A man had needlessly lost his life due to
the unrelenting prejudice and racism in Maycomb.
Rather than the novel ending on a bleak note, it is a hopeful and enduring one of a father who is there
for his children, protective over their well-being, always doing what is right, upholding truth and
morality, despite the constant threats and conflicts from society.
What people say about him
These are Miss Maudie Atkinson’s comments about Atticus:
‘He’s the same in the courtroom as he is on the public streets’ Chapter 19
‘There are some men in the world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us.
Your father’s one of them.’ Chapter 22
‘Did it ever strike you that Judge Taylor naming Atticus to defend that boy was no
accident?’ Chapter 22
Atticus as a father
Atticus treats his children as intelligent young adults – he speaks in a clear matter-of fact way,
and answers questions directly (including those about technical points of law and definitions of
He is very fair – he tries to hear both sides of an argument.
He does not beat his children, but is firm in some matters – such as when he insists that Jem
read to Mrs. Dubose, or makes them obey Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra.
He does not stereotype people – he is quite happy for Scout to be a tomboy.
He sees that the children need a mother figure, and recognizes that Calpurnia is far better
able than he is to be a homemaker.
Atticus’s diplomacy
Atticus is frequently criticized by other people. He does not take advantage of his social
standing to retaliate or rebuke them.
Atticus remains calm when provoked directly – look, for example, at how he handles Bob Ewell’s
challenge: ‘“Too proud to fight?” “No,” says Atticus, “too old”’ (Think about the ambiguity – on the
surface it seems to mean that Atticus is no longer strong and fit enough to fight; but also it
might mean that fighting is not something that adults should do – which could imply that Bob has
not grown up).
Atticus understands the importance of allowing people to pay for his services, even though he
has no need of their gifts – as when he accepts payment in kind from the Cunninghams, or gifts
from the black people of Maycomb after Tom’s trial.
Atticus’s sympathy
Atticus shows an interest in Walter Cunningham’s home life, and asks him about
farming – he allows Walter, who may not be very good at school work, to speak as an
Atticus always shows admiration for Mrs. Dubose – even though she abuses him and is a racist.
At the end of the novel Atticus understands Boo’s shyness – he does not try to make him sit
down in the light, and addresses him courteously as ‘Arthur’.
When he learns of Bob Ewell’s attack, he thinks it must be caused by a loss of sanity (like
‘diminished responsibility’ in English law). He is very reluctant to see what Heck Tate (and the
reader) knows is the real cause of the attack, that Bob Ewell is an evil man.
Atticus’s integrity
Atticus tries always to do what he sees is right: he does not WANT to take Tom’s case, but
sees this as his duty. Where some lawyers would go through the motions, seeing the case as a
lost cause, Atticus believes that he should still try to save Tom.
Atticus will not try to spare his own family from the consequences of their actions. When he
thinks (wrongly) that Jem has killed Bob Ewell, he insists that the ‘best way to clear the air is to
have it all out in the open’.
Atticus’s lack of prejudice
Today we might not see this as remarkable, but Atticus lives in a racist and sexist
society, yet shares neither prejudice.
He respects people of colour – he gives Calpurnia complete discretion in running his house.
Atticus respects women – he extends this respect to Mayella Ewell, whom Scout
depicts as pathetic and friendless.
Atticus’s ideal of courage
Atticus shows some physical courage in facing a rabid dog, but he does not value this highly.
Atticus shows courage in keeping guard outside the jail (Chapter 15), and stays calm outwardly
when the lynch mob arrives.
In defending Tom and being ready to accept the label of ‘nigger-lover’ Atticus shows moral
Atticus’s ideal is Mrs. Dubose: ‘...when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin
anyway and you see it through no matter what’. Is this a fair description of Atticus’s own courage
in trying to save Tom?
Atticus’s two errors Atticus makes two errors of judgement:
trusting the Old Sarum mob not to try to lynch Tom. Chapter 15
trusting Bob Ewell not to carry out his threats of revenge. Chapter 23
What do these errors tell us about Atticus?
Boo Radley
Arthur Radley does not appear to Scout directly until the final chapters of the novel, but his
presence is felt throughout the narrative. He is a silent witness of the children’s actions. He is
always vigilant and he sees the danger Atticus has overlooked when he saves the lives of Scout
and Jem. In the first chapter of the novel Scout considers the different starting points in a
chain of events which form the plot of the novel. Jem maintains that ‘it began...when Dill first
gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out’. What began then we do not fully learn until
the end of the novel, though we will soon learn more about Boo – much of it misleading or
inaccurate. At the end of the novel Scout summarizes the events Arthur has witnessed (and in
which he has sometimes taken part), leading up to his emerging from confinement when the
children’s lives are in danger.
At the start of the novel the brief reference to Boo arouses the reader’s interest. Scout learns
more from a variety of sources. Most of this information comes from Jem, who has heard it, in
turn, from Miss Stephanie Crawford – and she is known to exaggerate or invent things.
Boo’s background
It seems that Arthur was not very successful at school (though he may have won a spelling
medal). In his teens he joined with some of the Cunninghams in joyriding around Maycomb’s
square and locking an elderly official (Mr. Conner) in the court outhouse. While the other boys
went to a state industrial school, Arthur was shut up at home by his parents. Fifteen years later
Arthur, now aged thirty-three, attacked his father with a pair of scissors. His father (‘the
meanest man ever God blew breath into’, according to Calpurnia) opposed sending him to a
psychiatric hospital, and eventually took him home. When his father died, Arthur became the
ward of his brother, Nathan Radley. Though less severe than his father, he still kept Arthur
more or less imprisoned in the family home. By the time of the events in the novel it is no longer
clear how far Arthur is forced to stay in, and how
far this is his own wish.
