‘To Kill a Mockingbird,' written by Harper Lee, is a seminal work which is considered to be one of the most popular and influential books to tackle issues such as racism and the justice system in America. It was published in 1960 at a time when America was still reeling from the effects of racial segregation, and issues of racial profiling and discrimination against people of color are still rampant.
It was met with critical acclaim and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. However, it got mixed reactions from the public on its early release, but eventually got a better reception and became an American class worldwide. It has been the only published book of Harper Lee for decades since its release, until the other book, ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was released, but it happened in more than 50 years later in 2015.
Most of the story revolves around the Finch’s family and the people of the Maycomb town, with the main characters Atticus Finch, and his children Scout and Jem, their friend Dill, and the mysterious neighbor Boo Radley.
No matter, whether you’re only reading it for the first time or are already revisiting it for a school assignment, there are a lot of insights that can be gained from reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. Below we list down some study ideas that would help you in creating a discussion or in writing a paper for this classic work of literature.
Suggested Study Questions for Reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:
- 1. What is the significance of the children’s encounters with Boo Radley in the story?
The character of Boo Radley served mainly as both an anchor and a pivot for the children regarding their character development throughout the book. At first, Boo was seen as some sort of an outsider, but eventually, children created a special friendship with him. How did their friendship with Boo plant the seeds for a value of compassion awakening in the children, regardless of what society thinks about them?
- 2. How children’s innocence is affected by the harsh realities of a racist society, particularly the one illustrated during the trial of Tom Robinson?
The scene of Tom Robinson’s trial is an important point that makes the book so memorable, and this is what makes this book hold its place as one of the most famous works of literature. There is a need to highlight the disparity between the presented evidence, which clearly proves Tom’s innocence, and how bias and prejudice affect the ruling of the jury.
- 3. What drives Atticus to fight for Tom Robinson and how does this affect the family’s relationship with the people of Maycomb?
It is said that Atticus’ character has become a model for lawyers who want to serve with integrity. In a society where it is easier to conform, what could drive characters like Atticus Finch to represent a person who is vilified by almost everyone in their town? Point out how did his choice to represent Tom has turned the Finch family to the outcasts of their city, and how were they able to find a community within the black people who treated them as of their own.
- 4. Most of the story is presented in Scout’s perspective, why you think Harper Lee did choose to write it from a viewpoint of a child?
The children are great vessels to tell the story since their innocence still leads them to be more impressionable and observant when it comes to the things that are happening around them. Since they are young, their prejudices against other people are not as ingrained as compared to the adults in Maycomb, and they are still willing to see the best in people, regardless of their skin color or place they take in society.
- 5. Atticus Finch describes a Mockingbird as an innocent creature, that does not cause any harm to people. The quotation “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” is one of the most definitive passages in the book. Discuss the reason behind calling it a sin to kill a mockingbird.
One of the greatest and perhaps the most climactic turning points for the characters in the book is the verdict and subsequent death of Tom Robinson in the hands of the supposed justice system. It brings out a great moral question, which is the heart of this novel. Compare this with the death of child’s innocence, when they have to witness such great injustice in a seemingly small and quiet town.
Regarding its importance, To Kill a Mockingbird has never wavered in its position as one of the most highly-regarded books of the last century. Even until now, the relevance of this novel still rings true in a society where problems and issues concerning racism still exist. Recent events have shown us that racism is still alive in America, which is why a close reading of this work is relevant for students. It shows how these issues have a long history dating back from the time of social policies that were oppressive to people of color.
Literature has long been a tool of social awakening, and whether this was Harper’s Lee original intention or not, as in old interviews, she said that the story was loosely-based on her childhood experiences growing up in the South. Perhaps that fact has caused the appeal of this work in the voice of children; it still manages to instill humor and compassion on serious issues like rape, oppression and social injustice without failing to drive the main point through. Students at elementary and high school benefit from reading books on social problems in a voice that they can recognize, as it resonates with them deeply, and hopefully, instill the values that the book hopes to impart when they grow up.