Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Coexistence of Good and Evil
The most important theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is the book’s exploration of the moral nature of human beings—that is, whether people are essentially good or essentially evil. The novel approaches this question by dramatizing Scout and Jem’s transition from a perspective of childhood innocence, in which they assume that people are good because they have never seen evil, to a more adult perspective, in which they have confronted evil and must incorporate it into their understanding of the world. As a result of this portrayal of the transition from innocence to experience, one of the book’s important subthemes involves the threat that hatred, prejudice, and ignorance pose to the innocent: people such as Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are not prepared for the evil that they encounter, and, as a result, they are destroyed. Even Jem is victimized to an extent by his discovery of the evil of racism during and after the trial. Whereas Scout is able to maintain her basic faith in human nature despite Tom’s conviction, Jem’s faith in justice and in humanity is badly damaged, and he retreats into a state of disillusionment.
The moral voice of To Kill a Mockingbird is embodied by Atticus Finch, who is virtually unique in the novel in that he has experienced and understood evil without losing his faith in the human capacity for goodness. Atticus understands that, rather than being simply creatures of good or creatures of evil, most people have both good and bad qualities. The important thing is to appreciate the good qualities and understand the bad qualities by treating others with sympathy and trying to see life from their perspective. He tries to teach this ultimate moral lesson to Jem and Scout to show them that it is possible to live with conscience without losing hope or becoming cynical. In this way, Atticus is able to admire Mrs. Dubose’s courage even while deploring her racism. Scout’s progress as a character in the novel is defined by her gradual development toward understanding Atticus’s lessons, culminating when, in the final chapters, Scout at last sees Boo Radley as a human being. Her newfound ability to view the world from his perspective ensures that she will not become jaded as she loses her innocence.
The Importance of Moral Education
Because exploration of the novel’s larger moral questions takes place within the perspective of children, the education of children is necessarily involved in the development of all of the novel’s themes. In a sense, the plot of the story charts Scout’s moral education, and the theme of how children are educated—how they are taught to move from innocence to adulthood—recurs throughout the novel (at the end of the book, Scout even says that she has learned practically everything except algebra). This theme is explored most powerfully through the relationship between Atticus and his children, as he devotes himself to instilling a social conscience in Jem and Scout. The scenes at school provide a direct counterpoint to Atticus’s effective education of his children: Scout is frequently confronted with teachers who are either frustratingly unsympathetic to children’s needs or morally hypocritical. As is true of To Kill a Mockingbird’s other moral themes, the novel’s conclusion about education is that the most important lessons are those of sympathy and understanding, and that a sympathetic, understanding approach is the best way to teach these lessons. In this way, Atticus’s ability to put himself in his children’s shoes makes him an excellent teacher, while Miss Caroline’s rigid commitment to the educational techniques that she learned in college makes her ineffective and even dangerous.
The Existence of Social Inequality
Differences in social status are explored largely through the overcomplicated social hierarchy of Maycomb, the ins and outs of which constantly baffle the children. The relatively well-off Finches stand near the top of Maycomb’s social hierarchy, with most of the townspeople beneath them. Ignorant country farmers like the Cunninghams lie below the townspeople, and the white trash Ewells rest below the Cunninghams. But the black community in Maycomb, despite its abundance of admirable qualities, squats below even the Ewells, enabling Bob Ewell to make up for his own lack of importance by persecuting Tom Robinson. These rigid social divisions that make up so much of the adult world are revealed in the book to be both irrational and destructive. For example, Scout cannot understand why Aunt Alexandra refuses to let her consort with young Walter Cunningham. Lee uses the children’s perplexity at the unpleasant layering of Maycomb society to critique the role of class status and, ultimately, prejudice in human interaction.
More main ideas from To Kill a Mockingbird
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics on “To Kill a Mockingbird” that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for “To Kill a Mockingbird” offer a short summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.>
*Note: Additional Quotes from this and other books can be found easily in books online *
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Notions of Justice and Fairness in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Despite the unwavering dedication of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the absence of evidence, and a moving courtroom speech, Tom Robinson is convicted of a crime that he did not commit. This jury ruling causes both those who advocated Robinson’s conviction and those who were convinced of his innocence to question their notions of justice and fairness. As if a false conviction was not enough, Tom is eventually killed, and the sense of justice and fairness seem to be completely violated. Write an argumentative essay on “To Kill a Mockingbird” in which you establish what Lee is trying to convey regarding these two concepts that are so important to civil society. Questions that you might want to consider include: If justice and fairness are so elusive, how can Atticus and Scout continue to believe in them?, and Are justice and fairness conflicting concepts in “To Kill a Mockingbird”?Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Various Forms of Discrimination in To Kill a Mockingbird
The most obvious form of discrimination in To Kill a Mockingbird is racism; however, there are other types of prejudice and discrimination that typify relationships among the novel’s characters. Scout, for example, is ridiculed in “To Kill a Mockingbird” because she is a tomboy. Boo Radley is ostracized despite the fact that hardly anyone knows him. Reverse racism is also present in the novel, as evidenced by the threats against Atticus Finch and his family as he defends Tom Robinson. Take one or more of the forms of discrimination in To Kill a Mockingbird and write an analytic essay in which you explain the forms and, if applicable, compare and contrast the types of discrimination. You should argue whether the lessons about discrimination that Scout learns are applicable to all types of prejudice, or whether they apply to racism alone.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Moral Development of Scout and Jem in “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Scout and her brother Jem are both children of the morally passionate lawyer, Atticus Finch, and both are exposed to the same experiences that shape their sense of right and wrong. Yet Scout and Jem come to dramatically different conclusions about good and evil and the essential nature of humankind. Write an expository essay on “To Kill a Mockingbird” in which you develop an understanding of how Scout and Jem arrive at such disparate concepts of the world. Be sure to consider not only the final worldview at which each arrives, but to look at the novel as a whole and identify how their belief systems develop. Include relevant quotations that demonstrate how, despite their shared experiences, Scout and Jem begin to part ways, philosophically speaking, early in the novel.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 The Role of Place in To Kill a Mockingbird
The town of Maycomb is described in great detail in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, so much so that the reader gets the sense that Maycomb is more than a setting; it takes on the weight and importance of a character. Write an expository or persuasive essay on “To Kill a Mockingbird” in which you describe Maycomb and explain its significance with respect to the events and meaning of the novel. Be sure to dig beneath the surface: it’s easy to say that Maycomb is a Southern town and that certain social dynamics—such as racism—shape the characters and their circumstances, but there are also more subtle characteristics about the town that exert influence over the novel’s outcome. Finally, consider whether Maycomb is changed by the conclusion. It shapes people and events, but it is also shaped by its inhabitants and their actions.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: Character Analysis of Atticus Finch
One of the most inspiring characters in 20th century American literature is Atticus Finch. A morally upright lawyer, a committed and loving father, and an overall good citizen, Finch is regarded highly by most citizens with a sense of justice. Write an essay in which you analyze Atticus Finch’s character. You may wish to focus the content of your essay by selecting a single quote or passage (consider a portion of the courtroom speech, for instance) and explaining how it reflects Finch’s character strengths. Address whether Finch has any flaws, and explain how he conveys his beliefs to his children and his community.
* For an outstanding essay/article analyzing the character of Atticus Finch,click here *