To Kill a Mockingbird Essay Example

  • Topics: literary essay
  • Pages: 17
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  • Date added: June 15, 2020

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How do the protagonists of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book Thief compare in life’s education and achieve social criticism?


In this investigation, I will compare the life lessons that Scout Finch and Liesel Meminger gather as they grow in knowledge and understanding about their community and life as a whole. I will also explore how either protagonist reaches social criticism despite the scorn and danger they face during the process. This brings us to the question; How do the protagonists of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book Thief compare in life’s education and achieve social criticism? Throughout this investigation my scope will mainly focus on life lessons both protaginists attained throughout their journey in life, and how this allowed them to achieve social criticism. In comparing life’s education and achievement of social criticism between both protagonists, the audience will be able to recognize similarities in the messages being presented from both novels. Yet, the audience will also recognize some differences between the novels. For example, I personally found that Liesel Meminger grew more in life’s education, while Scout Finch grew more in terms of achieving social criticism. This conclusion can be based off the fact that both young girls grew up in different environments which led to them to gaining more knowledge in different aspects in order to adjust to their surroundings. My method throughout this investigation will include analyzing each protagonist for every claim with examples and direct quotes from various sources that answer my question. I will also explore how certain factors in their life such as father figures, social class, and the power of words affected their lives and how their point of view regarding life evolved as the novel progressed. What each protagonist once thought they knew about humanity was put to the test and changed into numerous life lessons that allowed them to see life in another perspective they never expected to see.


It is innocence and the little exposure society provides to their children that keep them safe from social turmoil, and it is also this lack of introduction that induces an open-mind towards their surroundings. Scout Finch, protagonist of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, experiences such exposure to the real world and redirects the reader to experience the world in the eyes of a child. Her father Atticus Finch, a symbol of justice and fairness, leads Scout Finch through a path in her society never before walked on. But it is not without troubles on the road, such as the prejudice and scorn of society for actions done against the belief of many. This is also the difficulty Liesel Meminger, from The Book Thief, faces alongside her foster family. And it is not without guidance of her foster father, Hans Hubberman, that Liesel fights against Anti-Semitism. Both children, eight-year-old Scout Finch and nine-year-old Liesel Meminger, use their point of view to exhibit their growing education of human life. With these ideas in mind, the question, “How do the protagonists of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book Thief, compare in life’s education and achieve social criticism?” will be answered. The minds of the young, filled with questions to the unanswerable and visible development of the dark realization of what humanity is capable of, capture us through powerful images and words that make us question the impact of our existence.

A Father’s Guidance

Father figures in both novels are crucial to the educational development of the protagonists. A life lesson learned between both protagonists is the importance of a father figure in the forming of their own beliefs, morals, and views. Liesel Meminger, having lost her mother and brother, is weary of her foster father at first. But it is not until he endures the long nights, plagued with nightmares of Liesel’s brother’s death, with her that she begins to understand the importance of allowing herself to depend on someone without fear of losing them. In the perspective of not wasting a single moment of her life on the belief of others, Liesel Meminger is self-educated. Yet, it is Hans Hubberman who proves that life is not just about oneself, but about the well-being and importance of others as well; he quickly becomes a “positive role-model” (Shmoop Editorial Team). One can say it was Hans Hubberman who introduced Liesel to the hardships and cold truth of the real world, although many could also argue that Liesel had caught a glimpse that cold day “next to the train line”, the day of her brother’s death (Zusack 6). In reality, her knowledge of the world, through World War II in the 1940’s began the day of her younger brother’s death, but was only strengthened with the exposure Hans Hubberman provided when he allowed her to think for herself (SparkNotes Editors). “With great care”, Liesel, “following Papa to the hall”, is led to the basement in a short but sufficient meeting with an escaped Jew, a piece of outside (Zusack 201) . Such image, that of an innocent child following their father figures as a source of guidance, seems to manifest itself throughout both novels.

