TKAM Literary Features, Structres and Conventions

Reading and Responding
Unit One
Outcome One
Key questions to ask when analysing how the
author constructs meaning.
• How are symbols used to represent the prejudice that
the children learn about?
• How is dialogue used to create characters?
• What impact does narrative voice have on the ways in
which characters are presented to readers?
• How does the novel’s structure help to shape their
development from innocence to experience?
• How is setting used to establish a theme or provide
essential background information about characters or
Character Study: Atticus
In the novel, what is the role and function of the
character of Atticus?
-Moral centre of the novel (touchstone)
-Teacher (primary role in the relationship with his children)
-Provides a backstory and offers important perspectives on various characters
-Provides insights into the type of community that is Maycomb
-Facilitates readers’ understanding of key themes in the novel: justice,
empathy, prejudice (class/race),
-Key protagonist in the unfolding of the pivotal storyline of the court case
Character Study: Atticus
Take note of how Atticus is depicted by Harper Lee, as well as how he is
described by Scout and other characters in the novel
• related by blood or marriage to every family in the town (5)
• Atticus said dryly
• “Atticus is real old, but I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do anything-I wouldn’t
care if he couldn’t do a blessed thing.”
• “nigger-lover”
• “born to do our unpleasant jobs for us”
• “one-shot Finch”
• “is the same in his house as he is on the public streets” (51/220)
• “whether Maycomb knows it or not, we’re paying him the highest tribute
we can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple.” (261)
The events before Tom’s trial show different facets of Atticus’
character: he admires courage, believes his skill with a gun is an
unfair advantage and desires to treat damaged people, such as
Boo Radley, with respect. However, his essential character
remains unchanged for much of the novel. Atticus is the same
man during and after Tom’s trial as he was before it: courteous,
well-read, drily humourous, an attentive father, a fond brother
and above all, a man who believes that ‘you never really
understand a person until you consider things from his point of
view’ (33).
• Atticus treats his children as intelligent young adults - he
speaks in a clear matter-of-fact way, and answers questions
directly (including technical points of law and definitions of
• He is very fair - he tries to hear both sides of an argument.
• He does not beat his children, but is firm in some matters as when he insists that Jem read to Mrs Dubose, or makes
them obey Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra.
• He does not stereotype people - he is quite happy for Scout
to be a tomboy.
• He sees that the children need a mother figure, and
recognizes that Calpurnia is far better able than he is to be
a homemaker.
Atticus-Diplomacy and Grace
• Atticus is frequently criticized by others people. He does not take
advantage of his social standing to retaliate or rebuke them.
• Atticus remains calm when provoked directly - look, for example, at
how he handles Bob Ewell's challenge: “Too proud to fight?” “No,”
says Atticus, “too old” (Consider the ambiguity - on the surface it
seems to mean that Atticus is no longer strong and fit enough to
fight; but also it might mean that fighting is not something that
adults should do - which could imply that Bob has not grown up).
• Atticus understands the importance of allowing people to pay for
his services, even though he has no need of their gifts - as when he
accepts payment in kind from the Cunninghams, or gifts from the
black people of Maycomb after Tom's trial.
“Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a
minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that
trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have
some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if
spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella
Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly
take. He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it
be me than that houseful of children out there. You
understand?” (241)
Atticus-Lack of Prejudice
• He respects people of colour - he entrusts Calpurnia with the
care of his children and gives her complete discretion in
running his house.
• Atticus respects women - he extends this respect to Mayella
Ewell, whom Scout regards as pathetic and friendless.
• Atticus says to Scout: 'As you grow older, you'll see white men
cheat black men every day of your life ... There's nothing more
sickening to me than a low grade white man who'll take
advantage of a Negro's ignorance.’ (243)
– What does this reveal about Atticus and his view of race relations in his community?
• Atticus demonstrates his capacity to be a courageous protector in
facing a rabid dog, but he does not value this attribute highly.
– How does this action reflect other characteristics displayed by Atticus?
