To Kill a Mockingbird – Symbolism 

Subject: Literature
Type: Admission Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 880
Topics: Book, Symbolism, To Kill A Mockingbird
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Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is an allegoric masterpiece. While a simplistic fictional story with a real-life touch, To Kill a Mockingbird is a thematically-rich narrative explicating a racism complexion within a small Alabama community where the setting takes place. With literacy mastery, the author symbolizes core themes with unmatched creativity that intrigues a reader’s retrospect on social misconceptions. The title, mockingbird in itself, is the core symbolistic element representing innocence that a social narrative destroys or kills, as the author hints. Harper Lee utilizes four objects/elements to symbolize the racial complexion in the tiny Alabama community creatively and breathes meaning to the narrative theme with genius pictorial literalism – a mockingbird, a rabid dog, nut grass, and geraniums in flowerpots.

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A Mockingbird

The mockingbird in Lee Harper’s narrative signifies innocence. While the narrative title To Kill a Mockingbird has an intricate connection to its orientation, the mockingbird represents an innocent, unharmful character just like the bird it literalizes. Miss Maudie elucidates a mockingbird’s innocence when she tells Scout that her father is right; mockingbirds do nothing but make music for people to enjoy (Lee, 2010). To kill a mockingbird signifies executing Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl – also, the mockingbird represents other innocent characters, Dill, Jem, Scout, and Boo Bradley and to kill it is to damage the children’s innocent judgment (Solehan, 2016). These characters are unharmful – the little kids, Dill, Jem, and Scout, and their father, who defends Mr. Robinson, do not subscribe to the community’s racist and discriminatory demeanors. Mr. Robinson and Boo Bradley are against the social misconception of innocent – however, the community perceives them otherwise through a stereotypical lens. Thus, in executing Mr. Robinson, the community has murdered an innocent person, which Mr. Underwood rebukes, relating the death to senselessly slaughtering a songbird. Thus, the mockingbird in the narrative symbolizes innocent individuals, including the little children whose innocence the community corrupts with their society’s racist nature (Xi & Li-li, 2015). It signifies a beautiful object, a purity within a society.

The Nut Grass

In Lee Harper’s narrative, Miss Maudie’s nut grass signifies social illness, which within the narrative context is racism and stereotype. Like the nut grass that has taken root in Miss Maudie’s garden, racism greatly entrenches the Alabama community’s social fabric. Racism is replete in the community’s law enforcement, criminal justice, and education system (Al-Mamoory & Witwit, 2021). For instance, according to the narrative account, the sheriff did not have the heart to put Boo in jail alongside Negroes, and the other white folks castigated Mr. Atticus for representing a black man, Mr. Robinson (Lee, 2010). Miss Maudie sees the nut grass as an illness to her garden and relentlessly struggles to remove it, believing it is harmful and threatening to it once it blossoms. Within the narrative’s allegoric context, the nut grass signifies the racial complex that thrives in the Alabama community. Miss Maudie’s efforts to dig the grass deep down into the roots literally eradicate racism from its very core. Thus, Lee Harper creatively uses the nut grass to symbolize racism as a social ill that has taken root in the community.

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The Rabid Dog

Like Miss Maudie’s nut grass, the rabid dog signifies a social illness in the narrative’s society. Calpurnia refers to the rabid dog as a mad dog, and in the narrative, everyone is afraid of it – the trees are still, and the mockingbirds are silent (Lee, 2010). A dangerous illness afflicts the mad dog making it a threat to others (Meyer, 2010). In the narrative complex, the rabid dog’s illness symbolizes racism and other social ills, including discrimination and other dangerous practices within the Alabama community. The dog’s rabies signifies racism as a social ill that has afflicted the community, endangering it for people to habit. And while it is against Mr. Atticus’s conscience to slay the dog, ultimately, he shoots it. In essence, killing the rabid dog signifies protecting the society from danger, which within the narrative’s thematic orientation implies eradicating discrimination, an illness that has taken root in the community.

The Geraniums in Flowerpots

Neglected within the narrative’s allegoric conceptualization, the red geraniums in the Ewell yard symbolize social sanitization, a remedy to the community racism illness. Scout narrates that Mayella looked as if she tried to keep clean, and it reminded her of the row of red geraniums cared for tenderly (Lee, 2010). Mayella Ewell, who accuses Mr. Robinson, tends the beautiful red flowers, which makes her otherwise dilapidated home beautiful. In a community characterized by a racial illness, the flowers symbolize social value – and Mayella’s effort to nurture them signifies societal attempts to culture virtue, even by individuals inflicted by such ills as racism.

In sum, Lee Harper’s To Kill a Mockingbird is literally-deep a narrative. While written with simplistic language, it is imbued with creative allegory marked by clever symbolism that evokes a meaningful theme. Racism is a predominant theme in the narrative, and the author, with a literal mastery, portrays it as an illness that has permeated the social fabric threatening its people’s safety. Harper uses the rabid dog and nut grass to symbolize the racism threat to the Alabama community, even literalizing how it kills innocent individuals in the community, including Mr. Robinson, whose innocence the narrative compares to a mockingbird – an unharmful, beautiful creature.

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  1. Al-Mamoory, S., & Witwit, M. A. (2021). Critical Discourse Analysis of Oppression in ”To Kill a Mockingbird”. Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities Research9(02), 11-24.
  2. Lee, H. (2010). To Kill a Mockingbird. Random House.
  3. Meyer, M. J. (Ed.). (2010). Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: New Essays. Scarecrow Press.
  4. Solehah, F. (2016). The symbol of the mockingbird in Harper Lee’s to kill a mockingbird (Doctoral dissertation, UIN Sunan Gunung Djati Bandung).
  5. Xi, L., & Li-li, Z. (2015). On the symbolic significance of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” US-China Education Review5(4), 278-282.
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