To Kill a Mockingbird Allusions, Idioms, and Cultural References

Find the major allusions from the novel with brief background information to orient yourself. All page numbers refer to the Warner Books edition.

Please email me if you find an allusion I missed or information is unclear.

Go directly to chapter: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31

Chapter 1

Andrew Jackson (p. 3) U.S. President from 1829-1837; was major general during the War of 1812, became a national hero
Battle of Hastings (p. 3) A decisive battle during the Norman Conquests of England in 1066
Methodists (Methodism) (p. 3) A denomination of Protestantism, emphasizing that Christ granted salvation to every human being, and that humans must exercise an act of the will to be saved
John Wesley (p. 4) Anglican minister and early leader in the Methodist movement
"disturbance between the North and South" (p. 4) Reference to the Civil War (1861-1865)
Hoover carts (p. 5) U.S. President from 1929-1933, during the first part of the Great Depression; people angry with his handling of the Depression caused them to use his name to label everything, especially to denigrate him
"nothing to buy and no money to buy it with" (p. 5) Reference to the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression; people lost most of their life savings
"nothing to fear but fear itself" (p. 6) Reference to FDR’s first inaugural speech; a response to American’s feelings after the stock market crash
Dracula (p. 7) 1931 movie starring Bela Lugosi, one of the most famous versions of this movie
Oliver Optic (p. 8) Pseudonym of William Taylor Adams, a Massachusetts teacher who wrote popular fictional stories for young boys in the mid-1800s
Victor Appleton (p. 8) Pseudonym of Edward Stratemeyer who wrote inspirational stories for young boys in the early 1900s; most famous for The Rover Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, and Tom Swift
Edgar Rice Burroughs (p. 8) American author best known for creating the character Tarzan and his related stories
Merlin (p. 8) King Arthur’s advisor, prophet, and magician
The Gray Ghost (p. 13, 14) Popular children's novel by Robert Schulkers; one in an 11-part series

Chapter 2

Tarzan and the Ant Men (p. 16) See Edgar Rice Burroughs in Chapter 1
"When Alabama seceded from the Union..." (p. 16) Reference to the Civil War (1861-1865)
My First Reader (p. 17) Picture books for beginning readers
Bullfinch (p. 17) Reference to the book Bullfinch's Mythology
Lorenzo Dow (p. 18) Minister unpopular in the South because he preached against the practice of slavery
Dewey Decimal System (p. 18) Classification system created by Melvil Dewey to organize libraries; Jem mistakes this Dewey with John Dewey, an educational reformer in the early 1900s who developed the model for Progressive Education (which is probably what Miss Caroline learned in college)
scrip stamps (p. 20) Substitute currency that is not legal tender (like tokens and credit)
WPA (Works Progress Administration) (p. 21) Agency created as part of FDR's New Deal which provided jobs to the unemployed

Chapter 3

"a man who sat on a flagpole" (p. 32) Flagpole sitting was a fad in the 1930s

Chapter 4

Indian-heads (p. 34) Before the Lincoln penny, the face had an engraving of an Indian (Native American)
"two twins hitched together" (p. 36) Most likely a reference to conjoined (Siamese) twins
Chapter XXV, Book II of One Man's Family (p. 40) Radio drama that began in 1932, which eventually moved to TV in 1949

Chapter 5

Second Battle of the Marne (p. 42) Major battle during World War I
Old Testament pestilence (p. 42) Reference to plagues described in the Old Testament of the Bible
"get Miss Maudie's goat" (p. 44) Expression meaning "to annoy someone jokingly"
foot-washing Baptist (p. 44) Foot-washing is a ritual practice by Baptists; usually considered a derogatory comment meant to mock devout Baptists
Brigadier General Joe Wheeler (p. 47) Confereder soldier during the Civil War, nicknamed "Fightin' Joe"

Chapter 6

Angel May (p. 51) A common nickname given to girls to mock their particularly "girly" behavior
Franklin stove (p. 52) Metal-lined stove invented by Benjamin Franklin; looks similar to modern chimneys
Little Three-Eyes (p. 55) A story about a girl with three eyes who pretended to be asleep but was watching everything that happened