• Atticus exhibits physical courage in keeping guard outside the jail
(Chapter 15), and stays calm and composed when confronted by
the lynch mob.
– Does Atticus take this stance merely as a deterrent, or to what extent
does this reflect his inclination towards passive resistance?
• In defending Tom and being ready to accept the label of “niggerlover” Atticus shows a degree of moral courage.
– Does Atticus naively place his own family at risk by this public display
of the courage of his convictions?
• Atticus's ideal of courage is embodied by Mrs Dubose: “...when you
know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you
see it through no matter what”.
– Is this a fair description of Atticus's own courage in trying to save Tom?
Atticus is the novel’s moral centre, since Scout and Jem are still
developing their own moral codes and are learning them, in part,
from their father. As he says to Heck Tate at the end of the novel,
‘if they don’t trust me they won’t trust anybody’ (301).
-Excerpt from Insight Study Guide
Finch will stand up to racists. He’ll use his moral authority to
shame them into silence. He will leave the judge standing on the
sidewalk while he shakes hands with Negroes.
-Excerpt from Atticus Finch and Southern Liberalism
"there is one way in this country in which all men are
created equal-there is one human institution that
makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid
man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the
equal of any college president. That institution,
gentlemen, is a court" [p. 226].
(a) Does the jury's guilty verdict invalidate Atticus's claims?
(b) Are the courts "the great levellers," making us all equal, as
Atticus believes, or do wealth and race play an inordinate role in
the way justice is distributed?
Atticus-the closing speech
Strategies employed by Atticus to convince the jury to
‘believe Tom Robinson’
-appeals to reason and rationality
-evokes religious and moral values
-reminds them of common characteristics such as fatherhood, family
and community
-appeals to their humanity
-flatters and praises jury members
-shifts focus from matters of race to matters of gender and prevailing
community ‘codes’
-draws a distinction between good and bad people, casting Tom
Robinson as a ‘quiet, respectable, humble Negro’
-distinguishes jury members from the Ewells and ‘minds of their
-refers to the constitution (‘all men are created equal’)
Atticus the role model?
“Finch never attempts to
change the racism and
sexism that permeates the
life of Maycomb […] On the
contrary, he lives his own life
as the passive participant in
that pervasive injustice. And
that is not my idea of a role
model for young lawyers.”
Monroe Freedman
“You know, I’d hoped to get
through life without a case
of this kind” (p.98)
Atticus and ‘Blind Spots’
Atticus makes some errors of judgement:
-trusting the Old Sarum mob not to try to lynch Tom-Atticus doesn’t carry a
gun (Chapter 15)
-trusting Bob Ewell not to carry out his threats of revenge (Chapter 23)
What do these errors tell us about Atticus?
How the author constructs meaning
through key characters in the novel
• Jem is an important character in the novel
• Calpurnia is an important character in the
novel because….
Jem is an important character in the
novel because…..
• His growth and maturation is juxtaposed with Scout’s continual
• He is a key figure in the theme of growing up. He is a supportive
character for Scout as he instigates many of their adventures and
games. He is a mentor and guide for Scout, who observes the
changes in his personality and relates them to readers with warmth
and respect, while maintaining a typical sibling antagonism.
• He models himself after Atticus, yet begins to question some of his
father’s beliefs about human nature.
• The narrative begins and ends with Jem’s story – how he acquires a
broken arm.
• He provides the link between Boo Radley and the outside world.
Jem’s curiosity and burgeoning awareness of injustice and human
cruelty serves as a crucial contrast to the optimistic faith in human
nature presented by his father.
• His journey into the adult world reflects the bildungsroman genre.
Jem embodies the ‘coming of age’ thread of the narrative.
Calpurnia is an important character in
the novel because….
• She is a surrogate mother for Scout and Jem.
• She informs the town of the rabid dog and also the death of
Tom Robinson.
• She is treated like family in the Finch Household even
though she’s a black woman.
• She is the bridge between the white and the black
• She teaches Scout about how to be a lady and a gracious
• She is a black person that could read and she teaches Scout
how to write.
