Harper Lee constructs a sweet and affectionate portrait of growing up in the vanished world of small town Alabama.Lee, however, proceeds to undermine her portrayal of small town gentility.
Lee dismantles the sweet façade to reveal a rotten, rural underside filled with social lies, prejudice, and ignorance.But no one in Mockingbird is completely good or evil.Every character is human, with human flaws and weaknesses.Lee even renders Atticus, the paragon of morality, symbolically weak by making him an old and widowed man as opposed to young and virile.It is how these flawed characters influence and are influenced by the major themes underpinning their society.
Three major themes run through To Kill a Mockingbird: education, bravery, and prejudice. We learn how important education is to Atticus and his children in the first chapter when Jem announces to Dill that Scout has known how to read since she was a baby.Atticus reads to the children from newspapers and magazines as if they are adults who can understand issues at his level.By the time Scout attends her first day of school she is highly literate, far surpassing the other children in the classroom and frustrating her teacher whose task it is to teach her students according to a predetermined plan.It soon becomes clear why Atticus thinks education is so important.
During his closing arguments Atticus explicitly acknowledges the ignorance blinding people's minds and hearts: "the witnesses for the state…have presented themselves to you gentlemen…in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the.
.that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption one associates with minds of their caliber" (217).Education is the key to unlocking the ignorance that causes such prejudice. Jem begins to understand this lesson toward the end of the book when he wonders whether family status could be based more on education than on bloodlines.Jem also learns powerful lessons from his father regarding bravery and cowardice. Early in Mockingbird we learn that Atticus does not approve of guns.He believes that guns do not make men brave and that the children's fascination with guns is unfounded.
To prove his point, he sends Jem to read for Mrs. Dubose who struggles to beat her morphine addiction before she dies.He wants to show his son one shows true bravery "when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what" (121).Atticus also role models his sense of bravery by refusing to carry a gun to protect Tom Robinson from angry farmers and refusing to carry a gun to protect himself after Bob Ewell threatens guns.But bravery runs deeper than the decision to carry a gun.Atticus shows bravery when he takes Tom's case despite knowing that his town would turn against him and his children.Jem shows bravery when the children intervene on behalf of Atticus and Jem refuses to leave his father's side during.