To Kill a Mockingbird – Papers and Projects

1. When Aunt Alexandria forbids Scout to associate with Walter Dunningham 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 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 1930’s. 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 1960’s. 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. Group Project: photographic essay/multimedia presentation. Assemble a multimedia presentation or a photo essay of a theme pertaining to the years 1930-35 in Alabama, utilizing film, video, recordings and text. Possible themes include segregation, the Great Depression, education, working conditions, the relationship between the North and the south, stereotyping, and censorship. (Literature in Context – Web-Based Study Questions) 8. Write a paper on other works of literature that are mentioned throughout the novel. Trace these references, making note of when and where they occur in the narrative. What parts do each play in the action or major ideas of the novel? 9. Present a legal defense of Boo Radley at the time of his first arrest. Make sure that you are prepared to bring up any points by the other side and offer your own rejoinders. 10. Write a paper analyzing the theme of superstition in the novel. Trace all accounts of it and indicate how the idea of superstition fits the theme of the novel. 11. Write characterizations of three or four of the Finchs’ neighbors. How do they reflect the theme of race and difference in the novel. 12. Descriptions of the buildings are extremely important in the novel – both public buildings and private residences. Write a paper analyzing these carefully. How does the look of a building reflect something of what goes on inside? 13. Prepare a careful written analysis of Dill, taking into account his physical appearance, his family background and his characteristics. In light of these elements, isn’t it especially fitting that it is Dill who sets the other children on the trail of Boo Radley? Why or why not? 14. The theme of literacy – both reading and being unable to read – is intricately woven into much of the plot and conversation. Trace these references and analyze them in a paper. Is the author making a point in returning to the idea repeatedly? 15. Write an analysis of the frequent mention of particular flowers in the novel. With whom are these flowers associated, and how? In each case, what meaning do the flowers seem to have? 16. Write an analysis of the scene of the missionary society. Put your generalized characterization of the scene in the form of one thesis sentence, which you can then support with details. 17. In a paper, trace the theme of insanity in the novel. 18. The idea of actual and symbolic prisons and imprisonment runs through most of the novel. Analyze both in a paper. 19. Discuss the implicit ideas and practices of child rearing that emerge in the novel.

20. The novel reveals many unwritten social codes. Formulate a paper or discussion on this idea. 21. Write a paper or discuss the role of imagination and creativity in the children’s lives. 22. Discuss eccentricity as a theme in the novel. Consider adults other than Boo Radley. [compare and contrast to characters in the plays of Tennessee Williams and Beth Henley or the novels/short stories of . . .Katherine Ann Porter, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, who wrote Tobacco Road] 23. Trace the children’s habit of learning by observing and spying, rather than “doing.” If you discern any pattern here, explain it. 24. Stage a mock trial, in which Atticus Finch is on trial. What has he been accused of? Have two people play the roles of prosecuting and defense attorneys and others play characters from the novel who testify for and against Atticus. 25. To Kill a Mockingbird has often been banned from library collections. Are there books that you would not include in library collections? If so, what are they? Why would you argue for exclusion? How would you support your decision to exclude? What books would you ban from school libraries but include in public libraries? 26. Is there a difference between how and what books will be chosen for a fourth grader and how and what books will be chosen for a tenth grader? At what point do we assume that a student has the maturity and education to handle materials that a child might not have? In short what does age have to do with how we choose and censor? What are the age limits at the East Baton Rouge Parish Library? Agree or disagree? 27. Schools must select certain materials to include in the classroom. What is the difference between selecting and censoring? 28. Read the “Library Bill of Rights” and other library policies about censorship. Stage a hearing before the Board of Education. One group petitions for the removal of To Kill a Mockingbird from a required reading list and the school librarian argues for its retention. Let the audience decide the case on the strength of the arguments.

* The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

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