Scout Finch, another example, does not realize she is becoming more like her father, though she seems perplexed by his actions. Looking at the bigger picture, it may seem that Scout easily defends her father’s actions despite everyone’s refusal to accept his moral beliefs, yet Scout has her doubts at first when fighting Cecil Jacobs in the school yard. In this scene, Scout is swift to defend her father of being accused of “defending niggers” (Lee 99). She is unaware if this accusation is true or not, and whether to support it if it were indeed a truth. Despite the taunting and scorn she and her family receive as a result of Atticus’ job to defend Tom Robinson, Scout is exposed to both the lives of the Ewells and the Robinsons, and she is left to decide whether to support her father or not. However, this decision is not left to her without her father’s advice to walk around in somebody’s shoes before judging them (Lee). It becomes clear that “Atticus symbolizes decency and goodness while protecting innocence” (Fung). In other words, Atticus Finch sets an example of how to believe, hold, and respect her and others beliefs, yet allowed her to explore the many beliefs that surround her (Castleman).

As a result of both of the protagonists’ fathers shedding light on the expectations of their society, the girls are able to choose whether to merge with society’s belief or make their own and take a stand, despite the complications that arise. It should be noted that their fathers did not pressure either young girl into following their own specific beliefs but instead allowed them to follow something that they believed in. In the end, it is the father’s influence that enabled them to maintain a clear view of the occurrences surrounding them. Neither father hindered his child from seeing the true side of their society and community which in turn allowed both protagonists to form their own views on a more objective and innocent stance.

Vulnerability’s Crucial Role in Perspective

Vulnerability plays an important role in the characteristics of Max Vandenburg and Tom Robinson because it is this susceptibility that perplexes our protagonists. How can a full-grown adult be oppressed by others because of who he is? Harper Lee and Markus Zusak depend on the protagonists to ask such innocent questions to criticize the favored societal belief in that period of time (SparkNotes Editors). These two different explanations are in essence a part of each other. For instance, Scout Finch never seemed to question why her help, an African American woman, was treated differently than others; this is because in her point of view, the family cook was not treated any differently as a human being in her household. It was not until she was informed about Tom Robinson’s court case that she noticed the segregation within her community. Within the years to come, Scout no longer views her hometown as a place of tranquility and justice, but rather as a place evolving into a community that looks past the hierarchy of social groups and into learning to cope with the idea that the world around is changing as well. As Scout grows older and matures, she is able to view Tom Robinson’s vulnerability similar to that of Boo Radley’s. It can be interpreted, from Scout’s point of view, that what the “good” town considered to be “bad” people, were later the cause to question whether the town was good at all, when it was discovered that Boo Radley and Tom Robinson were viewed unfairly (Castleman). It is towards the end of the novel, after Tom Robinson is convicted, that Scout realizes it was not vulnerability Tom Robinson was trying to portray during his trial, but rather awareness of what was done, and what was going to be done. “They suddenly realize their fellow neighbors aren’t quite as decent and honorable as they seem” (To Kill A Mockingbird: A Literary Analysis). Bitterness broils within Scout and her brother Jem, and a moment of truth dawns on her when she realizes that what seems to be good, can also turn out to be something that possesses evil.

Similarly, Liesel Meminger is not aware of the dangers that surround her at what appear to be good. Nazis, Hitler, and devoted followers believe in what they do as being “good”, yet never look at what they see as a unacceptable through another point of view. Throughout the story even “Death struggles to understand humanity’s capacity for both good and evil” (Cass). Liesel, on the other hand, is forced to live two lives; one where she publicly supports Hitler and his actions, and the other being a companion to a Jew refugee. Max Vandenburg, the fist- fighting Jew, shares his memories about his past physical encounters with strangers as a form of entertainment, and how he recognizes the time and effort he should have put into strengthening his mental state. In learning this, Liesel helps Max Vandenburg metaphorically fight against Hitler and his followers by offering gifts of the outside world from which he is temporarily closed. “His hair is like feathers” (Zusack 216). This is an example of how vulnerable the Jew appears to be in the eyes of Liesel, in contrast to the danger Max seems to be in the eyes of Hitler and his supporters. When her foster father explains the dangers of hiding a Jew in the basement of their house, Liesel is at first worried her family, but as the story progresses she begins to worry about Max as well. She begins to grow into a young girl who becomes selfless and is aware of the difficulties in the lives of others, such as the helpless Jew in her basement.