• Thematically, her character occupies a vital place at the
intersection of race, gender and class.
Calpurnia and Jem
• Calpurnia plays a pivotal role in raising the Finch children.
Thematically, her character occupies a vital place at the
intersection of race, gender and class. Read from the
following pages-27, 32, 83, 127, 139, 151, 228, 252. Briefly
describe how Calpurnia is represented in each of these
scenes and discuss the significance of these depictions.
• Jem Finch embodies the ‘coming of age’ thread of the
narrative. Lee presents a compelling juxtaposition of his
maturation with his childlike sensitivity to injustice. Read
from the following pages-36, 43-45, 57, 64-70, 109, 127,
152, 164, 167, 173, 233, 237, 243, 249-251, 271-273. Briefly
describe how Jem is represented in each of these scenes
and discuss the significance of these depictions.
-While everyone in the novel is filtered through Scout’s perception –
she is, after all, the narrator – Calpurnia in particular appears for a long
time more as Scout’s idea of her than as a real person.
-Scout at first sees Calpurnia less as a human being than as a force of
nature that she runs up against all too often.
-By taking the Finch kids with her to First Purchase Church, Calpurnia
shows them a different side of her character. In this new setting of
Maycomb’s African-American community, Calpurnia surprises Jem and
Scout by speaking in a voice they have never heard her use before.
-While Scout does learn to see Calpurnia as a real person over the
course of the novel, the question remains open of to what extent the
novel gives Calpurnia an identity separate from her role as the Finch
kids’ ‘Giver of Life Lessons’.
Calpurnia continued
Calpurnia is the African-American cook and housekeeper for the Finches. Calpurnia
acts as a mother figure and disciplinarian in the Finch household. Atticus trusts
Calpurnia, relies on her for support raising his children, and considers her part of
the family. Calpurnia also gives the children insight into her world when she takes
them to her church.
In some ways she even takes the place of Scout and Jem's dead mother. But you
soon learn that Calpurnia is not accepted by everyone. Some of the Finches' white
friends look down on Calpurnia as a servant and are shocked to hear Atticus speak
freely in her presence. At the same time, some members of Calpurnia's black
church are very critical of her being on such friendly terms with her white
employer. Calpurnia lives a divided life. You learn, for example, that she learned to
read and write from old law books. In the Finchs' house she speaks the very
correct English of an educated person; at church, however, she converses in her
friends' dialect so they will not feel she is trying to act superior to them.
Lee treats Calpurnia as admirable because she has made the best of her
opportunities and has not allowed herself to become bitter. Calpurnia has a sense
of self-worth that is not affected by the opinions of people around her. This is a
way in which she resembles Atticus.
– From MSH website
Jem Finch
• Jem is Scout’s confidante and primary playmate. During the first part of
the novel, he is as much a child as Scout: he’s superstitious and prone to
swift retribution. His maturation becomes evident as the second half of
the novel opens with ‘Jem was twelve. He was difficult to love with,
inconsistent, moody’ (127). He is treated as an adult: Calpurnia class him
‘Mister Jem’ and Miss Maudie stops baking child-size cakes for him (237).
• Jem’s maturation allows him to understand the abstract issues at stake in
Tom’s trial better than Scout. His sensitivity to such things is foreshadowed
in his silent tears when Nathan Radley blocks up the hollow oak (70) and
in the episode with the rabid dog, when he tells Scout that Atticus’s
refusal to boast about his shooting skill is ‘something [she] wouldn’t
understand’ (109). Later, the reader sees that Jem is terrified when Scout
leaps into the lynch mob (167) and how ‘his shoulders jerked as if each
“guilty” was a separate stab between them’ (233) when Tom’s verdict is
read out.
