Critical Analysis of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Film Adaptation

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About this sample


Words: 2067 |

Pages: 5|

11 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 2067|Pages: 5|11 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

To Kill a Mockingbird, according to many, is the greatest American novel of all time and an original classic. Since the popularity grew and was beloved by everyone, the motion picture was high in demand. Directed by Robert Mulligan, the film was released 1962, two years after the book was published but set in the 30s. Living in the 1930s was a depressing era, the economy crashed and was at an all-time low, the Great Depression filled every soul, discrimination killed, segregation was commonplace, and Jim Crow laws were enacted to separate. In this novel, Harper Lee adopts Scout Louise Finch, who is six when the novel begins to narrate the story of her father Atticus, a lawyer who takes on the systemic racist case of Tom Robinson, an African American falsely charged with raping a white woman, a case he knows he cannot win. In the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, Scout explores her reclusive neighbor Boo Radley and learns valuable lessons including; how to see situations from other people’s point of view, the existence of prejudice and the sinful act of harming innocent people. The movie version of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been altered to fit a limited time frame; and therefore, the result of this was, that some fundamental events and characters were altered, omitted and some were added. The main storyline is bland, meanwhile important to both film and novel, remains recognizable but missing what makes it a renowned book meanwhile keeping its impeccable setting.

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Despite the many differences spotted in between both versions, the motion picture kept the same setting. When producing a movie, it is essential to stay in the same setting meanwhile considering the incapability of copying each detail. It is very rare to see a film story as exact and thorough as the original text but usually the setting is never altered. The story first starts in the southern United States of America. Specifically, the heart of discrimination, the state of Alabama. There in the small fictional county of Maycomb, Alabama lived segregation and Jim Crow Laws still affected by the Civil war. To Kill a Mockingbird took place from 1933 to 1935 and influencing by previous events and setting the town’s way of living. The highest peak of racism was around the 1930s and unfortunately only decreasing very little until the 21st century. All the events happen in fictional Maycomb, a town that seemed to move slowly and unaware of other happenings elsewhere. As said by Atticus himself, “A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.” Not many moved there and very few left, so the same families have been around for generations and reputations lingering above. Maycomb was a stagnant and boring town, it includes racism and discrimination against other cultures, religion and race. Caused by segregation, the African Americans lived in the outskirts of white Maycomb and their own church and cemetery. Making this town not equivalent made Atticus defending Tom Robinson, a different race, such a big deal. Being a primality white town, it was odd and enraging for some that Atticus was not basing Tom on the color of his skin, but on his arguments and believing his innocence. Others more disturbed were Bob Ewell, even taking upon him to kill Scout and Jem, accusing their father to be an “n-word lover”. The county was although all-around poor, some richer than others and some paying with food. Soon later in the 50s and 60s, the civil rights movement would influence new ideas of changing racism in the continuing years. Both the novel and film depicted this setting perfectly, the novel giving a literal description while the film describing it visually and orally. The film could have had more visual aid for explaining poverty and segregation, but it didn’t change it drastically.

What made the novel so beloved were the lessons learned, meanings understood, and important morals derived from the events that were crucial. Without these events, the story was bland and lacked personality. The events missed begin the very first day of school when her teacher Miss Caroline Fisher tries to give Walter Cummingham Jr. A quarter for lunch, telling him to pay her back the next day. Scout tries to explain that he is unable to pay her back and doesn’t consider that Miss Caroline is unknown of social and cultural order in Maycomb. The novel continues as Scout getting scolded for her advanced reading ability and then telling her father, the one who encouraged her. Mrs. Caroline had the power to do the right thing, by teaching Scout to read more books, but instead, she chooses to do the wrong thing. Scout then learns to consider the perspectives of others, no matter the situation dealt with, but this lesson is not experienced by the viewers that create the depth of Maycomb. An event gone was when during the nighttime, Ms. Maudie’s house caught on fire and not worrying the contents of her house. After her house burns down, she is courageous and strong, teaching the children by example to not be materialistic. There is also an act of kindness when Boo puts the blanket on Scout during the fire. Confused, the tree hole is discovered by Jem instead of his sister and the objects found in a different order in the film. This didn’t add a special significance to the movie but was utterly confusing. They also witness Mr. Nathan filling the hole in the tree where they would find objects in the film. They neither showed a clip of when the children play “the Radley family” pretending to be an isolated son who “eats” squirrels, an abusive father and crazy family. Atticus defending, scolded the children from the game explaining Boo was innocent and not to be harmed and to be considered as a mockingbird just like Tom. The mockingbird was to sing for the pleasure of others, harmless and not to be killed. Other than the small appearance of morning exchanges with Mrs. Dubose, the viewers don’t view the scenes understanding her vulgarity with everyone nor when Jem does her a service. The courtroom scenes are condensed in the film and don’t explore the aftermath of the trial or portray the conversations Atticus has with his children in trying to help them understand. The opportunity that the children get while attending Calpurnia, their black cook’s church is missed. There they understand the impoverish side of the African Americans and what little they have compared to them. In this situation, at the church, Reverend Sykes tries to raise what little money they must help the Robinson’s. They learn the education of African Americans such as the incapability to read hymn books. From this experience, the children learned more about Calpurnia’s background and where she came from, the poverty and uneducation. You can even see some don’t accept whites in their own church for what they did to them, ‘Lula stopped, but she said, ‘You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here — they got their church, we got our’n. It is our church, ain’t it, Miss Cal?’. The viewers never experience the staying of Dill either caused by him running away from home to join Finches. The events in the motion picture were essential but not interesting as the original novel. A lot of events were different or omitted ranging from meaningful to useless influence over the story, characters. These missed events taught lessons, gave experiences and gave new ideanolagy. Ultimately, I believe by excluding certain scenes in the movie, it results in defeating the purpose of the book, which is educating the reader on the critical messages concerning power and prejudice.