Both protagonists are able to see the light and the dark of their societies and those affected by the societal standards placed upon them. They both recognize that the perspective of what they see can be swayed by the people surrounding them, who in turn are not willing to conform to a certain race or religion that does not fit in their ideal of being classified as acceptable in a society. It is here the audience is able to observe the crucial role vulnerability plays when achieving social criticism. When either protagonist uses vulnerability, she uses this skill to help keep herself objective due to the little influence that has not been able to grasp her yet. It is also this vulnerability that allows them to expose themselves to uncomfortable situations that others may not experience. Nevertheless, Scout Finch and Liesel Meminger choose to view both perspectives to decide on their beliefs and morals by looking past the appearances and focusing more on their life and the lives of others.

Importance of Innocence in a Maturing Child

Depending solely on adults for guidance and comfort was not reliable for either protagonist, for neither had a full understanding of the world themselves. Each protagonist had to look towards another source of guidance, a gentle and innocent kind they understood more profoundly, during the turning points of the lives. This led them to rely on other innocent and young lives, such as siblings and friends. Jem Finch, for example, served as an example of progressive maturity throughout Scout’s life. “Jem Finch represents the idea of bravery” throughout the novel, which in turn provides assurance for Scout (Castleman). Scout looks at Jem with admiration and guidance, just as she does her father. But Jem did not only serve as a source of guidance, he also served as a reminder of a child’s intact innocence despite the troubles that surfaced around them. Boo Radley’s home, for example, tempted the Finches and their friend Dill Harris, to let loose their inner child curiosity to the unknown. This curiosity set Scout and her brother Jem determined to involve themselves in Tom Robinson’s trial, and it was also this curiosity that backfired into an exposure of the real Maycomb community. Keeping their childhood alive, though, was critical to Scout’s point of view because it was this essence that kept her mind open, despite the beliefs of others. In other words, her open mind kept her as “an objective observer” (Castleman).

Liesel Meminger, mature at such a young age, needed a sense of childhood in her life, unlike Scout who needed a sense of maturity. Rudy Steiner, a young boy Liesel meets while wandering her new hometown, reminds her to just be a child. After feeling abandoned, Rudy constantly lets her know of the letting go of the past and focusing on the future. This in turn allows Liesel to forgive her mother for leaving her, which only adds to her confusion on the persecution of those who had done no harm. After she realizes that she is not the only victim of loss, she begins to “reevaluate people she initially considered weak”, but with a new sense of comprehension towards them (SparkNotes Editors). Rudy, representing innocence and happiness, merged Liesel into a childhood with space to expand her own imagination and dreams rather than having to keep reliving the past. The surrounding support and comfort allowed Liesel to set her own morals and beliefs without having to be forced into someone else’s standards on society. Liesel’s increasing experience with innocence and childhood evoke her to recognize the dangers that threaten her, which as a result causes the childhood and mature parts of her to fuse together.

Although both stories took place during different time periods, Scout and Liesel were forced to obtain either a mature or youthful perception through events in their home in order to expand their knowledge of their society. As a reminder to keep an open mind in different perspectives, both protagonists remained in the company of a representation of what would help them endure the evolution of their education on life. Whether it was a brother, a father, or even a friend, they served to remind Scout and Liesel to remain innocent yet objective to the environment they remained within.

