To Kill a Mockingbird Essay

2.4 To Kill a Mockingbird Essay

Question 8- Analyse how language features revealed the writer’s purpose in the written text(s)

Throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee, symbolism as a language feature plays an important role in uncovering deeper meanings, and forcing the reader to think about how everyday objects can be used for a more complex reason, they teach us lessons about people and to not judge them through other people’s words. This essay will focus on the symbolism of the six objects placed in the hollow of the tree on the Radley property, and that Harper Lee was trying to say how there is more to something than we first believe. These objects hold significance as the reader learns about how objects can reflect our emotions and teach us to remember that we should not believe everything that someone says, we need to decide for ourselves who someone really is.


To an individual’s naked eye, the idea and overall object of chewing gum is something that speaks simplicity. This very item is not given a great deal of thought by many, but in the eyes of a child, such as Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, it made her feel happy because she had something simple but sweet in her presence. We eventually uncover that Arthur “Boo” Radley placed the gift in the hollow of the tree to make sure Scout or Jem would see it. Boo is essentially the “boogie man” of the novel and the reader learns that Boo was unable to leave his house for fifteen years because his father believed he should be locked up, no longer a part of society. His father thought if he was locked up, he would be protected from himself and that everyone else would be safer without Boo. A consequence that came with this was his image became mythical in the minds of the children and they believed he was a monster. Boo was never able to fully develop mentally, emotionally and socially. He never had that interaction with the other people of Maycomb. Placing the chewing gum in the tree, symbolises Boo trying his best to be kind to the children and diminish the mistrust that the children may feel towards him. The item will have been used to get Scout’s attention, and signal to her to come over to the tree. Scout states that “the tinfoil was winking at me” in the sun. When Jem learns that Scout ate the gum he shouts to her, “Don’t you know you’re not even supposed to touch the trees over there?” this is showing how apprehensive Jem is of the Radley property and is trying to keep Scout safe. His thoughts of Boo consume him, and doesn’t allow room for him to see the good in his character. The writer’s purpose is to reveal that Boo is frozen in time, as he was stripped of his childhood and he was isolated in his home. He was never able to reach his mental, social and emotional potential; he may be older than Jem and Scout, but he is no less a child.


The writer’s purpose in this part of the novel is to show how Boo can be seen as a mockingbird. Mockingbirds are gentle creatures whose only purpose is to create music and peace. They show no harm towards anybody, and are also very protective. In a sense we can see Boo mimicking the characteristics of a mockingbird. Boo as a person, has been a victim of prejudice as mockingbirds are. They are misjudged creatures and Boo is a misjudged character in the novel. Mockingbirds are innocent and have had misconceptions created about them. The people of Maycomb have no valid reason to shoot a mockingbird, as their purpose is a simple one, which is to make sweet music for the people of Maycomb, which can be likened to Boo as his purpose also speaks simplicity. There is no validation to kill a mockingbird. The protagonist, the voice of reason in the novel, Atticus Finch, states that “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” and he is right in saying this and the people of Maycomb need to come to terms with that Boo is no different.


The second item that is found in the hollow of the tree on the Radley property, is a ball of grey twine. When you first take into account the things that grey twine might be used for, you don’t usually take thought of how it could be used figuratively, only literally. When we think deeper it becomes something that has the ability to connect things, or in this case, people, together. The twine signifies that Boo is trying to have a literal connection with the children and form some sort of bond, that is slowly beginning to tighten itself as a phone made of cups and string would do. When the children see this item sticking out of the knot-hole in the tree, they “considered everything we found in the knot-hole our property.” This is revealing that the children are coming to correct conclusions that these items are only for them. Boo understood that it brings people closer, so his intentions were clear that he wanted to be that connection. This connection is however lost when Nathan Radley, Boo’s brother, conceals the hole in the tree with cement, and the ways of communicating became blocked. Boo could not longer reach out to them; his hope is killed, and he is once again isolated. He can be likened to a mockingbird here, because people have been known to lock mockingbirds in cages, and this is exactly what happened to Boo; he is helpless and is unable to break free from humans. Boo symbolises goodness and forgiveness in society. He represents how people can misunderstand someone they believe is bad. When they allow their thoughts to devour them, and don’t give people a chance to express who they are, their ideologies of that person remain the same and nothing ever changes.


