To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee - A Novel for Now

October 06, 2015

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To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee - A Novel for Now

To Kill a Mockingbird is typically taught in a high school English class, in an attempt to get kids to think about racial prejudice, hate, and ignorance. In fact it has become an American classic on the subject. Recently, the novel has begun to appear in college English coursework as well, perhaps for the same reasons – maybe the lessons weren’t “learned” the first time around. And given the renewed discussion in America regarding racism and prejudice, the book becomes all the timelier, even 80 years after its plot setting.

Writing an Essay on To Kill a Mockingbird

Students in college will not be asked to write a book review of this novel – that is for high school. What college students will be asked to do is dig deep into the themes of this work and apply them to the phenomena of racial prejudice and ignorance today, along with the moral questions that are frequently raised. To Kill a Mockingbird essay questions that will force students to dig deep are as follows:

  1. Are people all good or all evil? What is Atticus’s belief about this and what events and situations in the work depict his belief?
  2. It is inevitable that children will lose their innocence as they are more exposed to the real world. Write a To Kill a Mockingbird essay on how Scout and Jem respond to this loss of innocence in the end?
  3. One major theme is that prejudice is the result of ignorance. Which characters in the novel typify such ignorance? Show this ignorance through their words and behaviors.
  4. What is the moral lesson that Atticus teaches his children, especially as it relates to Boo Radley? Do they learn it? How?
  5. How important is it to teach moral conscience to our children? Are we doing a good job of it in America today? Why or why not?
  6. How are the rather rigid class structures, black and white, in Maycomb similar to those we continue to have today? Is social inequality always to be a permanent condition?
  7. How does Atticus parent his children? How is his parenting different from the “helicoptering” parenting so prevalent today?
  8. How do the participants in the trial depict the prejudice of the entire town? Are there any recent trials that have depicted prejudice?

To Kill a Mockingbird essays force us to confront our own deepest beliefs about family, racism, hatred, and moral conscience. Certainly that was the goal of Harper Lee when she wrote the novel. While it was published in 1960 as an attempt to expose the pervasive racism that continued to exist in America at that time, particularly through Jim Crow laws in the South and more subtle racism in the North, the book is just as relevant today. The “meat” of any essay written that speaks to inequality among the races can trace its thematic roots to this classic novel.