Chapter 7

Hoodooing (p. 59) African traditional folk magic; traditions are passed through the family; NOT the same as voodoo, which is a religion
"He declared Egyptians walked that way" (p. 59) Ancient Egyptian art depicted people in a particular fashion with arms at right angles

Chapter 8

Rosetta stone (p. 63) Ancient Egyptian artifact discovered in 1799 used to decipher hieroglyphic writing
Appomattox (p. 65) General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse in central Virginia in 1865; see more here
Bellingrath (p. 73) Historical botanical gardens located just outside of Mobile, Alabama; see more here

Chapter 9

General Hood (p. 76) Confederate general during the Civil War, known for his bravery and aggressiveness
Missouri Compromise (p. 76) Agreement passed by Congress in 1820 regarding regulation of slavery in the western territories; prohibited slavery in Louisiana territory
Stonewall Jackson & Old Blue Light (p. 76) Conferate commander known for his victories at both battles at Bull Run
Mount Everest (p. 77) Highest mountain in the Himalayas in Asia
Add-a-Pearl necklace (p. 81) Necklace given as gifts to girls, which began with one, three, or five pearls on a gold chain; pearls were added for each special occasion, like a birthday, anniversary, holidays, graduation, etc; still sold today
"an old Prime Minister who sat in the House of Commons and blew feathers in the air and tried to keep them there when all about him men were losing their heads" & Lord Melbourne (p. 87) Reference to the British Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (1834-1841) (similar to the US Secretary of State) and the House of Commons, one of the legislative chambers of the government (similar to the US House of Representatives). He was known to pluck feathers from his seat cushion and blow them in the air to express his boredom at delegations proposing educational reform; he did not believe that education could improve behavior, and he wholly encouraged parents to send their children to work since education would do no good. Melbourne began his term as Prime Minister in the midst of a rebellion among the British working class, during which many of them were killed. Could also possibly allude to Rudyard Kipling's poem "If," which begins, "If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you," as a characterization of Atticus and his decision to take the Robinson case.
"Let this cup pass from you" (p. 88) Biblical reference to the night before Jesus' crucifixion, on which he prayed to the Lord, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, but done" (Luke 22:42, King James Bible); in essence, Jesus was asking the Lord to save him from his fate (in Greek, fate is a figurative meaning for cup); therefore, Uncle Jack understands that Atticus is not looking forward to his fate (defending Tom Robinson)

Chapter 10

Jew's harp (p. 91) Small metallic musical instrument played by placing between the teeth and plucked with one's fingers; see picture
"a small US flag Jem gave me from a popcorn box" (p. 91) One of the prizes found in Cracker Jack boxes
mad dog (p. 94) Dog afflicted with rabies

Chapter 11

CSA (p. 99) Acronym for Confederate States of America
V. J. Elmore (p. 100) Dime stores prevalent in the South; opened in the 1930s
voo-doo (p. 103) Polytheistic religion originating from African cult worship, mainly practiced by West Indians (Caribbeans); contrast to hoodoo (Chapter 7)
Dixie Howell (p. 103) Nickname of Millard Fillmore Howell, college football running back 1932-1934; his own name is an allusion to former US President Millard Fillmore
Ivanhoe (p. 105) Novel written by Sir Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scout (p. 109) Jem's pun on the author of Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott, a Scottish novelist and poet
"Alabama might to go the Rose Bowl" (p. 110) University of Alabama's football team, which made it to the Rose Bowl six times; Rose Bowl was one of the major college football games, usually the last in the Bowl game series; learn more here
Windy Seaton (p. 110) As far as I can tell, this is a fictional newspaper columnist