In my opinion, the object that symbolizes the children the most that are the two carved soap dolls. The sculptor has paid attention to detail, and created a representation of both children. As Jem looks closer at the two objects, it becomes clear to him that the gifts are only for Scout and him; Scout still remains oblivious to this fact. By giving the children an object that only represents them, it is symbolizing that Boo is aware of their presence and has been watching them from inside his house. He is reaching a hand of friendship out to them and revealing that he is a kind-hearted person. He symbolises innocence of the evil a he is presented by many in Maycomb. The soap dolls are proof that the sculptor, in this case Boo, has refined this particular art over time. By placing in the hole, something that represents the children, it opens their eyes to who Boo may actually be as a person. He represents a mockingbird in this part of the novel, as mockingbirds do no harm to anyone, they are gentle and kind creatures, but are misjudged, which is mirroring Boo and his life which is stereotypical and unfair. Boo represents the wholesome and forgiving nature that lives in people in society. He shares the innocence and kindness that some of us fail to show towards other people in the wider world. Boo remind us that no matter how caged we have been or how bad our experiences have been, this does not make us a bad person.


The next item that Boo leaves for the two children, is a spelling medal. The writer’s purpose is to represent the success that Boo could have once accomplished and the potential he could have had, to lead a normal life if he had not been isolated in his cage for all those years. It represents that he was once a child himself, and he is giving something of his to the children, which is quite brave of him. He is essentially giving away a memory to children he doesn’t know, but wishes too. He uses this item to communicate and may be proof that Boo was once a good student before he got locked up. This is representing that he does not match the preconceived thoughts of himself. He is talented and observant and wants to prove this to Scout and Jem by the objects he gives him. A memory of school would relate to both the children, and they may understand him better than before. Boo’s life has been grim and full of sadness. His motivation came from wanting to reconnect with society and the person he use to be; Jem and Scout helped him to do this by acknowledging the items he left them.


A watch is the next item that is found. It hangs on an aluminum chain and is broken. The break in the watch symbolises a deeper message symbolising a break in the passage of time and throughout Boo’s restricted life, and the passing of family values. Boo views Jem and Scout as his own children whom he will pass his legacy onto; he will look after them, and this watch shows this. This item connects directly with Jem who has carefully carried around his father’s watch with him. Boo is not bitter, he has no hatred towards his father, this is object represents that he is wholesome and has a forgiving nature about him. Harper Lee showed that Boo keeping the watch for all these years meant that he had not lost all hope. He knew that he may find somebody that could be his “children” to pass on his own morals and a part of who he is. It is a precious item that is something rare and vulnerable for special recipients to keep safe.


The last item he leaves them, is of hope and gives feelings of luck. Two Indian pennies with the dates 1900 and 1906, are found and have been polished up and put in a box. These are another symbol of Boo’s kindness, and his longing desire to connect with the children. When Jem sees these, he wishes to help find the owner of them. He is revealing his honesty and says to Scout, “I don’t know Scout. But these are important to somebody” By saying this, Harper Lee reveals to the reader that Boo is a humble character and wishes to do the right thing. The pennies also represent childhood as a whole, and how the pennies may have been Boo’s very last pocket money for him to then have ownership over before he had his life stripped away from him. For him to give these to the children, shares an element of trust, as he is giving what essentially is his last memory of freedom, to children he wants to know. The pennies are also Boo revealing to the children the most precious memories and the most painful time in his restricted life. He held onto innocence for all those years, but at the same time had it diminished from him. By leaving these gifts, he is showing he is good and has no element of evil inside him. He is forgiving, and is trying to explain this through the items he leaves the children.


In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee reveals through language features, in this case symbolism, that the items that Boo left the children hold deeper meanings about people, and greater significance than what the naked eye first sees. For Boo, it was always about the element of connection; connection with the outside world, with himself and also with the children. Boo, as a character was a representation of a mockingbird. This is because mockingbirds are a symbol of innocence, and do not one thing to harm anybody else, thus representing Boo. He is also a symbol of prejudice, this because he is an introverted character that has been isolated in a cage for all years, and has had preconceived ideas about who he is as a person. The people of Maycomb see him as an inhumane figure, rather than a regular member of society. The rumours of him take over Scout and Jem, and they do not think anything else of him; they only pre-judge him to what they hear. The objects Boo gave them symbolised that he is nothing like the mythical status he seems to uphold. Each item was an asking for help, a way of connecting back to the outside world and moving back into society; he was tired of being known as someone who he had never been.

By Kimmi McArthur


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