Evidence and explanation of the language used

Realistic language of a child of the time

How is it used?

Scout and Jem both use informal language. For example, Jem says to Dill after first meeting him, Shoot no wonder, then... Scout yonder’s been readin’ ever since she was born, and she ain’t even started to school yet. Later Scout says to Jem in reference to school, Yeah Jem, but I won’t wanta study cows...

Why is it used?

Harper Lee is ensuring her novel is as realistic as possible. She is showing that the Finch children are typical children of the time. The words shoot and yonder are typical words of the 1930s that have long since gone out of fashion. Jem uses slang when he uses ain’t instead of hasn’t and he also drops the letter g on the word reading adding further to the informality of the sentence. Similarly, Scout uses Yeah instead of the more formal Yes and wanta instead of want to.

What is its effect?

Not only does this make her novel realistic but it also reveals that Scout and Jem do not put on airs and graces when they speak. They may be considered middle class and have a father who is a lawyer but they are typical children and this is important to our understanding of their role in the novel.

Scout tries to push boundaries

How is it used?

Scout tries to test her father’s patience by swearing. When Uncle Jack visits she responds to his claim that his cat eats fingers left over from the hospital with, Aw, that’s a damn story

Why is it used?

Harper Lee is creating a convincing portrayal of childhood. Scout wants to appear to be grown up and thinks swearing is a good way of achieving this.

What is its effect?

Atticus’ response is interesting in that he does not pay too much attention to the fact that Scout has started to swear. He feels it is a phase she is going through and that if he ignores it instead of making too much of a fuss, she will soon tire of using swear words.

Use of personification

How is it used?

When Scout is describing the Radley property she says, “Rain rotten shingles drooped over the eaves of the veranda; oak trees kept the sun away. The remains of a picket drunkenly guarded the front yard...”

Why is it used?

Harper Lee is ensuring here that Scout highlights how poorly the Radley property is maintained. This makes it clear that the house is uncared for and that the residents are unusual compared to others in the neighbourhood in that they do not take pride in their front garden.

What is its effect?

The use of the words drooped and drunkenly highlight the way in which the house has been neglected. The use of personification here reflects the way Boo Radley has been neglected by his own family.

Descriptive language used during Bob Ewell’s attack

How is it used?

Harper Lee uses vivid language in this episode to create tension for the reader. From somewhere near by came scuffling, kicking sounds, sounds of shoes and flesh scraping dirt and roots.

Why is it used?

It is a dark night and there is very little light. Scout’s confusion adds to the confusion of the reader as it is very difficult to know what is going on and who is being attacked. This helps to heighten the tension in the scene.

What is its effect?

As well as heightening the tension this incident gives the reader an insight into the cowardly nature of Bob Ewell. The fact that he is willing to attack vulnerable children who are on their own at night shows us that he is a weak man.