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Analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird: Loss of Innocence and Role of Boo Radley – Free Essay Example

Loss of Innocence

What is loss of innocence? Erica Goros wrote, “Never mourn the loss of innocence because it always brings the much greater gain of wisdom.” It is an event in a person’s life that leads to a greater acknowledgment of evil, pain and suffering in society and daily life around them. This is an important theme throughout Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The story takes place in the South during the Great Depression. The novel is narrated by Jean Louise, Scout, a smart, innocent, atypical girl who ages from six to nine years old throughout the book. Scout and her brother, Jem, are raised by their widowed father, Atticus Finch. Atticus is a prominent lawyer who encourages his children to be empathetic and just. When Tom Robinson, one of the town’s black residents, is falsely accused of raping a white woman, Atticus agrees to defend him even though he received threats from the community. Throughout Harper Lee’s novel, Scout learns many valuable lessons from adults and experiences losses of innocence in varying degrees when she encounters events surrounded by racism, prejudice, and injustice. This specific theme is developed and supported by many characters including Miss Caroline, Atticus, and Boo Radley.

Early in the novel, Scout learns quite a bit about how the adult world works from her first-grade teacher, Miss Caroline. The first example of losing innocence is conveyed when Scout discovers that Miss Caroline is new to the area and Scout tries to help her understand the socioeconomic backgrounds of certain students. In this specific scene, she punishes Scout for explaining to her why Walter would not take lunch money from her. Scout tries to help explain the situation to

Miss Caroline: “Walter’s one of the Cunninghams, Miss Caroline.” “I beg your pardon, Jean Louise?” “That’s okay, ma’am, you’ll get to know all the county folks after a while,” Scout said. “You’re shamin‘ him, Miss Caroline. Walter hasn’t got a quarter at home to bring you, and you can’t use any stovewood.” (Lee, 22) Scout is given a voice in her home and she does not realize that Miss Caroline perceives her as being disrespectful when she is trying to help Miss Caroline understand the situation better. Scout is then shocked when the teacher grabs her by the collar, saying, “You’re starting off on the wrong foot in every way, my dear. Hold out your hand.’ (Lee 24) Scout is hit several times by Miss Caroline’s ruler. Scout is also confused by Miss Caroline’s reaction to her proficiency in reading. Instead of being praised, Scout hears Miss Caroline insult Atticus for teaching her how to read. Miss Caroline tells Scout, “Now you tell your father not to teach you anymore. It’s best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I’ll take over from here and try to undo the damage.” (Lee, 17) Scout thinks that Miss Caroline is upset by Scout’s advanced reading capabilities and believes that Scout is receiving lessons from Atticus. Scout also thinks that Miss Caroline feels as though Scout is trying to outsmart and mock her. Atticus asks Scout to step into Miss Caroline’s skin and walk around in it. Later, Scout learns that Miss Caroline attempts to teach the first-grade class using a new system that she learned from taking certain college courses and that is why she asked Scout to stop reading at home. In both instances, Scout’s intention is good, and she tries to explain and help, but the outcome is not what she expects and her innocence withers away.

Scout looks up to her father, Atticus Finch, the most and she learns many life lessons from him. Another scene that conveys losing innocence is when Scout experiences mob mentality with the intent of lynching Tom Robinson the evening before the trial. Scout unknowingly diffuses the situation. Jem, Dill, and Scout find Atticus under a light bulb, sitting in a chair in front of the jailhouse door. The children become alarmed when several cars drive up and stop in front of the jail. One man tells Atticus, “You know what we want.” Another man said, “Get aside from the door, Mr. Finch.” (Lee, 172) Scout realizes that she is among a ring of people that she has never seen before. There is a smell of whiskey, and all the men seem to have the same intention. Men in a mob become less inhibited and, therefore, more likely to act violently. However, because Atticus understands the psychology of the mob, he individualizes Walter Cunningham and speaks to him directly, addressing him by his first name. Also, Scout talks innocently with Mr. Cunningham, about his entailment and his son, Walter. Because both Atticus and Scout call his name and individualize him, Mr. Cunningham becomes uncomfortable as his conscience awakens. Consequently, Mr. Cunningham cannot act in violence against the lawyer who has gladly accepted stovewood and hickory nuts as payment for his legal services. Now embarrassed, Mr. Cunningham gets into his car and drives away. Scout does not completely understand that night until they get back home. “The full meaning of the night’s events hit me and I began crying. Jem was awfully nice about it: for once he didn’t remind me that people nearly nine years old didn’t do things like that” (Lee 177). This shows that Scout just realized that she interrupted a mob that was on the way to kill Tom Robinson and that her friendly neighbors she sees every day are easily persuaded to do a heinous crime. Scout says “I thought Mr. Cunningham was a friend of ours. You told me a long time ago he was.” “He still is.” “Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man,” Atticus says, “he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us,” Atticus conceded. “you’ll understand folks a little better when you’re older. A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man. That proves something—that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human… your children last night made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough.” (Lee, 179) This makes Scout understand that the world is not always as happy a place as she thought and that it is evil in this world. Scout loses some of her innocence when she learns that a person can be both a good neighbor and also an evil person who can kill another person.

Boo Radley also plays a central role in teaching Scout valuable lessons in the novel. Scout and Jem learn firsthand about the evils of hatred and vindictiveness when they get attacked by Bob Ewell as they walk home from the Halloween pageant. The children hear footsteps behind them and later, the pursuer starts running toward them. Jem urges Scout to run, but she is wearing her clumsy ham costume and falls. After she falls, Scout hears the metal mesh being crushed. Then, Scout hears more altercations and a terrible scream from Jem. Scout runs to help Jem but she is grabbed and squeezed. Somehow the assailant is forcibly pulled away from her by someone else. When she recovers, Scout searches for Jem but he is gone. As she starts for home, she sees a man carrying Jem. Once home, Scout learns that Jem’s arm has been broken and they were attacked by Bob Ewell, who now lies dead. Boo Radley saves their lives from the vindictive man as he tries to kill the children of Atticus who proved him a liar in court. Discovering the true nature of Boo Radley also represents a loss of innocence for Scout. Throughout the novel, Scout and Jem thought of Boo Radley as a scary and almost mythical figure. Because they had never seen him, they let their imaginations run wild with rumors and thought he was a horrible and dangerous person. They finally get to know the real Boo Radley when he saves their lives. The person they thought was evil and dangerous turned out to be a real hero. This realization that people are not always the way they first appear was a valuable lesson and represented a loss of innocence. Although Boo Radley killed Bob Ewell, Sheriff Tate believes it is better to say that Bob Ewell died when he fell on his own knife. The Sheriff says “There’s a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it’s dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch. Let the dead bury the dead.” (Lee, 316) Scout agrees, stating that to do otherwise would be “sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird.” (Lee, 317) She has lost her innocent but mistaken view of Boo Radley and learned that a person’s real nature can be very different from the way they appear.

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Throughout the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout as a smart, innocent, and unconventional girl learns many lessons from adults and experiences losses of innocence when she encounters events surrounded by racism, prejudice, and injustice with many characters including Miss Caroline, Atticus, and Boo Radley. As Scout’s journey continues from a child to an adult, change is vital.

Scout lost her innocence and essentially gained knowledge of the society that stands before her, and that defines all adults. In the end, all adults experience both positive and negative events that lead to a greater awareness of evil, pain and suffering in the world around them.

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