Harper Lee’s style in To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s style in To Kill a Mockingbird might be characterized as down-home. Her diction, while reflective of the time and place rides a crucial line between sophisticated and colloquial speech that would be representative of Scout’s intellect and surroundings. She further deftly weaves numerous anecdotes together to show, as opposed to tell, the reader about the setting and characters. In this way it seems that the narrative blooms petal by petal until the story is told in full.
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with a frosting of sweat and sweet talcum.” (5).
Here Lee could have simply said that the heat and the humidity were unbearable before the advent of air conditioning. Instead she paints and a sort to of map of the buildings and people of the town that, given this rural landscape and agrarian, must include a description of its livestock. Images like the sagging courthouse and suffering mules show us that extent to which people and animals were subjected to heat and humidity in the summer months.
Lee is further careful to note the level of education that Scout has attained so that we readers can trust her as she guides us through the story. “Jem and I were accustomed to our father’s last-will-and-testament diction, and we were at times free to interrupt Atticus for translation when it was beyond our understanding.” (31). Here, again, rather than tell readers what Scout can understand, Lee creates this elaborate description that is at least two-fold in purpose. Not only is Scout able to understand the legalese ofher father’s profession, but she thinks on this dialogue with fondness. These are the words of her childhood. This is home.

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