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To Kill a Mockingbird Characters

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Pop quiz hot shot; what work has been translated into over 40 languages, sold over 30 million copies, and is considered to be one of the best of the 20th Century? Is it The Godfather? Is it Star Wars? Is it Britney’s latest CD? No. It’s actually our book, "To kill a Mockingbird". In this book Harper Lee did an amazing job, creating these people and characters in a story that’s going to live forever.

In today’s episode, what we’ll do is first meet the author. I want to tell you a little about her and maybe some different things that influenced her to write this book. Then we’re going to meet the people of the book, the characters. The last thing we’ll do is discuss static and dynamic characters, and talk about who’s who in this book. So if you’re ready to go, I’m ready to go. Let’s talk people.

Are you a people person? I am definitely a people person, so let’s talk people. I want to start first with the author, Harper Lee. Now Harper Lee is actually, Nelle Harper Lee. She was born in Monroeville Alabama in 1926. Now I’m not going to tell you every single thing about her entire life, because I really want to focus on things that have bearing on our book.

Let’s look at this. Harper Lee’s father was Amasa Coleman Lee. He was actually a lawyer by profession. Why would I choose to highlight that piece of information? Well, the father figure in the novel Atticus Finch is also a lawyer.

Harper Lee’s mum was Frances Cunningham Finch Lee. Cunningham, one of the characters in the book. Finch, the family’s last name, coincidence? I think not. Harper Lee was also a self professed tomboy. Does that sound familiar? Scout. So there’s a lot of parallel here between things that were happening in her life as well as the book.

Another just kind of interesting tid-bit of information, is that Harper Lee was really good buddies with Truman Capote, which is just interesting to think about. Two literally figures together palling around. If you check out the movie "Capote" you’ll actually see their version of Harper Lee in it. So maybe that doesn’t have to do with the book, but it’s like gossipy and I think that’s fun.

Harper Lee didn’t actually graduate from college. She started college, but then dropped out, because she wanted to pursue writing full time. She wrote To kill a Mockingbird in 1959. It was published the next year in 1960. It was an immediate success. That success kind of freaked her out. Let’s look at what she had to say about it. Harper Lee said, “I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d that expected.”

Now I don’t know about you, but if I was an author and I put my heart and soul into a book, I would really want immediate success. I think it would encourage me to keep writing. Harper Lee on the other hand, basically freaked out. She didn’t ever write another book again. In fact, she became very reclusive, didn’t make a lot of public appearances. Was almost a little bit like a hermit. Does that sound familiar? Can you think of someone in the book that that sounds a lot like? Boo Radley. I think there’s a little Boo in Miss Harper Lee. It’s a little bit strange, she really just shied away from public appearances.

One of the few rare times she did come out into public was just a few years back. You can see here that she’s with President Bush. She accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That’s pretty significant. She’d also won the Pulitzer Prize for her book. This was a significant event, not only because of the award, but also because she actually came out to accept it. If you want to see some footage of this actually happening, check out the bonus materials, because I’ve linked it there.

So we talked about the person behind the book. Now, let’s talk about the people in the book.

So let’s get in character. We’re going to talk about five important people in this book, and what you need to know about them. We’re going to start of course with Scout Finch. She is the narrator of our book. She’s also the protagonist. However, I’ve put a little question mark here, because some people say this is also jam story. So she might be the protagonist. She’s definitely the narrator, but this is jam story as well. Scout is definitely a tomboy. She’s not a little lady. You know all about the stuff with Alexandra having to come in and try to teach her to be more like a lady, since she doesn’t have that mother figure in her life.

Scout acts as the conscious for the book. Think about what happened when Tom Robinson was in jail, and she talked to the mob outside his window. She is the one who is kind of the angel on our shoulder. Having us consider the things that are going on in the book. This is the coming of age tale for scout. She is experiencing things and seeing things that are going to change her life forever.

The next person we’re going to talk about, is her brother Jem. Jem we see has perspective as well in this book. He is going through a lot of the same kind of stuff this coming of age idea. He grows apart though from Scout in this book. We can see that the difference in age, they're few years apart. It does make a difference. His reactions are a little bit more adult than hers are.

This the coming of age tale for him as well though. He’s seeing the harsh realities of life. He has to develop his ideas that happen as a result of that. Jem still has faith in justice. That’s really significant, because that’s challenged in this book with the entire trial. He’s also got his father, Atticus as his role model. He wants to be like his father. He really looks up to him.

So speaking of the man himself, Atticus Finch. Atticus is really the moral backbone of this entire story. If you think about it, he’s the one who from the very beginning has got his act together. It’s not a coming of age story for Atticus. He’s the same at the end, as he was in the beginning. He sees that there’s evil in people and bad in people, but he prefers to look for the good. We’ll talk more about that later. He’s extremely consistent. Like I said he doesn’t really change from the beginning to the end. He’s solid. He’s dependable. Atticus recognizes both the good and the bad in people, but what makes him so amazing is that he looks for the good above all else.

