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To Kill a Mockingbird - Themes

This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on themes in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Themes in a work of literature range from the very subtle to the obvious. The multiple themes of a text interact with and comment upon one another. Theme is developed through setting, character, plot and dialogue. Pay close attention to the related ideas and concepts you detect and see whether you can trace the development of a theme over the course of a text. When writing about themes, it is always a good idea to consider your final thoughts as you reach the end of the text. Do these match the ideas you held when you began reading? Have your ideas changed? If so, try to pinpoint when and where your views on a key theme began to change.

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By engaging with the key themes, readers are engaging with the author. Ideally, issues raised in the text will prompt readers to interrogate their own beliefs or ways of looking at the world. If you are made to think hard about an issue or even persuaded to change your mind, then the author has successfully encouraged you to engage with one or more of the text’s themes. You may well disagree strongly with other readers, your classmates, or even your teacher. This is entirely to be expected: wouldn’t it be odd to share identical views with everyone else? Your response to a text will be deeply personal, which is inevitable when you bring your own thoughts, beliefs and experiences into consideration of the text.

To Kill a Mockingbird deals with themes of community, prejudice, race, class, courage, gender expectations, education and ignorance and justice. These themes are interrelated. Each of these issues affects individual characters differently. Many of the themes are seemingly straightforward. Who, after all, would argue for the segregation of the 1930s American South? But pay close attention to the subtleties of the text and the various ways in which racism forms a hidden pattern to many characters’ lives, too.

Read the questions below and test your knowledge of the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird.

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  1. Why is Burris Ewell not forced to go to school?
    Atticus gives the situation with the Ewells as a case where the law is knowingly bent to accommodate certain people
  2. What does Scout eventually learn about being a "lady" from Aunt Alexandra?
    Scout recognises and admires the courage necessary for Aunt Alexandra to hide her worry about Atticus in order to play the role of the gracious hostess
  3. Heritage and family are important themes in the novel. Which of the following is NOT correct?
    Many of the characters are ready to excuse or condemn others purely on the basis of their family connections and accepted familial characteristics
  4. The reader often sees Atticus standing alone, for example in facing the rabid dog, preventing the lynching of Tom Robinson and in the courtroom. These scenes relate to which of the following themes?
    Although the children admire Atticus for his courage in facing the rabid dog, he shows much greater courage when he stands alone in his attempt to prevent Tom's death
  5. Why does Atticus make Jem read to Mrs Dubose?
    Atticus has many reasons for making Jem read to Mrs Dubose. He especially wishes his children to see that courage can be found in the most unlikely places and the most unlikely people
  6. One of the stories which Jem and Scout believe, along with all the other children of Maycomb (and some adults), is that eating anything taken from the Radley yard is potentially fatal. This belief relates to which of the following themes?
    Jem and Scout test this belief for themselves when they try the chewing gum found in the knot-hole
  7. Which of the following characters express racist attitudes?
    Nearly all of the white inhabitants of Maycomb are racist. Some are overtly so, using phrases such as "nigger lover", while most others have unsuspectingly absorbed racist attitudes into their thinking. The novel shows that racist attitudes need to be confronted and ruthlessly destroyed, somewhat like Miss Maudie's weeds
  8. "When Jem an' I fuss Atticus doesn't ever just listen to Jem's side of it, he hears mine too." Scout's statement to Uncle Jack relates to which of the following themes of the novel?
    Scout has been raised to expect justice, to believe that innocence will not be punished and that people in authority will seek for the truth above all
  9. After expending much effort trying to draw Boo Radley out of his house, what does Jem realise?
    Jem feels despair at the injustice he has witnessed amongst the people of Maycomb and empathises with anyone who would wish to shut himself away from communal life
  10. Atticus teaches Jem and Scout that they must learn to see the world from other people's perspectives. This relates to which of the following themes?
    Atticus tells his children that they can never know someone until they have walked in that person's shoes. Understanding someone is the basis for compassion, truth and the pursuit of justice

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