Chapter 12

"sit down strikes in Birmingham" (p. 116) During the Great Depression, many labor unions and related groups organized "sit-down strikes," during which works literally sat down and refused to work until demands were met or negotiated. (Sit down strikes became increasingly prevalent during the Civil Rights movement in the South.) This specific reference may be an allusion to the steel workers strike at the American Casting Company (led by members of the Communist party), the Sharecroppers and Farm Laborers Strike, or the Coal Miners' strike.
"bread lines in the cities grew longer" (p. 116) Various organizations, including churches, served bread and soup to unemployed people who could not afford to buy food. As the Depression worsened, lines grew longer to accomodate the increasing number of unemployed.
Shadrach (p. 117) One of three friends of Daniel in the Bible; he refused to worship a golden idol and was tied and thrown into a hot furnace, but survived unharmed because of their faith in God
Hoyt's cologne (p. 118) German cologne popular in the US during the early 20th century
Brown's Mule (p. 118) Brand of chewing tobacco
Hunt's The Light of the World (p. 120) Victorian painting by William Holman Hunt; see picture
Garden of Gethsemane (p. 120) According to the New Testament, the location where Jesus and his disciples retreated to pray after the Last Supper; see picture
"There's a land beyond the river that we call the sweet forever" (p. 121) Beginning verse of a spiritual hymn called "When They Ring the Golden Bells"; Scout refers to it as "Jubilee"
On Jordan's Stormy Banks (p. 123) Spiritual hymn; full title is "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand"
"papoose-style on their mothers' backs" (p. 123) "Papoose" means "child" in the Algonquian language; mothers carried their children wrapped tightly in a leather carrier; see picture
Blackstone's Commentaries (p. 125) Sir William Blackstone wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England, written so lay persons ("common folk") could read and understand English common law; played a role in the development of the American legal system
Moses (p. 126) In the Bible, slave who led the Jews out of Egypt and across the Red Sea; received the Ten Commandments from God

Chapter 13

Lane cake (p. 129) Cake popular in the South; layered white or yellow cake with coconuts, nuts, and dried fruit topped with white frosting; believed to have originated in Alabama, created by Emma Rylander Lane
Rice Christians (p. 129) Christian converts in Asia, who adopted Christianity under the threat of being starved to death, i.e. "If you want rice, become a Christian"
Alabama Territory (p. 130) Organized as a territory in 1817; admitted to the Union in 1819
Creek Nation (p. 130) One of the North American Indian tribes living in Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida
Governor William Wyatt Bibb (p. 130) Governor of the Alabama Territory from 1817-1819; first governor of the state of Alabama from 1819-1820 (when he died)
War Between the States (p. 131) Civil War
Reconstruction (p. 131) After the end of the Civil War, the US government had to figure out how to readmit the Southern States into the Union and determine the status of freed slaves (among other social, political, and economic issues)
Lydia E. Pinkham (p. 131) Developed an herbal-alcoholic "tonic" for women meant to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains; after the creation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a pharmaceutical company manufactures the product

Chapter 14

Hoover carts (p. 135) See Chapter 1

Chapter 15

Henry W. Grady (p. 146) Southern journalist who helped reintegrate the former Confederate States into the Union after the Civil War; also influential in the founding of the Georgia Institute of Technology
Ku Klux (Klan) (p. 147) Organization founded by veterans of the Confederate Army to promote white supremacy, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and nativism among other acts; have used terrorism, violence, and intimidation
"Nearer my God to thee" (p. 148) Spiritual hymn based loosely on the story in Genesis about Jacob's dream of a ladder to heaven; also reportedly the hymn played by the band of the RMS Titanic as it sank
Jitney Jungle (p. 151) Chain of supermarkets opened in Mississippi in 1919 and spread across the South
snipe hunt (p. 151) Practical joke, also referred to as a "fool's chase" or "wild goose hunt," in which the object you are looking for doesn't actually exist

