Who is the Hero of 'To Kill a Mockingbird'?

The opening line of the novel is a telling one:

When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

Readers of the novel will know that we find out no more about the broken arm until the climax of the novel -that it represents, in fact, the climax of the novel. That it happens to Jem is the important thing: while Scout is also attacked, in the significant event of the novel -the attack on Jem and his unexpected rescue- Scout is no more than observer. And that’s the key thing: Scout isn’t really the protagonist of the story, Jem is. This is a tale told from the viewpoint of a protagonist’s companion.

You can read much more about protagonists and their companions in How Stories Really Work and The Master Authors’ Secret Handbook. To Kill a Mockingbird is an example, to use terminology from those books, of a Winter Epic -it has all the ingredients of an Epic story: it takes place in a remote, quiet, pleasantly ordered environment of some kind, which nevertheless contains an early suggestion or hint or clue or shadow of tension; its hero is a young boy (as we will see); their father Atticus is the ‘old man with a stick’ archetype (his stick being his rifle); Bob Ewell is the antagonist, the opposite of Atticus; a journey towards confrontation takes place, and so on.

Standard protagonist companions are in place: Dill is the comic companion who also acts as a pivotal participant in the children’s unfolding ‘quest’. Their obsession with Boo Radley, which later becomes crucial to them, is fuelled by him. As it is a story about children, romantic implications take a back seat -there is only a childish liaison between Dill and Scout which isn’t meant to be taken very seriously. Nevertheless, they do talk of marrying each other.

What about the ‘warrior-hero companion’? At first glance, he’s not there. Then we note that this companion is notoriously ambiguous in Epic fiction -Aragorn, Hans Solo, Sirius Black, Lancelot, all have shades of duplicity about them at some stage. Boo Radley fits this model. Painted first by the children’s imaginations as a villain, like the examples above, he later turns out to be a warrior hero indeed.