The Power of Words

The effect of words in the life of Scout, as well as her family, embrace her until adulthood. Scout’s purposeful way of narrating the story as a child adds humor and peaks the reader’s interest. Through the narration we see that Scout is oblivious to the surrounding problems that engulf the interest of the community members, but as the story progresses, her depth of understanding reaches a level that her adult form takes as a valuable life lesson. For example, at the beginning of the novel, at an age of five, Scout views the Cunningham family as not worthy enough to be eating in her home, yet towards the end of the novel Scout, now eight, realizes that they were just as human as she and her family. “‘Soon’s school starts I’m gonna ask Walter home to dinner’, I planned” (Lee 299). It is obvious here that Scout’s perception of people was mostly based on what they appeared to be, but after witnessing Tom Robinson’s case, she looks beyond that. Through the powerful words she uses to recall the events of her childhood, the reader understands her confusion and later on her comprehension, of what had occurred in her eyes as a child.

Liesel, always holding a thirst for words, uses books as a source of comfort through the difficulties she faces. Each book she writes represents an important part of her life. For example, The Gravedigger’s Handbook represents the loss that she experienced with her brother and mother, yet it could also represent how she handled her life after experiencing death around her (Shmoop Editorial Team). It is also this book that was the basis of her learning to read, which in turn connected the book with both positive and negative emotions. This, however, only inspired Liesel to comfort herself by reading and writing on her own will. In effect to learning to read and write, Liesel takes advantage of this opportunity by writing down her experiences. Her book, later discovered and narrated by Death, is read to the audience. Liesel’s descriptive words are complimented with images provided by Death, which only add to the richness of her perspective. As Liesel grows fonder of books, she begins to steal them in order to suffice her need of literature and comfort. She stole in the sake of revenge, comfort, and strength, to which she described through words directed at the audience. In the beginning of the novel, an illiterate, abandoned, unhealthy, and weary Liesel had a voice with no purpose. In contrast to the beginning of the novel, Liesel had a strong and purposeful voice towards the end because of the view of the world to which she was shown (SparkNotes Editors).  “But as Liesel begins to learn how to read and write, and thus begins to gain power over books, her character also develops” (SparkNotes Editor). Her words increased in meaning and purpose as she grew older, but it was with the push of help from learning to read from other views that consisted of different authors that inspired her own voice.

Although Scout and Liesel were too young at first to understand the importance of literature and its power, both begin a journey in where they learn the extent to which words influence people. In learning the essentiality of how the influence of words can affect the person who reads or writes them, whether personally or emotionally, Liesel and Scout used such tool as a way to express themselves through their point of view. In doing so, they helped others understand the difficulties that had risen in terms so simple and innocent, an audience with an engrained complicated perception of the events is able to zone in on the heart of the problem itself.

The Impact of Social Class Position Social Perspective

The social standards, although different between the novels, have to be upheld within the community Scout and Liesel are a part of, despite the contradictory beliefs they have against them.The social statuses are also an important contribution to the point of view that Scout and Liesel are able to represent throughout the book. In other words, their social statuses were a crucial meduim used in order for them to reach social critiscim. Scout, for example, mainly represents the middle class and is able to experience what those in lower social classes are not able to be exposed to. Her understanding of the troubles African Americans face are hindered because of her little exposure to the problems those face whose social class are not within her reach. But, in effect to the guidance of her father’s connections to the Tom Robinson case, Scout is finally able to see a hidden part of Maycomb she was never aware of. Through her perspective, Boo Radley and the Cunninghams were a certain social class that did not fit her standards. Unknowingly, Scout was also a person that upheld certain social standards from others in her community; such expectations were not met by the Cunninghams and Boo Radley. Yet, after witnessing the injustice Tom Robinson faced, Scout was able to realize the social classes set up within her community. As a result of this recognition, Scout was able to look further beyond the classes at which her community was sectioned into, and rather look at what she was able to perceive in order to make her own observations and conclusions about them. Near the end of the novel, Scout tells Jem that their community consists of no one but plain “folks” (Lee 304) . Using Scout’s discovery, the author subtly sends a message to the audience consisting of the belief that all people are human and capable of making mistakes. Being young and having yet to learn about the world around her, Scout apprehends that growing up to be a young woman also entitles the need for her to either accept or challenge the hierarchy of social classes placed upon her community.

