Authors use characterization to progressively construct and collect the pieces of characters. Harper Lee uses a mixture of direct and indirect characterization to fully serve her novel. The protagonist, Scout, appears to explicitly narrate and describe other characters’ traits to the audience. Moreover, throughout actions and conversations, audience have to infer the implicit characteristics of the characters themselves. Characterization allows the audience to be aware and grasp the psychological and sociological aspects of the characters.
Lee chooses her characters based on historic evidence. As a southern novelist born in the twenties of the last century, her life could be of a much resemblance to the novel. She chooses a female young girl to be her main character along with her male brother. The main family of the Finches are considered middle class town folks. They are neither aristocrats nor lower class. They are rooted from a grounded southern family. The geographical distinctions where everybody lives reveals something about the characters. For instance, the Ewells live in the dump because they are ill-mannered and nasty and as Atticus describe them being trash. The Blacks live in the borders of the town because they are parted and the discriminatory society cannot accept them to live among.
In order to reflect the precise picture of a 1930’s southern town, Lee uses a bunch of characteristics that happen to be in a racial community. The narrator directly describes one of her racist neighbor Mrs. Dubose as “plain hell”, her mysterious neighbor Boo as “malevolent phantom”, and her new friend “Dill” as “curiosity”. Lee lets the reader to see some people from someone’s perspective to make people understand how they judge each other.
Lee creates several characters to show all colors of the societal spectrum. As a female writer, she chooses Scout to be the front of her novel. As Lee has to be conventional and to set her piece in the bounds of the historical and the sociological timeline, she has to present male characters also. She has a balanced mixture of both genders when she creates her characters.
Atticus Finch declares that Mr. Underwood “despises Negros” and can never bear their existence; however, his actions show contradictions to what others think of. He defends Tom Robinson both physically with a gun and verbally with his words in the newspaper he edits. So, his behavior allows the audience to truly understand his outlook.
The names of the characters are symbolic; they have deep impact on the meaning of the novel. The main characters are surnamed after a famous species of songbirds: the finch. Although finches are tiny birds, they are very quick and strong. The name Atticus may be an allusion to Roman history. The novel’s main narrator is nicknamed Scout for a reason. According to Collins Dictionary, to scout means to examine or observe (anything) in order to obtain information. Basically, a scout is a seeker or a hunter. These characteristics fully stick to the character of Scout; she is eager at learning everything and she likes to detect anything. Other interesting name is that of Calpurnia, the cook of the Finches. Historically, Calpurnia is the last wife of the Roman leader Julius Caesar. She is known for her faithfulness and humbleness. She much resembles Calpurnia of this novel.
There are numerous characters in To Kill a Mockingbird, more than 40 who attributes to something. They can be classified into major characters and minor characters. Main characters are: Jean Louise (Scout) Finch, Jeremy (Jem) Finch, Atticus Finch, Calpurnia, Charles Baker Harris (Dill), Aunt Alexandra, Tom Robinson, Mayella Ewell, Bob Ewell, Ms. Maudie Atkinson, Arthur (Boo) Radley, and Judge John Taylor. Secondary characters are: Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, Mrs. Rachel, Jack Finch, Walter Cunningham Sr., Walter Cunningham Jr., Francis Hancock, Nathan Radley, Mr. Braxton Underwood, Mr. Link Deas, Mr. Dolphus Raymond, Heck Tate, Ms. Stephanie Crawford, Reverend Sykes, Mr. Horace Gilmer, Miss Caroline Fisher, Dr. Scott Reynolds, Helen Robinson, Burris Ewell, Lula, and Zeebo.
There are further secondary characters that slightly help in knitting all characters and events together.
The narrator of this novel is the old Jean Louise (Scout) Finch recalling her childhood memories. She lives with her brother and father. She is very intelligent and observant. Her mother passed away when she was two; hence, there is no feminine influence in her personality and that causes problems with her aunt. She is more of a tomboy that always resort to fights. As a round character, she changes from innocence and purity to more real and mature figure. At the beginning, she believes that all are good and there is no intrinsic wickedness in life; however, she has realized after exposing to the trial and her surroundings that life is not that plain, and it is complex to understand human behavior because it is a combination of good an evil. Scout’s friend Dill has also changed after the trial; he cries because of the ugliness and injustices the society allows. He has come to the same conclusions about the world as Scout has.
Jeremy (Jem) Finch is the elder of the two kids. During the novel, he undergoes physical and mental changes; he is on the footsteps of adolescence. His values are slapped hard in the face after the trial of Tom Robinson. He has thought of an equal society and fair justice system but he has been in shock to witness the contrary. As a stubborn and curious boy, he cannot fathom why his community ever condemns an innocent man due to his skin color.
Atticus Finch is the father of the two kids. He is a wise and respected lawyer. Despite the probable hostile reaction of his community, Atticus stands firm in defending Tom Robinson because he believes in equality and he wants to teach his kids a moral lesson. When his daughter asks him of the accusations they receive due to her father’s defensing the blacks, he says:
Nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don't mean anything… It's hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It's slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody."
"You aren't really a nigger-lover, then, are you?"
"I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody... I'm hard put, sometimes baby, it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you. (Lee 144)
He shows her that despite people’s prejudiced comments; it is not bad to defend anyone. He believes that one “never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (Lee 39).Scout finally understand his words at the end when she is confronted by Boo Radley.