Tom Robinson. He is the black man who is wrongfully accused of rape. He’s innocent and represents innocence in the story. He also can be seen as a mockingbird. When we get into symbolism we’ll talk a little bit more about that.

Last but not least, Arthur Boo Radley. Now Boo is a mystery to us for the majority of the book. We hear bits and pieces about him. The kids talk about him. There’s all kinds of urban legends abut him, but we really don’t know a whole lot as fact. We do know though, that at the end of the book, he’s the hero. He comes and he saves Jem and Scout when they’re attacked. So those are the two things that I would say most define Boo Radley.

Now that we’ve had a little bit of a refresher on the main characters of the book, we’re going to need to go a little bit deeper, because I’m going to help you find your inner English superstar. We need to go a little bit more than surface level with characters. Next, I’m going to tell you about static and dynamic character. Which is which and why it’s important.

What does it mean if I say to you he is a dynamic character? Or she’s a static character? What does it mean? You’ve got nothing? It’s a good thing we’re here then. Let’s talk static and dynamic characters.

A dynamic character is a character who undergoes a significant change. Now it’s important to note that that’s a mental, not a physical change. Something is going to change the way that they think. It’s going to challenge their values, beliefs or maybe even their understanding of the world. There are a lot of dynamic characters that you probably know about, that you didn’t even realize that’s what they were. Think about Luke Skywalker, J. Gatsby, Ebenezer Scrooge, even the Disney princesses are dynamic characters, because something happens within their story to make them see the world in a different way.

Static characters on the other, basically remain unchanged. Now that’s not unnecessarily a bad thing. It kind of has a bad connotation to it if you say that someone is unchanging, but you could just have someone in a story who looks at the world the same way at the beginning, than they do at the end. So it’s not necessarily a negative thing to be static. It’s just different from dynamic.

So let’s look at the different characters we’ve just discussed and figure out which are the people in To kill a Mockingbird could be classified as static characters, and which could be dynamic characters.

We’re first going to look at Scout. Now this is Scout’s coming of age story. It’s inherent within the definition of a coming of age story, that something changes in the way she is thinking. Does that make her static, or does that make here dynamic? You’re right, dynamic is the way to go for Miss Scout Finch.

Now Jem is a similar situation. He goes through all the different things with the trial, and his belief in his community and the world. In the end, he’s thought a lot of things through and he retains a belief in people, but he’s really had all his beliefs called into question. So if it changes the way he’s been thinking, if it causes him to contemplate things, he’s definitely dynamic.

What about the man, Atticus Finch? Does Atticus really change from the beginning of the story to end of the story? Not really. He’s a good guy at the beginning. He’s our moral compass. He’s our conscious. At the end, he’s really the same thing isn’t he? So Atticus is a static character. Remember what I said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be a static character. That’s a really good example of it.

What about Tom Robinson? Is he dynamic or is he static? He certainly is given a lot to think about. He goes over to help Mayella, because she’s asked him to. He’s a nice guy. However, this ends up affecting his entire life. He’s put on trial. He’s wrongfully accused of rape. He’s killed. That’s pretty incredible. I would have to say that, if Tom Robinson was given a chance to have some big speech or something like that, that his feelings about life and the world definitely would have changes. So if he’s changing, what does that make him? Dynamic.

The last character we’re going to discuss, is Boo Radley. Now this is one where I can see both. I’m going to let you really decide for yourself. We see Boo Radley at the beginning through everybody else’s eyes. It’s the scary, elusive, mysterious guy. He might be kind of like a bad guy or a monster, but by the end, we see him as a hero, as human, as a nice guy. But has he really changed, or has our interpretation of him changed? We don’t hear too much from him speaking. So I’m not sure we could really say if his outlook on the world has changed. So don’t get mad at me, but I’m just going to put that one in the middle. I can see you arguing static or dynamic. But that’s the nice thing about literary analysis. You’re completely entitled to your own opinion as long as you can back it up.

Now that you know about static and dynamic characters, you can completely take it up a notch and really impress your teacher when you guys start talking about characters. Raise your hand. Teach your class. You’re going to be acing this English class and impressing the heck out of everyone there.

In case you got a little too sucked in to the latest Twilight book, and you weren’t paying attention to what I’ve been talking about, here is the gist of what you missed.

The first thing we talked about was Harper Lee, the author behind this amazing book. We talked about some different things that may have affected her and caused her to do different things that she does in the book.

The next thing we talked about were the people inside her great work, the characters. We discussed the five central characters in the book and their significance.

The last thing we went over is static and dynamic characters. We classified the different people in the book as to who is static and who is dynamic, based on whether they change over the course of the novel.

In our next episode, we’re going to jump right into symbolism. When is a Mockingbird not just a mockingbird? You’ll find out next.