Analyse how language features were used to shape your reaction to one or more ideas in the written text
In the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee, the language features of imagery, irony, and symbolism are used to shape our reactions. The imagery of Boo Radley and his living circumstances, teaches us that presumptions based on appearance, are deceitful, and blocking out positive personas, is only harmful to yourself. The irony used in reference to Nazi Germany, remodels the reader’s views on racism and the symbolism of the Mockingbird for Tom Robinson, shows that innocence is frequently abused. These techniques influence our perception and we learn to appreciate what is given, without prejudice interfering.
The imagery that Harper Lee uses in her novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ constructs a visage of Boo Radley with the purpose of conveying an evil and negative feeling towards him. This language feature is used to build up a character profile of Boo from a child’s first perspective. The reader’s reaction is shaped into seeing Boo as a ‘malevolent phantom’, living in a building with descriptions similar to a haunted house: ‘The Radley Place jutted into a sharp curve beyond our house…had long ago darkened to the color of the slate-gray yard around it. Rain-rotted shingles drooped over the eaves of the veranda; oak trees kept the sun away.’ This imagery of the house creates a gloomy, cold and abandoned atmosphere. The building personifies Boo, attributing characteristics to his isolated, lonely life that creates a terror in the reader towards this ‘mysterious’ character. ‘Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall…he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained…There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.’ The character of Jem describes Boo with an appearance comparable to Frankenstein’s monster in ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley. The message behind Boo’s description also coincides with Frankenstein’s. Lee used Boo as a character to shape the idea that ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it,’ and that we should not make judgements based on first impressions. We should be open towards learning a character’s full story before being granted the ability to express our concluding opinion.
In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, the imagery also makes the reader react with preconceived ideas of fear and concern towards Boo. However, the character is revealed to be a caring human that acts as a ‘guardian angel’ towards Scout and Jem, two children who are the main characters in the novel. In ‘Frankenstein’, the monster too only wants to integrate into human society and be accepted, yet, he is a ‘hideously ugly creation, with translucent yellowish skin pulled so taut over the body that it barely disguised the workings of the arteries and muscles underneath’. Both Boo and Frankenstein are two people that are feared by society for being described as monsters, when inside they are caring souls. These character’s circumstances teach the reader that a person’s appearance or illustrated image does not determine who they are internally. The reader learns the idea that you must understand the person’s full story before making judgements; you must ‘step in their shoes’ and not feel like your reactions are shaped by physical descriptions. Conclusions cannot be drawn about Boo or any other Frankenstein character that we have created in our mind; the rumours and stories create the monster but we must first have an understanding of the world from their viewpoint. Harper Lee has used the language feature of imagery to construct and shape these opinions and judgements about Boo as a character before revealing that although he is described as a monster, he is a compassionate protector.
The language feature of irony is used by Harper Lee in the text to shape the reader’s idea of racism; it is everywhere, even under our own nose. When Scout was at school, she discussed with her teacher, Miss Gates about the current event of Adolf Hitler’s ‘pursuit after the Jews’. Miss Gates’s words are significant. She discusses Hitler’s racism, comparing it to America, who apparently does not display these characteristics of prejudice, ‘That’s the difference between America and Germany. We are a democracy and Germany is a dictatorship…over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced… There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and why Hitler doesn’t think so is a mystery to me.’ The irony in Miss Gate’s comment is that Americans, including herself, do not provide equal rights of negroes. They don’t believe in persecuting anyone, yet, at this time, there is a negro man being prosecuted for a crime he didn’t commit, all because of his skin colour. After Scout recently overheard Miss Gates say at the courthouse, ‘it’s time somebody taught ’em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves’ about African-Americans, Scout becomes confused by this hypocrisy. How can someone claim to feel so strongly about persecution, whilst practising it themselves? This situation of selective bigotry is clearly communicated to the reader, yet, we see that Miss Gates does not comprehend what she is saying. As readers, this shapes our reaction towards the idea of racism. Initially, we think that Miss Gates believes living in a community which is labelled as a democracy, covers up the reality of racism’s presence. However, her ignorance shows that it isn’t necessarily a choice of hate but an action and thought process that has been integrated into their lives through generations. Miss Gates and other characters that display acts of racism towards other individuals do not necessarily intend to cause harm but are so blinded by the discrimination that they have grown up with; they don’t know it any other way. Racism is a prominent problem in society today. It is everywhere, whether it be Germany, America or South Africa. Segregation confines individuals to boundaries and restricts them from freedom in their life. Whilst ‘Adolf Hitler has been after the Jews and he’s puttin‘ ’em in prisons and he’s taking away all their property and he won’t let any of ‘em out of the country’, Maycomb County and the rest of America connive against negroes, stamping authority over them. This is shown with Tom Robinson, a negro man that was prosecuted for a rape he didn’t commit and alludes to the Scottsboro Trial, where nine black men were also falsely accused of raping two white women. One of the women, Ruby Bates, later came forward saying she was forced into lying about the rape. These real life and fictional events were both fuelled by an all-white jury and show the inequality towards black men in 1930. The reader learns that although all evidence supports these negro men, the bias from recognised superiors, will always override it. We are directed into seeing that it doesn’t matter who the victim is, racism is racism and it is not right to induce or accept it in society. Our opinion is shaped by the irony of Miss Gates, and we are forced to analyse the idea of our own views towards others.
