The Theme of Death in To Kill A Mockingbird


The definition of death is, “the end of life; the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions in an organism” (Dictionary.com). In To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee death impacts the characters in the town of Maycomb Alabama, during the Great Depression. Characters like Tom Robinson, a man falsely accused of rape, Heck Tate, Maycombs Sherrif, and Jeremy Finch, Scout's older brother, all play into the theme of death throughout the story.

Naturally To Kill a Mockingbird ​has a constant and recurring theme of death in the story. The book uses death to symbolize many ideas in the book. for example, the unjust killing of Tom Robinson comparing to ”​the senseless slaughter of songbirds'' (Lee 24​0). Another way the book symbolizes death is through Tim Johnson, a sick dog Atticus kills that has rabies. This shows symbolism because Tim Johnson symbolizes the town of Maycomb's racism and that only Atticus can kill the racism in the town. The book shows this by making the town sheriff say he would not be able to kill it, then handing the gun to Atticus. The theme of death is also apparent by showing just how inevitable it is. For example​, Mrs. Dubose tries to overcome her addiction to morphine, but instead, it leads to her death.​ The Book also uses death as something to trade or gamble. An example of this is when Tom is “tired of white men’s chances and preferred to take his own” (Lee 315). This shows how Tom Robinson gambles his life in exchange for freedom from injustice but unfortunately lost the bet. Another example is Atticus taking the dog's life in exchange for safety. To Kill a Mockingbird also uses death as a way to silence the truth. An example of this is how Tom Robinson was going to die no matter what when “Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed” (Lee 241). This shows how the book uses death to cover the truth by having the Ewell family kill Tom Robinson by lying and effectively getting rid of the only other person that knows the truth.

Similarly, throughout the book Heck Tate faces death. Although he is a minor character in the story he plays a pivotal role in establishing death as a way to safety and justice in the book. An example of this is when he says “Let the dead bury the dead” (Lee 276) this quote actually originates in ​The Bible​ but is slightly altered in the book. In both ​To Kill a Mockingbird ​and ​The Bible​ the quote uses death as a way of signifying doing something for the greater good. In the book Heck, Tate uses this quote as a way of referring to Bob Ewell's death. He does this because Bob Ewell's death was for the greater good of Maycomb County. Another way Heck Tate uses the theme of death as a way of justice and safety is when Bob Ewell dies and “He won’t hurt these children again.” (Lee 267) this shows how the book uses death as a way to protect by making Bob Ewell incapable of harming anyone anymore. Another To Kill a Mockingbird uses death as a way to protect is when Heck Tate lies and says that Bob Ewell, “killed himself.” (Lee 276) he is using the theme of death as a way to protect because he lies about how Bob Ewell passes away so that Arthur Radley Jr can be free from prosecution. This shows how in ​To Kill a Mockingbird, the theme of ​death; is a way to safety and justice throughout the book.

Likewise in​ To Kill a Mockingbird characters use death as hyperbole throughout the book; despite the people in Maycomb only caring about someone's actual death for mere days. Death in Maycomb County practically surrounds them and yet the only real acknowledgment it gets is through hyperbole to emphasize a sentence. Characters in the story often treat death as a minor inconvenience in Maycomb instead of the loss of human life. This is shown through the deaths of Mrs. Radley and Tom Robinson. Characters in the book treat Mrs. Radley's death as a minor inconvenience when Mrs. Radley dies during “winter, but her death caused hardly a ripple.” (Lee 63) this is just one example of characters handling someone's death as a minor inconvenience. Another example is how people only care about Tom Robinson's “death for perhaps two days” (Lee 240) this is another example of death being a minor inconvenience because the people in Maycombs residents only care for 2 days about a member of their society's death. Another way the theme of death is prevalent in ​To Kill a Mockingbird​ is through superstition. For example, Jems' belief in hot steams. Hot steams are ghosts that cannot go to heaven and wander around roads. His belief in hot steams and superstition is a way to have a sense of control over his environment. In this case, it is control over the fear of death. Jem uses superstition as a way to have a sense of control by saying “an’ if you walk through him, when you die you’ll be one too” (Lee 37) this shows how his and others instinctual fear of death leads them into believing in superstition.​ The characters in To Kill a Mockingbird often refer to death hyperbole and superstition. This shows just how much the theme of death plays in this story.

To sum up, in To Kill a Mockingbird death surrounds the characters throughout the book that takes place in Maycomb Alabama amidst the Great Depression. Tom Robinson, Heck Tate, and Jeremy Finch all play crucial roles in establishing death as a theme. Within the book, death is a way to silence and also protect. The characters often refer to death using hyperbole but are rarely mentioned in the literal sense. Throughout the book, death is a constant and recurring theme that Tom Robinson, Heck Tate, and Jeremy Finch face in the story.

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