To Kill a Mockingbird

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Lee utilises various literary devices and methods to highlight serious issues and themes throughout the novel. Harper Lee uses her choice of the voice of the narrator primarily and most importantly to employ irony and satire throughout the novel as well as invoke pathos with her use of metaphors and euphemisms, a method referred to some as “tactile brilliance” (Ward 1960: 1). The novel teaches the reader valuable lessons about compassion towards humanity which makes it an essential read for all. The discussion that follows considers Lee’s use of literary devices to highlight the themes as well as the novels significance in the classroom today. “Lee combines the narrators voice of a child observing her surroundings with a grown woman’s reflecting on her childhood, using the ambiguity of this voice combined with the narrative techniques of flashback to play intricately with perspective” (Dunphy 2004:640). This type of narration allows Lee to adopt an ironic tone by using elevated words to mean something more ironically ordinary, such as Scouts portrayal of wearing a dress as being a “pink cotton penitentiary closing in on me” (Lee 1966:135) to describe the pressures of being a lady, or describing Mr. Ewell as one who took “yearly lavations” (Lee 1966:185), ironic to use such grand language on a man such as himself Lee’s use of light hearted irony provides relief for the reader as well as a balance “to the more serious themes of poverty, social injustice and racism” (Carney 2006:8), for example, Lee’s description of the missionary ladies as being “bovine” (1966:239) (like cows) during the missionary tea provides humour to the reader, however “underlying the humour there is severe implied criticism of these women’s so-called Christianity” (Viljoen & Horne 2008:11). There are many children who do not have enough to eat in Maycomb and as Viljoen & Horne points out these women are presumably aware of this yet their “missionary zeal takes the form of feasting together while talking about needy children in distant lands” (2008:11). The humorous passage about women greedily eating and discussing the plight of the poor is juxtaposed with the more serious issue of racism. “Religious hypocrisy is attacked throughout the novel by means of satire” (Viljoen & Horne 2008:10). Boo Radley, for example is imprisoned in his home by his deeply religious parents. They are described as being “foot- washers” by Miss Maudie (Lee 1966:51) and people who “did not go to Church, Maycomb’s principal recreation, but worshipped at home” (Lee 1966:15). The humour lies in referring to Church as being recreational however the serious issues of religious insincerity is addressed, by using the word “worship” with “bitter satire” since none of the connotations of the word worship can be applied to people who lock away their child for life (Viljoen & Horne 2008:10). Harper Lee uses laughter to “expose the gangrene under the beautiful surface” (Tavernier-Courbin 2007:33), especially the flaws in the Justice System and the miserable failure of Democracy. Despite Tom Robinson being given a trial it was by no means fair. He is unjustly accused and tried for a crime he did not commit because of is skin colour. There is no democracy for Tom, he “is crippled not just physically but by his dependence on the white people to save him from being wrongly prosecuted” (Seigel 1976:133). This brings to light the theme that people are caused to suffer misery by other people. More serious metaphors are used to create fear, suspense, pathos, sadness and disgust. The slow motion shooting of the dog, Tim Johnson, is described as being underwater; “he walked quickly, but I thought he moved like an underwater swimmer” (Lee 1966:127). The imagery created by the metaphor described that “time had moved to a nauseating crawl” (www.teachersweb.com 2012:27, 28), and watching the action was sickening. Lee’s use of unusually short sentences at the beginning or end of a...
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