Chapter 16

Braxton Bragg (p. 156) Confederate general who commanded forces in the West
Mennonites (p. 158) Group of Christian Anabaptists named after Menno Simons; committed to nonviolence; live in tight-knit communities in rural areas of North America; dress very modestly, usually in staid colors; not to be confused with the Amish
Prohibition (p. 159) US Congress ratified the 18th Amendment in 1919 to prohibit (ban) the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcohol; repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933
"He that cometh in vanity departeth in darkness" (p. 159) Biblical verse from Ecclesiastes 6:4
William Jennings Bryan (p. 160) American lawyer, statesman, and politician, most famous for his involvement in the Scopes Trial against a high school teacher who taught evolution in school; Bryan helped the prosecution; the Supreme Court ultimately sided with the defense, saying that the original law which forbade the teaching of evolution did not violate any state or church laws
Nehi cola (p. 160) Brand of cola and fruit-flavored sodas introduced in 1924
Chief Justice (p. 163) Head of the judicial branch of the US government who presides over the Supreme Court; Charles Evan Hughes was Chief Justice at the time of this novel
"looking like a sleepy old shark, his pilot fish writing rapidly below him" (p. 165) Metaphor to describe the relationship between Judge Taylor and the court reporter; pilot fish swim with sharks for protection from predators

Chapter 17

Robert E. Lee (Bob Ewell's name) (p. 169) Most famous Confederate general known for his victories at Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Bull Run (all in VA), as well as his defeat at Gettysburg (PA) and subsequent surrender at Appomattox (VA)
Model-T Ford (p. 170) Automobile introduced in 1908 and regarded as the first affordable automobile; see picture
Sherlock Holmes (p. 178) Fictional detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Chapter 18

Mr. Jingle (p. 182) Character from Charles Dicken's novel The Pickwick Papers; expressed himself in short sentence fragments

Chapter 20

"Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal" (p. 205) Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence, in which he wrote "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"; read the complete text here
"distaff side of the Executive Branch are fond of hurling at us" (p. 205) Reference to Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was President at the time; she was criticized by Southerners for her views on civil rights
Rockefeller (p. 205) John D. Rockefeller was an industrialist and philanthropist who founded the Standard Old Company and built a vast fortune from it; often regarded as the richest man in history
Einstein (p. 205) Albert Einstein was a German physicist most famous for his theory of relativity, which explained the relationship between time and space, and mass-energy equivalence, E=mc^2

Chapter 22

"she's just seein' too many snakes in the closet" (p. 214) An idiom dating back to the 1800s that refers to the delirium tremens suffered by a habitual drinker who has missed his drink for 2-4 days. Delirium tremens is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal, usually occurring within 24-48 hours of complete abstinence from drinking. Delirium tremens features auditory and visual hallucinations, with people most commonly seeing snakes

Chapter 23

Popular Mechanics (p. 219) An American magazine devoted to science and technology; first published in 1902
"Perhaps our forefathers were wise" (p. 221) Reference to the writers of the Constitution; Scout remarks on the unfairness of all-white juries in the South
New World (p. 222) Lands "discovered" by European explorers during the Age of Exploration (1400s-1500s); in this case, specifically North America
tooth and nail (p. 222) Idiom meaning to do something with great effort
Tootsie Roll (p. 225) Chewy, chocolate-flavored American candy manufactured by Tootsie Roll Industries, originally founded in 1896

Chapter 24

Mrunas and J. Grimes Everett (p. 228-231) An African tribe converted to Christianity by J. Grimes Everett, a missionary (actual existence of the tribe and the missionary are questionable - perhaps imagined by Lee?)
Presbyterians (p. 229) Several branches of Christianity following the theological teachings of John Calvin, who emphasized the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Bible, and the necessity of grace through faith
Tangee Natural (p. 229) Lipstick originally developed over 70 years ago which would change colors according to your body temperature; shades usually varied from orange to pink hues; read more about it here
Cutex Natural and Rose (p. 229) Clear and pink (respectively) nail polish made by Cutex
"People up there set 'em free" (p. 234) The Northern States were integral in the emancipation of the slaves during the Civil War; Southerners were bitter about the freeing of slaves
Mrs. Roosevelt (p. 234) See explanation in Chapter 20
"lost her mind coming down to Birmingham and tryin' to sit with 'em" (p. 234) At the November 1938 annual meeting of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, the Birmingham police chief arrived to enforce city ordinances banning "mixed race" meetings. Eleanor Roosevelt arrived late on the third day and sat in the front row of the colored side, unaware of the segregated seating. When her mistake was pointed out, she refused to acquiese; in fact, she sat in a chair placed in between the segregated groups.

