Innocence is a term used to indicate a lack of guilt, with respect to any kind of crime, sin, or wrongdoing. In a legal context, innocence refers to the lack of legal guilt of an individual, with respect to a crime. (Wikipedia-Innocence) Innocence, that is the main theme in the book To Kill A Mockingbird. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee uses the mockingbird as this symbol of innocence she also uses the characters in this story to portray the loss of innocence.
The loss of innocence one of the most dominant and recurring themes throughout To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee uses the characters Scout, Jem and Tom Robinson to create a story where innocence and the loss of it is the most powerful theme. This story is told from the point of view of a young girl, from Scout’s perspective the world is all black or white, she has had no experience-as she has never been to school, as we are told at the start of this novel. Even though she has never been to school, she has read extensively and finds it a great pleasure.
As we read on further we learn Scout will soon go off to school, and she is very excited to finally be amongst children her own age. However, she soon learns that school is not all that it seems to be and her views are tainted. “Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me anymore, it would interfere with my reading. Teach me? [Scout] said He hasn’t taught me anything… If he didn’t teach you who did? You weren’t born reading…”(Lee 19) Scout believes that being able to read at her age is a good thing, Jem even solidifies this belief an example of this is when they first meet Dill, and there Jem compares Dill to Scout.
“Scout’s been reading since she was born and she ain’t even gone to school yet. ”(Lee 7) When Scout starts school she learns that her teacher does not appreciate this gift and does not believe Scout when she tries to explain that no one has taught her. As Scout learns more we see that she becomes more aware of “the way things are” and she understands people more we can see this displayed throughout the novel. When Scout spends more time with Miss Maudie and learns to be more “womanly,” she learns that some of the childish beliefs that she has been holding on to are wrong and hurtful.
Especially those of Boo Radley, through Miss Maudies words she can now see Boo as a real person, and she is uncomfortable when someone tries to poke fun at him. She knows that it is wrong, unlike before when she was naive and gullible, she now knows that she has a responsibility to treat him right because she is no longer ignorant on that subject. It does not matter anymore what Dill or Jem think of Boo, it is what she believes and knows to be true. “Atticus, are we going to win it? No, Honey. Then, why? ”(Lee 87) Scout cannot seem to comprehend the idea of fighting a case that will be lost anyways.
She is young and does not see the reason behind this seemingly pointless effort. “Simply because we were licked a hundred years ago is no reason for us not to try and win. ”(Lee 87) Atticus tries to explain this concept to Scout, but she thinks, like a child that there is only good and bad. She is still a little unaware of the true manners of people, she does not know that it can even come down to White vs White, as Atticus tries to explain. “It’s different this time…this time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends.
But…no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends…” Atticus knows the way people will react and he does not want Scout to become bitter, over the way other white people will treat his family. He feels it is necessary to break her innocence “bubble,” to show her the way things are, so she will know how to react, so she will have a better attitude throughout the trial. Jem is another character in the story that has lost their innocence, we first see this when the children discover all the gifts that someone has been leaving them in the hole of the oak tree and they wonder who could be leaving them all these gifts.
One day Jem decides to write a letter to whoever is leaving them these gifts, when they go to leave it in the tree, to their surprise the hole in the tree is cemented, thus cutting off their communication with the gift giver. As Jem realizes that it is most likely Boo who has been giving them these gifts, he cries. We can imagine that his reason for crying is that he knows that he was wrong treating Boo like a monster in the childish games he played and now he knows that Boo is not that monster he made him out to be. He has matured some and now can also see Boo for who he really is.
Jem has many experiences where he must learn to see a person for who they truly are and not just the exteriors. That is the case with a certain Mrs. Dubose, Jem only sees her as a rude and frightening old woman and that is reasonable seeing all the nasty things she says to the children about Atticus while insulting them as well. Jem has grown up somewhat to this point in the book but, eventually he gets so fed up with what Mrs. Dubose says that he acts in a very immature way, because he knows of no other way to react to this type of treatment.
He acts like a child and his punishment for acting in such a way, end up teaching him the lesson that all is not what it seems. He has now lost that childish innocence as he learns that Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict and that she was fighting it to the death. He now sees that how he treated her was not right and he is not innocent of not knowing so now he must continue with this knowledge. Perhaps the greatest example of Jems loss of innocence is during the Tom Robinson trial. Even through all the ordeals that Jem has been through he still has some of that childish innocence.
He believes in the good of people as seen in his reaction to how the trial is getting along, he believes that it doesn’t matter whether the people are black or white it depends on what is truth. “Jem smiled…Don’t fret, we’ve won it, don’t think any jury could convict on what we heard. ”(Lee 238) This is what he believes even though Reverend Sykes disagrees and the reason Reverend Sykes disagrees is because he knows more of the world and how people are. “Now don’t you be so confident, Mr.
Jem, I ain’t ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man…” (Lee 238) We see that Reverend Sykes is correct and Jem learns a hard lesson, but it is one that everyone must go through, losing innocence, sometimes it’s hard but it is part of growing up. Even adults can lose their innocence. Perhaps the character that most resembles the mockingbird is the character whose innocence is most doubted. This is Tom Robinson. In the eyes of the public he has already lost his innocence for he is a black man therefore he must be guilty.
He has lost his innocence even before the trial, even though he has nothing to hide and evidence shows he is innocent it still comes down to black vs white. Tom Robinson befriended a white woman; he helped her and treated her with all the possible respect to be given to a white woman. “Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her. But when she said he took advantage of her, and when she stood up she looked at him as if he were dirt beneath her feet. ”(Lee 218) What did he get in return? Did his friendship and kindness get rewarded? No.
Mayella Ewell tempted him, “she tempted a Negro. ”(Lee 231) Tom Robinson “feeling sorry for her,” was only rewarded with punishment and death. He trusted in Mayella and “she put him away from her. ”(Lee 231) We can see that Tom Robinson was very innocent, as it is he trusted in Mayella and she turned her back on him, he then trusted in the justice system to get him out of that “fix,” and they let him down as well. He may have truly believed in the justice system, as Atticus tried to persuade them of his innocence, and that it was their duty as men to treat him equally.
“There is one way in this country in which all men are created equal…that institution…is a court. Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, an in our courts all men are created equal. ”(Lee 233) He may have believed in the justice system because of Atticus, but because he was a black man, he was, guilty. There was no way he would have been viewed as innocent, and he does lose his innocence in one way. He knows that he will not trust again, he lost trust in the good of humans and he learns even more about the humans he thought he knew.
So we can learn from Scout and Jem’s experiences that loss of innocence can be a good thing, the acquiring of knowledge, a responsibility, but it can also be a something that will get you into trouble if you are guilty from loss of innocence. Innocence is not long lasting it is something that comes with age and one has to learn from the experiences they have while they are in their innocence to when they grow out of it. The end or loss of innocence can offer more freedom and provide one with greater knowledge of the world; it is a powerful theme that can be the difference between life and death.