-Insight Study Guide
Jem Finch continued
• Jem may be old enough to understand the abstract issues of the
trial, but he is young enough (or sensitive enough) to be deeply
hurt by injustice. Atticus suggests this is a question of maturity, not
personality: after the attempted lynching, he tells Jem, “you’ll
understand folks a little better when you’re older” (173), and after
the verdict suggests, “[s]o far nothing in your life has interfered
with your reasoning process” (243). But Jem perhaps has a
perceptivity that Atticus lacks: for example, Jem’s fears of Bob
Ewell’s revenge turn out to be more accurate than Atticus’
• Jem’s maturation foreshadows Scout’s. She muses, ‘I hoped Jem
would understand folks a little better when he was older; I
wouldn’t’ (173). But by the novel’s end, Scout-about the same age
as Jem was in the first chapter, and just beginning to understand
the ‘sheer torment’ (267) that they must have caused Boo Radleytakes the same first step towards maturity as Jem.
– Insight Study Guide
Jem Finch continued
Scout's older brother, Jem Finch changes considerably over the course of the
novel. At first you see him as Scout's playmate and equal. Once the children start
school, however, Jem becomes more aware of the difference in age between
himself and his sister. He doesn't want her to embarrass him in front of his fifthgrade friends. And later he and Dill develop a friendship from which Scout is partly
excluded because she is a girl. In this part of the story you see Jem as the wiser
older brother. He is the first to figure out that Boo Radley has been trying to
communicate with them, and he does his best to explain unfamiliar words to
Scout, even though he often gets their meanings wrong.
Jem is also the more thoughtful and introverted of the Finch children. Unlike
Scout, who is a fighter by temperament, Jem seems determined to obey his
father's request to avoid fighting. He lets his anger build inside, until one day in a
fit of temper he destroys Mrs. Dubose's garden. Later, at the time of the trial,
Jem's optimistic view of human nature becomes apparent. He is probably the only
person in town who really believes that justice will be done and Tom Robinson
found innocent. When this does not happen, his disillusionment is so great that for
a time he can't stand even to talk about the incident.
By the end of the story Jem is almost grownup. On the surface, he seems quicker
than Scout to put the trial behind, but inwardly, he has been more disturbed than
Scout by the events of the trial. It is worth considering that Jem's broken arm at
the end of the story is a deliberate sign that he will be wounded forever by what
he has observed.
– From MHS website
In the novel, written by Harper Lee in the 1930’s, the author
displays the progression of the relationship between the two
main protagonists of the novel Jem and Scout. Harper Lee
writes in the perspective of the young protagonist, Scout who
is growing up in the slow, small town of Maycomb, South of
Alabama with her older brother Jen and her father Atticus.
Their sibling bond at the beginning of the novel, depicted by
their childish roleplaying of Boo Radley’s live slowly breaks
apart as they learn and grow up through the Tom Robinson
trial, becoming a young lady and a young man and becoming
more aware of the racism and prejudice that exists around
them. Through these chronological events, the author
portrays the struggles that face Scout and Jem as they begin
to understand more about themselves, but most importantly
more about each other.
Literary techniques
• Figurative Language
– Metaphor
– Simile
– Personification
– Idiom
• Allusions
• Dialogue
• Southern colloquialisms and dialect
Figurative Language
The following quotations are examples of metaphor, personification and simile:
• Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft
teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.(5)
• The Radley place fascinated Dill. In spite of our warnings it drew him as the moon draws
water. (9)
• The house was the same, droopy and sick, but as we stared down the street we thought
we saw an inside shutter move. Flick. A tiny, almost invisible movement and the house
was still (16)
• [Auntie said] I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life. I suggested that one
could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave
like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year.
• Mr.Gilmer waited for Mayella to collect herself: she had twisted her handkerchief into a
sweaty rope (199)
Consider how the use of such figurative language creates a visual image for readers,
thereby emphasizing the significance of the subject matter in relation to themes and ideas
in the narrative. The various connotations thus provide scope for differing interpretations.
as sure as eggs: Something that is bound to happen; just as chickens are sure to
lay eggs
set my teeth permanently on edge: to annoy someone or make them feel nervous
the way in which Aunt Alexandra tends to annoy Scout
travelled in state: To travel in state is to do so in the position of a person of great
wealth and rank
he had seen the light: In this case to have seen the light means to have become
blind spots: a prejudice or area of ignorance that someone has but is unaware of.