Symbolism is used within the novel to represent the idea of a mockingbird and shape our opinions of Tom Robinson. The idea is that it ‘is a sin to kill a mockingbird’ because ‘mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.’ The mockingbird presents the persecution of innocent people, destroyed through contact with evil. Tom Robinson, a negro man, is also an innocent creature who only went out of his way to help others; he often assisted a white adolescent female named Mayella Ewell with chores around the house. However, the Ewells later falsely accuse Tom of raping Mayella. The quote ‘racism is a primary force of evil designed to destroy good men’ from the novel ‘The Power of One’ by Bryce Courtenay, resembles Tom’s ‘relationship’ with the Ewells. Bob Ewell is a xenophobic character whose only intent is to deviate to impair others like Tom and he condones a ‘senseless slaughter of songbirds’, a comparison which is made to Tom’s death, when he accuses Tom Robinson of a crime he didn’t commit. When a person like Tom, expresses cordiality to an otherwise lonely and isolated individual like Mayella, because he ‘felt sorry for her’, he is only repaid with animosity. The reader sees that utilising a man’s good will against him, is a selfish act. The comment: ‘it is a sin to kill a mockingbird’ was the first time Scout had heard Atticus say it was a sin to do anything. This idea shows that Atticus, a lawyer and father of Scout and Jem, believes that it is not only against man’s law but God’s will as well. In correlation, this situation of punishing an innocent man is similar to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus is recorded as the epitome of innocence, never committing a single sin. However, he was nailed to the cross by prosecutors. Christ’s morality, like Tom’s was questioned, and he was crucified like Tom was shot; both individuals did not transgress, but were punished all the same. Another situation of injustice is demonstrated with Teina Pora, a New Zealander who served 20 years in prison for being wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering a woman named Susan Burdett when he was aged 17. As a maori, an indigenous person of New Zealand, with dark skin, it was indicated that the jury’s decision was swayed because of his cultural appearance. In one circumstance, the case had been sent back to the court because the crown had been ‘selective’ and yet, he was still wrongfully convicted. The injustice of Teina Pora’s conviction can be likened to Tom Robinson’s case; it is based on ‘the evil assumption-that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women’. The reader sees the social injustice of these circumstances, shaping the perceptions of Tom Robinson. The mockingbird idea is a symbol of righteousness and presents the persecution and loss of innocence in a selfless character. Tom Robinson is vindicated by Harper Lee with the use of the mockingbird allusion. It is no coincidence that ‘Robinson’ is the name of the man who represents the developing bird motif. Tom’s ‘music’ or sympathy towards Mayella, results in an abhorrent shooting when he is prosecuted. This can be likened to killing a mockingbird, killing an innocent man is a sin. No matter the tone of a person’s skin, purity is determined by reality, not racist views. The reader learns the unfairness of the treatment of negroes and pities Tom for his defenceless stand in society, inculpable of winning the fight against a white man and a jury of white superiors. In the novel, Harper Lee uses a bird motif to strengthen and shape the idea surrounding characters like Tom Robinson and their underlying innocence. Our views are shaped into seeing the constraint of racism and the injustice that it causes in people’s lives.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, written by Harper Lee, uses language features to demonstrate key ideas around preconceived judgement, racism, and innocence. Lee uses imagery to construct a vile impression of Boo Radley, however, the ‘revealing of Boo’, shows that you cannot establish assumptions about an individual based on how they are described from their appearance. Irony is used to teach the reader about the scale of racism; it is found in every country and in every social class and this language feature shapes our opinions on our own thoughts towards others. The use of symbolism in the novel compares Tom to a mockingbird and communicated the criminal circumstance that he was a part of; Tom Robinson’s kindness was exploited and he was punished for his selflessness. All three language features used throughout the novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee, teach the reader about the impact of judgement and we learn to reflect on viewpoints with a broader outlook and open mind.