To Kill a Mockingbird
Exemplar paragraphs
Essay writing-an analytical and expository journey
• Your essay should be an exploration of the ideas suggested in the
• Your introduction provides a ‘road map’ for your journey.
– You adopt a position (a ‘destination’ of sorts), which you attempt to
– You indicate the main ideas (‘towns’ along the route) that you intend
to explore
• Each paragraph examines each main idea related to your position
and you provide evidence for this idea.
• You consider alternative perspectives (different interpretations of
the text) and evaluate these briefly (either in one paragraph, or
within each paragraph)
• Therefore, by the end, you should actually reach a conclusion that is
more developed, but still related to your original contention.
– No new ideas (because you’ve already ‘been there, done that’)
Jem: “I always thought Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that’s
what they seemed like” (237)
What do the children learn about their town?
The following slides provide sample introductions written
in response to this topic.
A useful task would be to identify what essential
information is provided in each one. Locate the
contention and key ideas. Rank these paragraphs in order
of effectiveness, considering:
-controlled use of sophisticated vocabulary
-clarity of expression and sentence structure
-understanding of the key ideas, themes and issues in the
Sample Introduction 1
Set in the rural Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama,
Harper Lee’s American classic To Kill a Mockingbird is a
personal memoir of her childhood. Seen through the
innocent eyes of Scout Finch and her older brother Jem,
Maycomb appears to be a safe, peaceful and quiet town.
Its townspeople are pious and neighbourly, with ‘nothing
to fear but fear itself’. However, across the three year
time span of the narrative, the children are exposed to
the dangers and ugly truths that lie beneath the façade of
their community. As they mature and acquire valuable
lessons from significant adults, they learn that their town
is a place that is steeped in prejudice, inequality and
Sample Introduction 2
Harper Lee’s personal memoir To Kill a Mockingbird
highlights the innocence of children. Lee explores this
through the characters Jem and Scout. The novel follows
the children’s experience during the Great Depression
and how the town deals with the pressure. The fictional
town of Maycomb, Alabama serves as a backdrop to the
narrative. As the story progresses and the children gain
more experience, they learn a great deal about the town
and the townspeople. From the court case, the children
learn about justice, the rabid dog episode teaches them
courage and their father Atticus teaches them the
importance of being a good citizen.
Sample Introduction 3
Sample Introduction 4
Set against the backdrop of a ‘tired old town’, in the
fictional Maycomb Country, Alabama, Harper Lee
constructs a coming of age novel based upon her
own childhood experiences. Revolving around two
children, Scout and Jem Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
explores their development by tracking their
evolving understanding of how the town operates.
Through their encounters with characters and
events such as the court case and missionary tea,
Scout and Jem come to learn about the prejudice,
assumptions and hypocrisy that plague their town.
Sample Introduction 5
To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, is a long episodic
novel in which the author recounts her own experience and
perception of life in a small insular community in the Deep
South of the USA during the Great Depression. Growing up in
a society that upholds staunch codes, six year old Scout Finch
stands out as a wilful, inquisitive and adventurous tomboy.
Through the guidance of Atticus, her lawyer father and
Calpurnia, her Negro maid, Scout learns empathy and the
importance of getting along with ‘all kinds of folks’.
Simultaneously, Scout’s older brother Jem, while learning
about courage and perseverance, begins to question the
status quo in his town. He becomes disillusioned and
disheartened by the justice system.
Sample Introduction 6
To Kill a Mockingbird, an enduring classic of American literature,
depicts the concealed yet abhorrent bigotry and violence in the
ostensibly safe town of Maycomb County, Alabama. Set during
the Great Depression era of the mid 1930s, Harper Lee explores
the social normalities and personal struggles of an insular
community through the dialogue and action of various
characters. Recounting a three year period as seen through the
eyes of eight year old Scout Finch, the author’s use of a dual
narrative voice allows readers to feel the immediacy of these
memories, while receiving some of the insights gained from her
adult perspective. Scout and her brother Jem, three years her
senior, are witness to some confronting and frightening realities.
During their journey from innocence to experience, the Finch
children learn about class divisions, prejudice and the artifice of
morality within a town that prides itself on maintaining the
traditional ways of the South.
Sample paragraph
In serving justice in this trial against Tom Robinson, the townsfolk of
Maycomb demonstrate their position on a number of contentious
issues. Mayella’s deviation from the societal norms placed upon
Southern women are placed aside in the face of racial prejudice.
Regardless of the fact that Atticus highlights ‘no code mattered to her
before she broke it’, the outrage of a ‘humble negro’ having the
‘unmitigated temerity’ to ‘feel sorry for a white person’ causes greater
concern for the jury. Tom’s violation of a racial expectation supersedes
Mayella’s transgression of a gender based one. Likewise, the jury
ignores their awareness of the class of people accusing the defendant.
As with the gender code of Maycomb, the ideas and concerns
surrounding ‘minds of their calibre’ fall short of the inherent racism.
Through this lens the townsfolk believe justice has been served.