What some people say about Arthur
To form your own idea of what Arthur is like you might consider what other people say about
him, and decide how reliable their opinions are:
Jem says he is ‘six and a half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw
squirrels and any cats he could catch...There was a long...scar that ran across his
face...his eyes popped and he drooled most of the time.’
Miss Stephanie claims that she once woke up to see Boo at her window.
Miss Maudie (Chapter 5) says that the legends about Boo are ‘three fourths coloured folk and
one fourth Stephanie Crawford’ and that she knew Arthur as a boy: ‘He always spoke nicely to
me, no matter what folks said he did’. She also explains that Arthur’s family hold very severe
religious beliefs, which have affected the way they treat Boo.
Boo in the first part of the novel
Scout tells the reader a lot about Boo in the early part of the novel, but he disappears from the
narrative for most of the middle and later chapters, which are concerned with the story of the
trial and its sequel.
Early in the story, the children try to persuade Boo to come out, but it seems that they miss the
occasions when he does do this. Consider these clues:
The children receive a series of mysterious presents which are left in the knot-hole of an oak
tree by the Radley’s house: two pieces of chewing gum, two Indian-head coins, two figures carved
out of soap, a packet of gum, a spelling medal and a broken pocket watch. Are these random
gifts, or do they tell you anything about the giver?
When Jem snags his trousers on the fence wire, he leaves them. When he goes to
retrieve them, he sees that they have been mended, inexpertly. What do you suppose is the
When Miss Maudie’s house is burned, someone places a blanket over Scout’s
shoulders. Atticus sees this but does not tell Scout when it happens. Comment on
what you think is the explanation.
Although Jem does not see Arthur on any of these occasions, he begins to understand what is
happening. When Nathan Radley stops up the knot-hole, it is a fairly clear sign that he knows
what Arthur has been doing and wants to stop it. And when Scout thinks she hears laughter from
inside the Radley house, she finds this sinister – but the reader comes to see that this is the
innocent laughter of Boo Radley, who is amused by the children at play.
Boo in the final chapters of the novel
Arthur’s saving of the children’s lives is presented in an unusual way. Scout sees nothing and Jem
remembers nothing. She also does not recognize the stranger in her house until Atticus makes
this clear to her. Arthur has taken a kitchen knife – the only weapon he can find, evidently – and
stabbed Bob Ewell, as he attacks the children. Heck Tate works out what has happened, and
conceals Bob Ewell’s flick-knife, in order to maintain that the kitchen knife was Ewell’s weapon,
on which he fell. This means that Arthur will not have to face an inquest, or any further public
Although Arthur is shy, he forgets about himself while he attends to Jem’s injury and takes him
home. He does nothing to conceal what he has done to Bob Ewell. We see this shyness as he
stands out of the light, as he hesitates before stroking Jem’s hair, and as he speaks, in a
whisper, only to ask Scout to see him home.
Boo as an outsider
Harper Lee explores a familiar theme in her depiction of Boo Radley – that of the misfit or
outsider who is misunderstood. We see this in Beauty and the Beast (with a happy ending) or The
Hunchback of Notre Dame (with a tragic ending). It is common in modern feature films, such as
The Elephant Man, Edward Scissorhands or Babe. This portrayal is notable for the way in which
the author presents Arthur Radley sensitively and with dignity. Finally, it is only when she
literally stands in a new position, on the Radley porch, that Scout understands Atticus’s earlier
remark (Chapter 3) about the need to put yourself in another person’s place (‘...climb into his skin
and walk around in it’) before you can really know him or her.
If Scout is an innocent girl who is exposed to evil at an early age and forced to develop an adult moral
outlook, Jem finds himself in an even more turbulent situation. His shattering experience at Tom
Robinson’s trial occurs just as he is entering puberty, a time when life is complicated and traumatic
enough. His disillusionment upon seeing that justice does not always prevail leaves him vulnerable and
confused at a critical, formative point in his life. Nevertheless, he admirably upholds the commitment
to justice that Atticus instilled in him and maintains it with deep conviction throughout the novel.
Unlike the jaded Mr. Raymond, Jem is not without hope: Atticus tells Scout that Jem simply needs
time to process what he has learned. The strong presence of Atticus in Jem’s life seems to promise
that he will recover his equilibrium. Later in his life, Jem is able to see that Boo Radley’s unexpected
aid indicates there is good in people. Even before the end of the novel, Jem shows signs of having
learned a positive lesson from the trial; for instance, at the beginning of Chapter 25, he refuses to
allow Scout to squash a roly-poly bug because it has done nothing to harm her. After seeing the
unfair destruction of Tom Robinson, Jem now wants to protect the fragile and harmless.
The idea that Jem resolves his cynicism and moves toward a happier life is supported by the
beginning of the novel, in which a grown-up Scout remembers talking to Jem about the events that
make up the novel’s plot. Scout says that Jem pinpointed the children’s initial interest in Boo Radley
at the beginning of the story, strongly implying that he understood what Boo represented to them
and, like Scout, managed to shed his innocence without losing his hope.
Other characters: research on the internet