To Kill A Mockingbird Essay Ideas
Ever watch one of those home decorating shows where the decorator asks, “What sort of theme do you want to go with?”
The decorator is essentially asking about theme because he wants to know whether he should use elements of early modern, colonial, or maybe contemporary design to tie everything together to create that cozy, mountain retreat.
In a sense, literature is sort of like decorating. Decorators need themes to tie the elements of a room together. Similarly, writers include a theme (or several themes) to tie ideas in literature together.
So what, exactly, is a theme in literature? A theme is the underlying meaning of a literary work. It’s what the author is trying say by writing the piece.
A theme is not simply a plot summary or what the literary work is about.
Thus, even if you read To Kill a Mockingbird, it could very well mean that you know all about Jem, Scout, Atticus, and Boo Radley and could write a superb summary of the book.
But you might not be sure what to write if you’re assigned to write a paper about the themes in To Kill a Mockingbird.
If you’ve found yourself in this very situation, here are three themes in To Kill a Mockingbird to help you get started.
3 Important Themes in To Kill a Mockingbird
There’s a lot going on in this book, so don’t assume that the three themes I’ve included here are the only important themes. These are simply the three we’ll discuss. (Here are a few other themes if the themes in my post don’t work for you.)
Before we discuss the actual themes of the novel, here are a few additional tips to keep in mind when writing your paper.
If you’re writing about themes in To Kill a Mockingbird, you’re most certainly writing a literary analysis. That means that you need read the book closely, so it wouldn’t hurt to take a few notes as you read (or re-read).
You should also make sure you have evidence to support your analysis. (You know, stuff like examples from the story and quotes from the characters.)
If you need a little more help with the finer points of writing about literature, read 8 Components of a Smart Literary Analysis before starting your essay.
With these quick literary analysis tips in mind, take a look at the following three important themes in To Kill a Mockingbird for a little writing inspiration.
Theme #1: Morality
We all know that people can be judgmental, racist, and even lacking in any moral code. The characters in To Kill a Mockingbird are no different.
Atticus Finch, however, is the one character who continuously displays a strong sense of morality throughout the story. He also helps establish a moral code for his children, Jem and Scout.
Throughout the novel, Atticus emphasizes the fact that people should not judge others by appearance and should not judge others if they do not know their situations.
Words of wisdom about morality from Atticus Finch:
“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”
Here, Atticus is speaking to his children, who destroyed their neighbor’s flowers even though they knew nothing about her situation in life. He emphasizes the fact that his children should not be judgmental and should be more considerate of others. He also says:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
In the above quote, Atticus tells Scout that you can’t really understand what someone else is going through until you’ve walked a mile in that person’s shoes.
Want to see how one student analyzed Atticus’s morality? Read this sample essay for inspiration: An Overview of the Strong Morality by the Character Atticus in the Novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Theme #2: Good vs. evil
The presence of good and evil are a constant throughout To Kill a Mockingbird.
Jem and Scout begin the novel in childhood innocence. As children, they believe that everyone is inherently good. As the story progresses, they encounter evil in the form of hatred, ignorance, and racism.
It’s their father, Atticus, who helps the children navigate their new world and helps them understand that not everyone is all good or all evil.
Words of wisdom about good vs. evil from Atticus Finch:
“They’ve done it before and they’ll do it again and when they do it — seems that only the children weep.”
Here, Atticus is referring to the conviction of Tom Robinson, stating that no one except children care about the injustice (the fact that a man is falsely accused of rape). He also says:
“The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.”
In the above quote, Atticus suggests that prejudices and evil will make their way into a courtroom even though justice should be blind to color. He explains that evil, unfortunately, will always be part of life.
Need more inspiration for how to tackle the good vs. evil theme? Read this student’s take on it in an example essay: An Analysis of Good and Evil in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Theme #3: Racism
The residents of Maycomb (where To Kill a Mockingbird takes place) are blatantly prejudiced and racist. This is most evident in the key storyline of an African American (Tom Robinson) who is falsely accused of raping a white woman.
The Finch family even feels the wrath of the racism from the community because Atticus Finch agrees to be Robinson’s attorney.
Words of wisdom about racism from Atticus Finch:
“There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads—they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.”
In this example, Atticus clearly points to the presence of racism in the courts and in society. He also says:
“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”
Here, Atticus again illustrates his role as a moral compass and explains the evils of racism, arguing that people, no matter what color, should be treated equally.
Need a bit of writing inspiration? Read The Racism in the Trial of Tom Robinson in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to see how one writer tackled the topic.
Making the Connections
As you can see, the themes of the novel aren’t entirely separate from each other. Morality, good vs. evil, and racism all overlap. These issues are never simple, clear-cut ideologies.
What is clear-cut, however, is the fact that Atticus Finch plays a prominent role in both the characters’ and the readers’ understanding and interpretation of the story’s themes.
If you want to delve into his character a little more deeply as you discuss theme, check out the section about Atticus in All You Need to Know About These 4 To Kill a Mockingbird Characters or read How to Write a Character Analysis That Works.
You might also want to read 2 Character Analysis Essay Examples With Character to see what a finished character analysis essay looks like.
One final reminder: Any literary analysis requires specific examples and quotes from the text to fully support your arguments.
If you’re not sure that your examples sufficiently support your discussion of the themes in To Kill a Mockingbird, let the Kibin editors offer a bit of expert advice.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
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 *