Theme from To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

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page originally published on 4 November 2011; latest edit: 5 July 2020

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If it’s only photos you’re after, then you might prefer our To Kill a Mockingbird slide show and gallery page.

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The above clip from the film To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is titled “The Children Save Atticus.” The title is inaccurate. Atticus Finch has been spending the evening guarding the town jailhouse to protect Tom Robinson, his client. The mob in this scene has not come to harm Atticus, but to lynch Tom, a black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman. It’s possible that Atticus might have been harmed had he forcefully attempted to prevent the men from entering the jailhouse, but not likely. A couple of them could have restrained Atticus while the others went in after Tom. If you want the title of the video to include the word “save,” then why not “The children save Tom” instead?

I’m not saying that Atticus doesn’t act bravely in this scene. He certainly puts his life in some danger by going to sit alone outside the jailhouse at night in the anticipation of a possible lynching attempt. However, his efforts might have failed without the unexpected aid of his children, and of Sheriff Heck Tate, who, from a hidden position, had also been protectively guarding Atticus and Tom, though as things worked out his help wasn’t required.

Some time after Atticus departs home for the jailhouse, Jem decides to go to there to check on the well-being of Atticus, and reluctantly agrees to allow his younger sister Scout and their friend Dill to come along with him (omitted from the above clip). While they are hiding behind a car, Scout decides to run toward and through the mob surrounding Atticus when she can’t see him from their hiding place, and Jem and Dill then follow her to Atticus’ side. Alarmed by the arrival of the children, Atticus demands that Jem go home and take Scout and Dill with him, but Jem repeatedly refuses to do so. After his second refusal, one of the armed men grabs Jem, saying “I’ll send him home,” a move that results in Scout instantly coming to Jem’s defense by yelling at the man “Don’t you touch him. Let him go! Let him go!” and kicking him in the leg. When Atticus stops her, she responds, “Ain’t nobody gonna do Jem that way!” And it is Scout, who at about eight years old is the youngest of the three children, who then proceeds to hold court among a mob of threatening men, most of whom are relative strangers to her, after picking out one that she recognizes and striking up a friendly chat with him.

Without meaning to, Scout single-handedly thwarts the mob by speaking kindly and respectfully to Mr. Cunningham, who is evidently one the leaders of the mob. She recognizes him while scanning the men’s faces and then greets him with a cheery “Hey, Mr. Cunningham!” Though he doesn’t respond right away, she isn’t discouraged. Aiming to jog the man’s memory she proceeds to innocently remind him of the time he brought the Finches hickory nuts as payment for Atticus’ help with a sticky legal issue. It’s very likely that Atticus had provided legal support to some of the other members of the mob as well, and been rewarded with similar payments (firewood, farm products, nuts, preserves, etc.), and that hearing Scout talk about Mr. Cunningham’s entailment issue reminded them of similar legal binds that Atticus had helped them get out of.

After reintroducing herself to Mr. Cunningham, and mentioning the entailment and the hickory nuts payment, she goes on to speak warmly of the man’s son, Walter, Jr., a schoolmate of hers. She asks him to say “hey” to the boy for her, a sign of not only friendship but of perhaps unexpected respect given the different social standing of the two families. The result of Scout’s disarming hospitality toward Mr. Cunningham is that apparently he and some of the other men are suddenly embarrassed to be found in this situation, and dissuaded from continuing on with their plans to lynch Tom, at least for the time being. With his designs on Tom temporarily derailed by Scout, Cunningham nevertheless is moved to speak with what seems to be genuine kindness and respect to her in return, promises to say “hey” to young Walter, Jr. for her, and then gives the order to the other men to clear out. The group immediately leaves, some reluctantly, without accomplishing their mission.

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Theme from To Kill a Mockingbird (Elmer Bernstein)

title sequence

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theme, with slideshow

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Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad. — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, ch. 31

Mockingbird_Scout and Atticus_1aMockingbird_Jem and Scout find soap dolls_1

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mockingbird_Atticus guards Maycomb jailhouse_2_f27

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From the voice over at the end of the film (source):

One time Atticus said you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough. The summer that had begun so long ago had ended, and another summer had taken its place. And a fall. And Boo Radley had come out. I was to think of these days many times, of Jem and Dill…and Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. And Atticus. He would be in Jem’s room all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.

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