The Four Throughlines in To Kill A Mockingbird

There are four throughlines that must be explored in every story for it to feel to readers or audience that the underlying issues have been fully explored and the message fully supported.

Throughline 1: The Objective Story

The Objective Story is the big picture – the situations and activities in which all the characters are involved.  In To Kill A Mockingbird the Objective Story Throughline explores prejudice in a small 1930s southern town where Tom Robinson, a black man, is accused of raping a white girl . Though he is being brought to trial, many of the town folk think this case should never see trial and the defendant should just be lynched. Defending Tom Robinson is Atticus Finch, a well-respected lawyer (played by Gregory Peck in the movie version).  The father of the ostensibly-raped girl, Bob Ewell, leads a mob to murder Tom Robinson, but Atticus stands firm against them.  Enraged, Ewell seeks to hurt Atticus’ children in revenge.  This conflict over the goal of getting Robinson a fair trial makes Atticus the protagonist of the story and Bob Ewell the Antagonist.

Throughline 2: The Main Character

The Main Character is the one we identify with: the one whom the story seems to be about at a personal level.  In To Kill A Mockingbird Atticus’ young daughter, Scout, is the Main Character, and her throughline describes her personal experiences in the story.  We see this story of prejudice through her eyes, a child’s eyes, as she watches her father stand up against both the town and Bob Ewell.  It is partly because we stand in her shoes that makes her the Main Character.  But also, the main character is the one who must grapple with some internal issue, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.  Though the story is about the trial and about prejudice, neither Atticus nor Ewell ever come to a point where they question or even change their beliefs.  Rather, it feels like that inner consideration revolves around Scout’s impressions of all that happens.  In fact, Scout is actually prejudiced, not against blacks but against Boo Radley, the supposed monstrous child-killing boogey man who is locked in the basement of his family’s home on Scout’s street.

Throughline 3: The Influence Character

The Influence Character is not the antagonist but the character who most influences the Main Character’s outlook and feelings.  In To Kill A Mockingbird Boo Radley is the Influence Character to Scout. The rumors surrounding this man, fueled by the town’s ignorance and fear, makes Scout concerned for her safety, even though she’s never seen him, and along with most everyone else, she holds him in derision.  Yet it is Boo’s influence on Scout over the course of the story that ultimately brings her to a point of change in her own personal prejudice.

Throughline 4: The Subjective Story

The Subjective Story is the tale of how the Influence Character and Main Character impact each other’s beliefs over the course of the story.  One will be forced by their interactions to grow even more steadfast their their beliefs.  The other will be pressured by that steadfastness ultimately to  change and adopt the outlook of the other.  This is the heart of a story’s message.  In To Kill A Mockingbird the Subjective Story centers on the relationship between Scout and Boo Radley. This throughline explores Scout’s prejudice against Boo solely by virtue of hearsay. Boo has been constantly active in Scout’s life, protecting her from the background, ultimately saving her and her brother from Bob Ewell. When Scout finally realizes this she changes in her feelings toward him, thereby strongly supporting the story’s message that it is very easy for anyone  to fall into prejudice if we judge people by what we hear, rather than what we have determined from our own first-hand experience.

To further illustrate how these four throughlines work together to create and support a story’s message, watch the following video clip recorded at one of my seminars on story structure:

Melanie Anne Phillips

Want to know more?  Check out my books on story development, my StoryWeaver software for building your story’s world, and our Dramatica software for structuring your story.

This entry was posted in Characters, Story Structure, Throughline. Bookmark the permalink.