The title “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a derivative of one of Atticus’s most famous statements, where the mockingbird stands as a symbol of innocence. When Jem receives his first air rifle, Atticus offers a piece of advise, “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” This confuses the Finch children, both of whom seek out further clarification from Miss Maudie, who provides a practical response, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us…” – her answer holds the key notion of the mockingbirds in the novel, that is, the representation of the mockingbirds as harmless innocents victimized by different social injustices.
Tom Robinson is an obvious mockingbird, having been falsely convicted as a rapist solely due to racial discrimination, while being just a harmless helper. He provides a hand to a socially detracted ‘white trash’, Mayella Ewell, when he finds her in companionless and overworked state. When her advances are seen by her father, she accuses Tom of rape in court. Atticus plays a significant role in saving a mockingbird here.
He stands above social prejudice; his household is run by Calpurnia, a black woman, enjoying the status of a family member. Atticus doesn’t distinguish between high and low, an example of which is his acceptance of Walter Cunnigham’s payment of firewood as an exchange for Atticus’s legal services. These actions establish the impartiality of Atticus’s character, and help build up the seriousness in which he conducts his case to exonerate Tom. Atticus acknowledges Tom as a mockingbird and goes to desperate lengths to protect him, such as guarding the jailhouse to fend off the lynch mob. Regardless of the fact that he couldn’t save Tom eventually, Atticus stays true to his own words and could at least present Tom as a true mockingbird, killed merely for helping.
Arthur Radley is also presented as a mockingbird who had been deprived of a normal life due to societal prejudice and domestic cruelty and pride. In his teenage years, Arthur’s involvement in a harmless prank outraged his father, a Redneck American, who then sentenced him to a life term of solitary confinement, leading the community to brand him as a ‘malevolent phantom’. Gruesome characteristics are attributed to him to satisfy the fantasies of the social gossips and ignorant townsfolks, like “he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch.. his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.” Arthur escapes this title through the Finch children, who gradually provide him with human identity. Arthur takes the responsibility of a silent guardian and offers the children a chance to recognize and explore his hidden existence, offering them with trinkets and protecting them in the face of danger. When Arthur stabs a drunk Bob Ewell, who was attacking the children as vengeance on Atticus, Atticus believes it was Jem who had killed Bob while protecting his sister. When it becomes evident to him that it wasn’t Jem who stabbed Bob, but Arthur, Atticus accepts it. He ignores his duty as a lawyer, and doesn’t charge Arthur. Scout, in her newfound wisdom, understands why Atticus refrains from pressing charges, “Well, it’d sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?” Scout directly refers to Arthur as a mockingbird. In other words, we can say Atticus saves a mockingbird by avoiding the truth which would have brought Arthur Radley into the limelight which he could barely handle, being a reclusive outsider for too long.
Jem can also be called a mockingbird form his actions at the very end of novel, when he tries to fight off Bob when he catches hold of Scout. In order to protect his little sister, Jem is hurt in the process. However, in this particular episode, the mockingbird is both saved and killed, for the children become directly exposed to the peak of the cruelty in a prejudiced society, destroying their innocence. Thus, the physical form of the mockingbird is saved, but it’s inner innocence is killed.
The title “To Kill a Mockingbird” is closely related to one of it’s central theme: humanitarianism. It marks the duty of the society to protect those that just sing for you, causing no harm whatsoever. It marks human decency, justice in the face of cruelty, selflessness and kindness that are worth preserving in this world. Harper Lee instills a brilliant message to the general reader through the four words of her title, which is to protect the mockingbirds of a society at all cost.