Mr Cunningham's blind spot is his prejudice against Tom Robinson
guests of the county: on public assistance or welfare
into the limelight: in theatre, the limelight is an intense light thrown on stage in
order to highlight an actor, etc. To be in the limelight is to be put in prominent
position before the public
nothing to fear but fear itself (6): an allusion to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's
first Inaugural Address
Thus we came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin (8): King Arthur's adviser, prophet
and magician
stump hole whiskey (10): illegally made and sold whiskey that would be hidden in
the holes of tree stumps
bread lines in the cities grew longer (128): during the Great Depression, thousands
of people relied on charitable organizations for meals and would line up for simple
meals often of bread and soup
Mrs Roosevelt-just plain lost her mind coming down to Birmingham and tryin’ to sit
with ‘em (258): in 1939, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended a meeting for the
Southern Conference for Human Welfare in Birmingham, Alabama where she
defied state authorities by sitting in the centre aisle, between whites and blacks,
after police told her she was violating segregation laws by sitting with black
A long episodic novel can easily lose its way, but Harper Lee has a very organic sense of a single
story with a unifying or central theme (the mockingbird theme) which is illustrated by the
examples of Arthur Radley and Tom Robinson.
How many readers recall, by the end of the novel, the first sentence (“When he was nearly
thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow”)? This statement is soon
forgotten, amidst a mass of narrative detail, but this incident, which Scout does not see and Jem
cannot recall, is the defining moment or climax of the entire story.
The first part of the novel is an account of Scout’s early years, taking her first days at school as a
starting point. Most of this section is about the search for Arthur “Boo” Radley. The second part
shows Scout becoming more able to understand the adult world, which is mirrored by the more
serious events that occur at this point in her life.
In the conclusion, however, Harper Lee brings the two narratives together – the stories are not
separate. While Scout and Jem have been thinking more about the trial and less about Boo
Radley, Arthur has not forgotten them. His appearance in the final chapters is almost miraculous
– it is plausible (believable in its context) because it is so understated. There is no direct account
of Arthur Radley’s attack on Bob Ewell. It is inferred from the sounds Scout hears and what Heck
Tate discovers at the scene.
Standard and non-standard forms
To Kill a Mockingbird is a conventional literary novel. This means, among other things that it:
• is written in a form of standard English which has a wide-ranging lexicon (vocabulary),
• includes references to art and culture which the author expects the reader to know (or find
• relates principal events mostly in the past tense
The narrative contains some distinctively American lexis (vocabulary) so, to take one chapter (11)
as a random example, we find “sassiest”, “mutts” and “playing hooky”.
In some cases you will find a form which is standard in both UK and US English, but with a
different meaning. So when Jem leaves his “pants” (trousers) on the Radley fence, this is not as
alarming as it might seem to English readers. On the other hand, when he stands “in his shorts
(underpants or boxer shorts) before God and everybody”, this is perhaps more alarming.
In the account of the visit to First Purchase, Scout records the distinctive speech of the coloured
people noting with particular interest the way Calpurnia switches into this non-standard variety.
Depicting racism through dialogue
• The novel is set in the 1930s but was written in the late
1950s. The dialogue is marked by frequent use of the word
"nigger". This is a convenient way to indicate to the reader
the racist attitudes of various characters. When she wishes
to refer to African-Americans, Harper Lee uses the term
"coloured". It is not only racist whites who say use the term
"nigger", however - at First Purchase church, Calpurnia
addresses Lula as "nigger".
• Since the novel was published, attitudes have changed
about what is acceptable to speak and write. In the trial of
O.J. Simpson, the word "nigger" was considered too
offensive to repeat in court, and was described as the "Nword".
Southern colloquialisms and dialect
The USA is a vast country, and Harper Lee makes
use of many regional expressions, local to the
southern (former Confederate) states or to
Alabama more specifically, like “cootie”, “haint”,
“scuppernongs” and “whistled bob-white”.

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