Chapter 25

English Channel (p. 241) Arm of the Atlantic Ocean that runs between the United Kingdom and France (and Europe); the distance is 150 miles at its widest point

Chapter 26

holy-roller (p. 244) Derisive term to describe Pentecostal Christians, who roll around on the floor and speak in tongues; also commonly used to describe any religious person who promotes his religion at doorsteps or public fora
"Sweetly Sings the Donkey" (p. 244) Popular song usually sung as a round
Uncle Natchell (p. 244) Cartoon mascot for Natural Chilean Nitrate of Soda, advertised in newspapers in the 1930s
"Adolf Hitler has been after the Jews" (p. 244) Hitler's "Final Solution" involved the systematic extermination of an estimated 6 million Jews and other minority groups (homosexuals, physically and mentally disabled, Gypsies) in Europe during the 1930s-1940s
Elmer Davis (p. 246) News reporter for CBS radio; appointed as director of the US Office of War Information in 1941

Chapter 27

WPA (p. 249) See Chapter 2
Bob Taylor (p. 249) Robert Love Taylor was a US Representative from Tennessee from 1879-1881; also a popular orator on the lecture circuit; rumored to be a great fiddler
Ladies' Law (p. 250) From the Criminal Code of Alabama, Vol. III, 1907: "Any person who enters into, or goes sufficiently near to the dwelling house of another, and, in the presence or hearing of the family of the occupant thereof, or any member of his family, or any person who, in the presence or hearing of any girl or woman, uses abusive, insulting or obscene language must, on conviction, be fined not more than two hundred dollars, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail, or sentenced to hard labour for the county for not more than six months."
Cotton Tom Heflin (p. 250) Nickname for James Thomas Heflin, US Senator from Alabama (1920-1931); drew his political support from rural voters and KKK members
"NRA--WE DO OUR PART" (p. 251) National Recovery Administration, created as part of FDR's New Deal; set minimum wages and maximum working hours; in 1935 ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States
National Recovery Act (p. 251) See NRA.
"nine old men" (p. 251) The Justices of the Supreme Court: Chief Justice Charles Hughes; Associate Justices Willis Van Devanter, James C. McReynolds, Louis Brandeis, George Sutherland, Pierce Butler, Harlan F. Stone, Owen J. Roberts, and Benjamin Cardozo
dog Victrolas (p. 251) Victrolas were phonographs first marketed in 1906 and sold by RCA until the 1970s; RCA used a dog (terrier) in its advertisements for the Victrola; read more about Nipper here
Ad Astera Per Aspera (p. 252) Latin phrase meaning "to the stars through hardships"
"somebody just walked over my grave" (p. 253) Idiom describing a feeling of sudden chill; based on a superstitious belief that walking over someone's grave was bad luck; appears in American folklore

Chapter 28

"three-corner hats, Confederate caps, Spanish-American War hats, and World War helmets" (p. 257) Reference to head gear from American military conflicts--American Revolution, Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I (respectively)
Andrew Jackson (p. 258) See Chapter 1
Creek Indian Wars (p. 258) A civil war within the Creek nation in present-day Alabama, which is considered part of the War of 1812; US became involved at the Battle of Burnt Corn in 1813
Dixie (p. 258) Popular American song which originated in blackface minstrel shows in the 1850s South; later adopted as an anthem of the Confederacy; read more about the song here

Chapter 29

The Gray Ghost (p. 280) See Chapter 1

Chapter 31

Seckatary Hawkins (p. 280) The lead character in The Gray Ghost (see Chapter 1); loyal followers and fans of the series established the Seckatary Hawkins Club of 1920 ; TKAM author Harper Lee is a member; read about the similarities between characters and events in TKAM to the Seckatary Hawkins stories here
"about a ship an' Three-Fingered Fred 'n' Stoner's Boy..." (p. 280) Two characters from the Seckatary Hawkins novels; Scout's summary of the story at the end of the chapter parallel the moral lesson of TKAM, as indicated by Atticus ("Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.")