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In some works of literature, childhood and adolescence are portrayed as times graced by innocence and a sense of wonder; in other works, they are depicted as time of tribulation and terror. Focusing on a single novel or play, explain how its representation of childhood or adolescence shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.
Opening Sentence for (your) Essay (Be prepared to write an essay on this novel at any given time during the quarter!)
In Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, childhood innocence helps highlight the theme of the work as a whole. Scout, who experiences a lot of difficult and hardening situations, begins to question her own morals and social justice. With the guidance of her father, Atticus, she begins to form her own views on human nature. The innocence of Scout adds to the wisdom of her words, and her naïve way of view the world around her draws attention to the injustices and social misconceptions in it. Overall, Scout's navigation through her childhood adds to her own moral education, as well as the readers.
Key Plot Incidents
The novel opens in summer. Scout and Jem befriend Dill Harris, and the three play together and tell stories of the fabled Radley house.
Atticus is chosen to defend Tom Robinson in court. Tom is accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell.
Over time, the children begin to find presents from Boo Radley in a tree near his house. Their opinion of him begins to transform, as they wonder why he is always alone in his house, and how he got this way.
The trial takes place. Over the course of the trial, it becomes clear that Tom did nothing wrong, and that the accusation was merely of Bob Ewell's own conviction. Atticus defends him brilliantly, yet Tom is still found guilty. Tom tries to escape, but is killed.
Jem and Scout are attacked by Bob Ewell, who is seeking revenge against Atticus. Boo Radley comes to the rescue, saves the children, and kills Bob Ewell.
Atticus and Tate discuss who killed Ewell, and decide that it is only best to let Boo Radley live in peace. Scout walks Boo home, and thinks about what life must look like from the Radley porch.
Key Characters (Who and Why)
Scout, the narrator, who has a general sense of innocence. Throughout the novel, she can often see the good in people in her community, even those who are not socially accepted.
Atticus Finch, Scout's father, a lawyer who fights for what he believes in. Atticus has a strong sense of morality and justice, including the issue of racism. He is presented as Scout's moral compass, and guides her through the story.
Jem, Scout's brother who accompanies her in her adventures over the course of the novel. Eventually, Jem is disillusioned by the case of Tom Robinson, and is not able to grasp the existence of evil in the world.
Dill Harris, the friend of Scout and Jem who comes every summer. He is very innocent and naïve, himself representing childhood in the novel.
Maycomb, Alabama, 1930's
Significance of Opening Scene
The novel opens with Scout's description of life in Maycomb, her quiet hometown. She sets out to tell the reader about the story of how Jem broke his arm, and begins the tale of her own maturation and moral lessons. Dill Harris is introduced, and the innocent shenanigans of the three children begin.
Significance of Closing Scene
The closing scene displays the growth of Scout as a person. Although she is only eight, she understands why Atticus and Tate cannot tell the town about Boo. She realizes that making Boo a public hero would be 'killing a mockingbird', and helps Boo walk home. Scout has undergone much change through the novel, and reaches her own decisions in this final scene.
Style of Narration/Point of View
Narrated in first person by Scout, who is recounting the events of the novel.
Good and evil both exist in this world, and it is important to understand that there is evil in people, but to not lose your faith in humanity.
Socially inequality runs rampant in the world, whether it be through class division, sexism, or racism.
Mockingbirds, who symbolize innocence in the novel. Atticus tells his children that it is a sin to kill mockingbirds, because they only produce music, and don't present any harm. In killing a mockingbird, you are destroying innocence. This symbol is seen throughout the novel, and there are many 'mockingbirds' in the plot.
Boo Radley, a figure of legend in Maycomb. The children entertain themselves with the idea of Radley, that he is the reason that bad things happen. By the end of the novel, they discover that Boo Radley is really a victim of his family, and someone who deserves kindness and sympathy.
The Mad Dog, which Atticus shoots. This represents Atticus's fight to defend Tom Robinson, which he can do because of his skill, but there is much doubt.
The tone of the novel is very naïve. Scout presents the events through the view of a child, with innocence. However, through this she uncovers many social traditions and injustices, coming off as ironic.