The Spiritual message to be found in Harper Lee’s beloved bestseller “To Kill a Mockingbird” is, I believe, one of the main reasons this book has endured for generations. The uplifting message is one that not only appeals to young adults, but also to those who remember the book from their own childhood. It contains a timeless message encapsulated in the most appealing of messengers, children who are coming of age in small-town America.
I’ve written several essays in the past on the film version of Mockingbird, which closely follows the book in style and tone. However, there are some key distinctions that set the book apart from the film. The book introduces us to the Finch children, Jem and Scout. As their names attest, Jem is the jewel in the family, one who is prized by all. Scout is the lookout, as she is always alert for any changes that come their way. And the father, Atticus, is the abacus, he is the great leveler, who can make all things right.
The other characters have similar spiritual overtones. While Dill is as his name implies, tart and comical, Jim Robinson, the Negro handyman who has been wrongfully accused of rape, is a kind of sacrificial lamb in this story.
One key difference that sets the book apart is the character of Mrs. Dubose. In the book, an entire chapter is devoted to her story. Where we see her simply as a crabby old lady in the film version, we hear a great deal more to flesh out her story in the book. Atticus explains that she was terminally ill and had become addicted to morphine. Yet she decided to die on her own terms, without drugs, and therefore she becomes an example of moral courage and illustrates the power of free will in conquering her addiction. This also gives a spiritual and moral aspect to the idea of conquering our baser instincts and using our free will to overcome our human frailties and failings.
In the book, as in the film, the two pivotal events surround the coming-of-age of Scout and the trial of Jim Robinson. In both, Atticus is seen as the wise man and the judge, both guiding his children with wisdom and seeking justice for those who are in peril.
Atticus is often seen as a Christ-like figure, although he bears more resemblance to the angels of the Lord who were sent to guide us and to bear witness as well as deliver God’s message to his people. In essence, by taking on the case of Jim Robinson and working to deliver God’s justice, he is “getting his hands dirty”, so to speak, meaning he is paving the way for others to follow suit as they work to uncover prejudice and to seek justice for those who are wrongfully accused.
The figure who represents the idea of Christ is Boo Radley. Boo is shunned and misunderstood, and he’s only fully appreciated long after the events of the story unfold. In the book, he protects and watches over the children, and this can be seen as a metaphor for Christ who is watching over us, his children. It was decided that to destroy a creature such as Boo, it would be like “killing a Mockingbird”; the thing that was created only to bring us joy and happiness.
It’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird, as it was a sin to kill Christ. Therefore, we must do our best to protect the weak, and those among us who are innocent and pure spirits. That is the core message of the book and the key takeaway for Christians who seek a spiritual message in the text.
Whether there is a deeper meaning felt, or simply one taken at face-value of selfless love, innocence, and the triumph of good over evil, we still can revere the book as one for the ages with a timeless message of enduring faith and love.