How to reference literary features-symbolism
In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the character Boo Radley is a
mysterious figure who serves as the moral bridge between innocence
and experience of the child protagonists Scout and Jem Finch. In the
1930s insular and protected town of Maycomb USA, it is unusual for
such an introverted spectre to exist without generating some
superstition and mythology. Lee employs simile to evoke this
atmosphere, “The Radley place fascinated Dill. In spite of our warnings
it drew him as the moon draws water.” This shroud of mystery provides
the young protagonists with rich material for childhood fantasies, as
well as being the genesis for some important moral lessons, conveyed
by their father. The children’s curiosity and desire to connect with Boo
coincides with their discovery of some ‘ugly’ truths about their
community, as the entrenched prejudice of the Deep South surfaces
with the news of a rape trial involving a black man and white woman.
Their imaginary ‘bogey man’ is replaced by real threats from men in
their community and Boo retreats to the shadows, only to reappear
towards the end of the novel. Symbolically, Boo can be regarded as
one of the Mockingbirds in the narrative, with the final moral lesson
relating to his actions, underlying the importance of protecting those
who are innocent and harmless.
How to incorporate different interpretations
In stark contrast to the dominant societal attitudes of this period, Atticus
espouses his firm belief that Negroes are as much a part of the human race as
those who are of European descent. He states that the Robinsons are “cleanliving folks” and refuses to accuse Tom simply due to his social status and race.
Atticus even goes as far as to criticise his own race, claiming that “there’s
nothing more sickening to me than a low grade white man who’ll take
advantage of a Negro’s innocence.” During his closing speech in court, he shuns
the stereotypes existing in his society with the purpose of indicating that even
“white men” have flaws. However, a different reading of Atticus’ actions has
the potential to make readers view him in a negative manner. Contradicting his
usual unbiased and egalitarian nature, Atticus claims that those of his race are
‘low grade’, indicating his sense of superiority towards these men. Although he
empathises with Negroes, his belief that coloured folks are always the victim
and that they have an almost child-like ‘innocence’ implies a patronising
attitude towards the Robinsons. The irony present allows readers to recognise
that Atticus is not a flawless character. At the very least, he could be regarded
as a product of his society and heritage, a true Southern gentleman and pillar
of his community, who is ‘made to do their dirty work’ for them. Although
Atticus’ actions can be interpreted in various ways, his ability to go against his
upbringing and oppose the social norms which govern his life emulates the
attributes of a hero.
Sample Introduction
No character in the novel is free from the societal
disease of racism. Discuss.
Frequently cited as a work that confronts racial prejudice,
the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird constructs
racism as a disease that infects all layers of Maycomb
society. To show this, author Harper Lee links the episode
of the mad dog to the impending trial of Tom Robinson.
The trial itself reveals a deep, underlying racism in the
community, culminating in an attempted lynching.
Contrary to popular reception of this narrative, even the
novel’s admirable characters, such as Atticus, are not
entirely free from this disease. Of all the novel’s
characters, only Jem seems to provide hope that he will
not be infected, suggesting that racism may not be as
pervasive as the narrative suggests.
Sample Conclusion
No character in the novel is free from the societal disease of
racism. Discuss.
Tom Robinson’s trial brings an outpouring of
racial invective and racially motivated violence
to Maycomb, suggesting that, like the rabies
that indirectly killed Tom Johnson, racism is
easily transmitted and fatal. Even Atticus,
perhaps the most morally upright character in
the novel, seems not entirely immune. Yet Jem’s
experiences suggest that the next generation of
Southerners might not be as susceptible to the
disease of racism as their parents.
How to approach an essay topic
STEP 1: Ask questions about key terms and ideas suggested by the topic:
• Why does Scout prefer the world of men? What is her experience and opinion
of Southern women?
• What rights, opportunities and experiences are afforded to her in the world of
men and how does this compare/contrast with the world of women?
• What does Scout learn about gender roles, relationships and societal
expectations and norms, from Atticus and the men and women in her
• What does Lee mean by ‘ladies seemed to live in faint horror of men’? During
the course of this novel, what forms does this ‘horror’ assume?
• What role does gender play in the accusation and trial of Tom Robinson?
• What ideas about gender (and male-female relationships) are conveyed
through the novel and how does Harper Lee communicate these messages to
How to approach an essay topic
STEP 2: Brainstorm key ideas and episodes
• Gender relations in small Southern town in 1930s USA
• Mayella ‘fancy airs’; fear of father (male intimidation and violence)
• Coming of age (what it means to be a Southern lady/gentleman)
• Finch Landing-daughters’ room (trust; restraints; safety; protection
of young women; upholding purity/chastity)
• Maycomb women have more restrictions (Scout resists these ‘why
can’t I be a ray of sunshine in pants’?)
• The novel foreshadows both the Feminist and Civil Rights
movements (equal rights)
• Access and opportunity for women (education as a means for
• The nature of women’s work: home-makers; cannot undertake jury
duty; bake cakes; tend to their gardens; hold missionary teas
• Southern ladies require protection from men
Sample paragraph (on gender topic)

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