Liesel, placed in a lower social class, shows the audience the hardships of those with little to offer. Her perspective, although beneficial in terms of allowing the audience to see how those in the lower class have to live, also isolates the audience from knowing how those of the middle and higher class live during the same events. Liesel’s encounter with Frau Hermann provides a chance to get a glimpse of those living a life with privilege. But Liesel learns that just because Frau Hermann was wealthy, she was not spared from suffering and loss. In fact Frau Hermann and Liesel have one main thing in common: “both she and Liesel have experienced great losses in their lives” (Cass).This discovery allowed Liesel to see others in a different perspective, such as those who she originally viewed as haughty because of their social status. This hindering factor upon being disproved, opened doors for Liesel’s knowledge in learning that the larger scale of humanity she had found comprised of a social hierarchy that did not determine whether or not one would be spared from death and suffering. At the beginning of the novel, at nine years old, Liesel holds a certain indifference towards those more fortunate than her, but as she grows she learns that life brings equal pain and obstacles to those of a different social class.


Although Liesel Meminger and Scout Finch had a source of guidance and comfort as they made their journey in life in order to learn the faults in their communities, they were determined to follow their own path of morals and beliefs. This representation, similar to that of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, concurs with the idea that humans tend to isolate themselves from the possibilities of the outside world because they prefer to stay within a state of comfort and familiarity. In the Allegory of the Cave, “the ‘cave’ represents the state of most human beings, and the tale of a dramatic exit from the cave is the source of true understanding” (Pearcy). But does this answer the question; “How do the protagonists of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book Thief compare in life’s education and achieve social criticism?” To answer, yes. Both Liesel and Scout use their surroundings to quench their curiosity, yet keep an objective and innocent view with the help of their loved ones in order to grow and achieve the social criticism they need to form their own morals and beliefs. Through further investigation, it is clear that Liesel Meminger learned more from life’s education, while Scout Finch learned more on the topic of social criticism. For example, Liesel learns about the importance of enjoying life as a whole and forgiving those who had harmed her. Her biological mother put her up for adoption without warning. This upheaval left Liesel with a sense of abandonment and betrayal, swaying her to feel little trust for others that might care for her. Yet, after she is adopted and exposed to a larger world with a variety of people, she is able to once again regain what she had once lost with the help and guidance of her loved ones. This situation alone shows how life’s education allowed her to grow in trust, forgiveness, and the importance of living in the moment. Scout, on the other hand, grew more in terms of social criticism when compared to Liesel Meminger. Scout’s realization that Mayella’s version of what had occurred in her home while receiving help from Tom Robinson was more readily believed in court than Tom Robinson’s version because of Mayella’s race. It is during this experience that Scout learns the disadvantages and hardships African Americans had to endure during her lifetime, allowing her to expand her social criticism by letting go of the common grounds for criticism on which she had absentmindedly accepted. And although the break from society was painful and full of sacrifices, both protagonists were determinate to make their own paths in life. They grow to learn that what is set upon them as unbreakable can be rebuilt based on their own morals and beliefs.

Works Cited:

Cass, Justin. Chazelle, Damien ed. “The Book Thief Themes The Book Thief Study Guide”. GradeSaver, 30 November 2009. Web.1 Sept. 2014

Castleman, Tammy. CliffsNotes on To Kill a Mockingbird. 1 Sept. 2014.

Fung, Edmund. “Max and Tom Comparison from The Book Thief and To Kill a Mockingbird.”Scribd. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Sept. 2014.

“Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird A Literary Analysis.” Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird A Literary Analysis. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Sept. 2014.

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

Pearcy, Mark. “The Allegory of the Cave by Plato Summary, Analysis & Explanation.” N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Jan. 2015

Shmoop Editorial Team. “The Book Thief Summary.”  Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 1 Sept. 2014.

SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Book Thief.”  SparkNotes LLC. 2013. Web. 1 Sept. 2014.

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.

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