Lastly, goodbyes were given to many important characters that shaped Maycomb, Scout and the society including likewise confusion between characters. These people gave extra meaning to the novel and lessons. Firstly, we see Atticus portrayed as the main character over Scout. The focus is on him and the trial rather than Scout growing up, her learning and her maturity improving over time. As well, Jem finds all the articles in the tree, accompanies Atticus to tell Helen Robinson of her husband’s death rather than Scout. This makes Scout’s role less important and making the story less a growing of age story and more serious drama film. The first character I noticed was missing was Aunt Alexandra. She was to give a motherly influence and prepare Scout for reality and life as older. Aunt Alexandra tries staying with the Finches to feminize Scout on her manners, appearance, and thinking. But there was not even a mention of her name or the rest of the Finch family such as Uncle Jack. One character with just a morning exchange and no follow up was the judgmental Mrs. Dubose. When Jem cuts up all of Mrs. Dubose’s flowers because of her anger against his family, Jem is forced to read to her every day for a The true meaning behind this was that she was a morphine addict and wanted to kick the habit before she died as a matter of personnel pride. The reading helped keep her mind off the addiction until the alarm went off. Slowly, the periods got longer and longer, slowly edging off the morphine. Atticus tells the kids the lessons he hoped they had learned from her. ‘I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway, and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.’ Jem realizes by going to Mrs. Dubose’s house every day that there is more to her than her just being a mean old lady. Another character omitted was outside the courthouse when Atticus was talking to Mr. Dolphus Raymond and realizes that he is not drinking alcohol in the brown paper bag, but is drinking cola. They learn that he would be preferred to be stereotyped as an alcoholic married to a black woman, then explaining his actions to the public. The last character that is altered is Mayella Ewell. Meant to be felt sorry for, Mayella is portrayed as heartless because of her moves against Tom Robinson and abuse by her father, Bob Ewell. In the novel, she was believed to be a innocent child, in the movie you view the cruelty of her act against Tom. When Atticus and Jem deliver the bad news of Tom’s death, they are greeted his father. In the novel, the father of Tom was never mentioned but gave no significant difference. We missed more characters than added characters. By excluding characters and altering them, it gives a poor portrayal of meaningful lessons and experiences.

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Due to the limited time frame available, the motion picture of To Kill a Mockingbird modified and disregarded characters but nevertheless kept its recognizable setting. The setting was great but there are many differences as well. Scout’s role is diminished, Mrs. Dubose, Aunt Alexandra are gone, the inside of the classroom is never shown neither Calpurnia’s church, the family gathering and many more that influence the book in many ways and gave lessons. Although the same story, many elements are gone and leaving the story bland and uninteresting. Making these events gone showed that the director was not interested in adding in anything else and that the film’s storyline was already interesting enough. Some did not agree to this and thought that events could have been added on top of the few already. Know so famously everywhere, beloved and winning the Pulitzer Prize Award the original novel is the most appreciated between all the versions, including the 1962 motion picture film. Missing from the film, the novel had all the characters and events that added so much life and details to the story. Either way, in the form of a movie of film, To Kill a Mockingbird will always teach life lessons and show the injustice of the 1930s.  

Works Cited

  1. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2007). Harper Lee’s To kill a mockingbird. Infobase Publishing.
  2. Canipe, L. (2020). The power of storytelling: Lessons learned from Harper Lee’s to kill a mockingbird. Inquiries Journal, 12(06).
  3. Crespino, J. (2015). Atticus Finch’s closing argument in To Kill a Mockingbird: Passionate liberalism in a Southern courtroom. The Georgia Historical Quarterly, 99(2), 165-183.
  4. Hovet, T. (2019). Film adaptations of To Kill a Mockingbird: Exploring how film adaptations can serve as valuable teaching tools in secondary English classes. Journal of Educational Issues, 5(2), 25-36.
  5. Lee, H. (2015). Go set a watchman. Random House.
  6. Lee, H. (2010). To kill a mockingbird. Harper Collins.
  7. Mallon, T. (2015). Harper Lee: The novelist as a mystery. The New Yorker, 91(5), 68-73.
  8. Mancini, C. (2019). Telling the truth about race, responsibility, and the role of the hero in To Kill a Mockingbird. The Journal of Popular Culture, 52(1), 160-176.
  9. Michie, E. (2009). Understanding to kill a mockingbird: A student casebook to issues, sources, and historic documents. Greenwood Press.
  10. Sheehy, G. (2014). Atticus Finch and the limits of Southern liberalism. The New Yorker, 90(20), 70-73.
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Critical Analysis Of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Film Adaptation. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“Critical Analysis Of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Film Adaptation.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
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