Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


The title of To Kill a Mockingbird has very little literal connection to the plot, but it carries a great deal of symbolic weight in the book. In this story of innocents destroyed by evil, the “mockingbird” comes to represent the idea of innocence. Thus, to kill a mockingbird is to destroy innocence. Throughout the book, a number of characters (Jem, Tom Robinson, Dill, Boo Radley, Mr. Raymond) can be identified as mockingbirds—innocents who have been injured or destroyed through contact with evil. This connection between the novel’s title and its main theme is made explicit several times in the novel: after Tom Robinson is shot, Mr. Underwood compares his death to “the senseless slaughter of songbirds,” and at the end of the book Scout thinks that hurting Boo Radley would be like “shootin’ a mockingbird.” Most important, Miss Maudie explains to Scout: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That Jem and Scout’s last name is Finch (another type of small bird) indicates that they are particularly vulnerable in the racist world of Maycomb, which often treats the fragile innocence of childhood harshly.

Read more about the symbolic nature of birds in Suzanne Collins’s novel, The Hunger Games.

Boo Radley

As the novel progresses, the children’s changing attitude toward Boo Radley is an important measurement of their development from innocence toward a grown-up moral perspective. At the beginning of the book, Boo is merely a source of childhood superstition. As he leaves Jem and Scout gifts and mends Jem’s pants, he gradually becomes increasingly and intriguingly real to them. At the end of the novel, he becomes fully human to Scout, illustrating that she has developed into a sympathetic and understanding individual. Boo, an intelligent child ruined by a cruel father, is one of the book’s most important mockingbirds; he is also an important symbol of the good that exists within people. Despite the pain that Boo has suffered, the purity of his heart rules his interaction with the children. In saving Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell, Boo proves the ultimate symbol of good.

Front Porches

Throughout the novel, front porches appear again and again as a symbol of the liminal space, or transitional space, between the private sphere of the home and the public sphere of the streets of Maycomb. Almost every character’s house is adorned with a front porch, and many of them, such as Miss Maudie, Mrs. Dubose, and Mr. Avery, spend significant amounts of time sitting out on their porches. As a result, the front porch becomes a space where the tensions between personal beliefs and public discourse become particularly evident. Mrs. Dubose publicizes her critical opinion of Atticus from the comfort of her front porch, a group of men, including Mr. Tate and Mr. Deas, question Atticus’s decision to take the case while he stands on his own front porch, and Miss Stephanie spreads gossip about the children’s presence at the trial on Miss Maudie’s front porch. All of these scenarios represent a mixture of opinion and actual events, giving way to a form of public gossip that feels deeply personal. Perhaps the most significant front porch scene occurs in the final chapter of the novel when Scout walks Boo Radley back to his home. She explains to the reader that “just standing on the Radley porch was enough” to learn who he really was, a man who, despite his invisibility, never failed to look out for Jem and Scout. In this instance, the space of the front porch helps Scout decipher the relationship between Boo’s public actions and his private life.