Loss of Innocence in "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Updated on December 23, 2017
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Jennifer Wilber is a freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.

This is the front cover art for the book To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, J. B. Lippincott & Co., or the cover artist.
This is the front cover art for the book To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, J. B. Lippincott & Co., or the cover artist. | Source

Scout’s Experiences of Loss of Innocence

Throughout Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout learns many lessons from the adults in her life that cause her to experience losses of innocence to varying degrees. Her father, Atticus Finch, is the person to whom she looks up to the most, so she learns many life lessons from him. Early in the novel, she also learns quite a bit about how the adult world works from her teacher, Miss Caroline. Boo Radley also plays a central role in teaching Scout valuable lessons in the novel.

Miss Caroline

When Scout first starts school, she is eager to learn. When her teacher, Miss Caroline, calls on her to read the alphabet written on the board, Miss Caroline becomes upset to learn the Scout already knows how to read. She tells Scout not to let her father teach her to read anymore because it’s “best to begin reading with a fresh mind (23).” Miss Caroline is proud of her new teaching methods and doesn’t want them challenged. She likely feels threatened by Scout’s abilities. This confuses Scout because she can’t understand how excelling at reading could possibly be wrong. This experience is one of her first encounters with an adult who thinks that their ways are the only correct ways and this represents an early loss of innocence in Scout’s life.

Loss of Innocence

Atticus Finch

Scout learns many valuable lessons from her father throughout the novel. Atticus tries to teach his children about fairness in a world that rarely seems fair. Though the rest of the community has racist attitudes toward African Americans, Atticus teaches Scout and Jem to treat all people with respect. As a result, Scout has a great relationship with their African American housekeeper, Calpurnia, and sees her as a mother-figure. Even when the rest of the town wanted the black man Tom Robinson killed for the alleged rape of Mayella Ewell, a white woman, Atticus took his case and did his best to defend him. Ultimately, the jury found him guilty, despite Atticus’s seemingly bulletproof defense. This resulted in a major loss of innocence for Scout when she saw firsthand that life isn’t fair and sometimes innocent people can lose. This also reinforced how awful and unfair the racist beliefs of the community really were.

Atticus and Tom Robinson in court - Promotional still from the film To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) with Gregory Peck and Brock Peters
Atticus and Tom Robinson in court - Promotional still from the film To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) with Gregory Peck and Brock Peters | Source

Boo Radley

Discovering the true nature of Arthur “Boo” Radley also represents a loss of innocence for Scout. Throughout the novel, Scout and Jem thought of Boo Radley as a scary, almost mythical, figure. Because they had never seen him, they let their imaginations run wild with every rumor they heard and thought he was a horrible and dangerous person. When they finally do get to know him, it is when he saves their lives. Scout and Jem find out that it was he who had been leaving them gifts inside the tree the whole time. The person they thought to be evil and dangerous turned out to be someone they could trust completely. This realization that people aren’t always what they first appear to be was a valuable lesson and represented a loss of innocence, but a positive one.

Gregory Peck (left) & James Anderson in (1962) To Kill a Mockingbird - trailer
Gregory Peck (left) & James Anderson in (1962) To Kill a Mockingbird - trailer | Source

Positive and Negative Losses of Innocence

Throughout the novel, Scout learns many life lessons from the adults around her as she matures. Through several losses of innocence, she gains new perspectives on how the world works. Some of her experiences of loss of innocence were negative, such as when she learns that innocent people can still lose everything after Tom Robinson’s trial, but other losses of innocence had a positive impact on her world view, such as when she got to know Boo Radley for who he really was. Through these experiences, Scout matured into a young woman with a good heart and sense of fairness with the help of her father and the other adults in her life.

To Kill A Mockingbird - Themes

References

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner, 1982. Print.

© 2017 Jennifer Wilber

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    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 4 weeks ago

      Good observations on this great American novel.