Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. When Aunt Alexandria forbids Scout to associate with Walter Cunningham because she considers him “trash,” Scout and Jem have a discussion about family background and what makes one type of family different from another in Maycomb. Jem tells Scout: “There’s four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes…Background doesn’t make Old Family…I think it’s how long your family’s been readin’ and writin’.” Scout disagrees with him, saying, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” Which character do you think is expressing the author’s point of view, Scout or Jem? Cite examples from the book.
2. Research race relations in the South in the 1930s. Does Lee accurately depict the social tensions of the time? Research and report on specific incidents of racially motivated discrimination, protest, and violence in Alabama during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Do you think that white racists in the South had to “pay the bill” for their oppression of blacks during this period of social uprising?
3. Watch the movie To Kill a Mockingbird and compare it to the book. Which do you like better, and why? Note what the director adds to or omits from the book and analyze the director’s interpretation of the book.
4. Boo Radley’s character is like a puzzle that the children put together in pieces throughout the novel. Trace the development of Boo’s character from Scout’s first description of him as a monster to his actual appearance in the last chapters as a gentle, heroic man, and explain his significance in the novel.
5. In the middle of the novel, Atticus is called upon to shoot a mad dog-Tim Johnson, considered the “pet of Maycomb”-that threatens the community. Explain the symbolic significance of this incident and relate it to the fact that after Jem and Scout receive air rifles as gifts, Atticus tells them, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
6. When Scout learns that women in Alabama are not eligible for jury duty, she grows “indignant.” Atticus tries to mollify her, explaining, “I guess it’s to protect our frail ladies from sordid cases like Tom’s. Besides…I doubt it he’d ever get a complete case tried-the ladies’d be interrupting to ask Questions.” Is Atticus completely sincere or slightly sarcastic in his explanation? Using his response to Scout as a starting point, analyze Lee’s depiction of women in the novel. Focus especially on Miss Maudie Atkinson, Aunt Alexandria, Calpurnia, and Mayella Ewell, but also examine Lee’s portrayal of minor figures as character types that help illustrate the Setting and Themes of her novel.
7. A pivotal and highly dramatic scene occurs when Scout, Jem, and Dill burst through an angry mob of men who are determined to remove Atticus from his place as guard in front of the jail so that they can lynch Tom. Atticus fears for the children’s safety, but Scout breaks up the mob and violence is averted. Explain what Scout accomplishes in that scene, how she accomplishes it, and why it is important to the story as a whole.
In 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird was adapted as a motion picture with a screenplay written by Horton Foote. A winner of three Academy Awards, the film was directed by Robert Mulligan and starred Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. The motion picture is remarkably faithful to the book and has received both popular and critical acclaim.