Dramatic irony in To Kill a Mockingbird
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To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a powerful story that covers all aspects of discrimination in 1930’s Alabama. The novel is about long-standing prejudice and hypocrisy in a small southern town. It is a snapshot of how easy it is to judge and be judged by a community, although there are characters in the book that through their courage and knowledge are able to see past this prejudice society. Thus, through techniques such as irony, foreshadowing, plot and dialogue, Harper Lee can emphasise on the ideas of prejudice, courage, and knowledge.
In the literary sense, the idea of prejudice is conveyed through Lee’s use of dramatic irony. For example, in Scout’s class, Miss Gates talks about the persecution of innocent people in a society after a student brings up the topic of Hitler and the massacre going on in Germany. “Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. ” (Lee, pg329) Miss Gates is extremely biased towards black people in her own society, and she does not recognize the violence happening all around her, similar to the ones happening in Germany.
This quote employs irony to show that Miss Gates is blind to the injustice-taking place. This type of irony also occurs in Aunt Alexandra’s missionary circle. Miss Merriweather talks about how Mrs. Roosevelt and the others “up there” were being hypocrites in trying to accept the black people and live along with them. “At least we don’t have the deceit to say to ‘em yes you’re as good as we are but stay away from us. Down here we just say you live your way and we’ll live ours. ” (Lee, pg313) Through irony, Lee is able to show how the women are blinded by their own prejudiced mindsets.
The view that the missionary circle women have towards the black people leads them to instinctively call Mrs. Roosevelt a hypocrite, even though they themselves are being hypocritical in trying to live with them. Instead of trying to live alongside and interact with black people, the women are distracted by their prejudice to the point where they cannot see that what Mrs. Roosevelt is doing is beneficial in accepting black people as equals. Both scenes enhance the theme of racial prejudice and it is ironic how ignorant and oblivious people are of it.
Along with irony, Lee’s use of foreshadowing is another device that effectively conveys the many facets of courage within the book. Many people, including Jem and Scout when they are young, mix courage with strength. Atticus defines courage as “when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. ” (Lee, pg149) From Mrs. Dubose’s fight against her morphine addiction to Atticus’s determination to face down the racism of the town, Lee foreshadows courage multiple times. An example of this is when Atticus shoots the mad dog at gunpoint.
The fear that the mad dog puts into the neighbourhood foreshadows the fear that many feel towards Tom and the Negroes in the community. Most people hide from the dog and often avoided confrontation with the black community as well. This scene also foreshadows the fate of Tom and his trial. The dog is running around and then shot just as Tom will be running from the courthouse and shot. The foreshadowing of Atticus’s courage further emphasises on the idea of courage Lee attempts to portray. Varieties of literary techniques have been attained within To Kill a Mockingbird.
Harper Lee uses a device that clearly demonstrates a theme but does not stand out. This device is known as the ‘plot’, which enables the theme of education to run throughout the novel, although it is not always based in the school. The education is in the form of lessons learned from Atticus, and these lessons are the moral life lessons preparing Scout and Jem for adulthood when issues such as racism, cruelty, and discrimination occur. This education prepares the children to be good people; wise as well as intelligent, and this is what matters when they have the power of knowledge.
The theme of education and knowledge is also depicted through dialogue. “‘Now tell your father not to teach you anymore. It’s best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I’ll try and take over from here and try to undo the damage—“(Lee, page 17). This quotation illustrates the rigidity of the education system at that time, rigidity towards the treatment of those who have learned beyond their age. Through literary techniques such as plot and dialogue, it is evident that knowledge is a message conveyed by Lee to enhance her novel.
In conclusion, Maycomb County and its people are creations of Harper Lee which exhibit her personal views of different levels of prejudice, courage, and knowledge. These ideas can be thought as the trunk of a giant tree where many events, both minor and major, branch out, taking shape of the mindset of almost everybody in Maycomb. Harper Lee has used the literary devices k irony, foreshadowing, plot and dialogue to present prejudice, courage, and knowledge; ideas that guided the entire story.