“To kill a mockingbird,” is an award winning novel written by Harper Lee.
Harper Lee uses creative and effective language when describing Maycomb society, that is, the people and the place of Maycomb. The place shapes the people and the people live in a “small-town” community. The people are a mainly friendly community and hold high values, such as values of the family. However, most of the people tend to be judgemental and intolerant, excluding other people from the community, such as snobby, unfriendly families, poor people and the black community. They also tend to categorise each other on the basis of social status. The children in Maycomb reflect the Maycomb society to a large extent and the language used to describe them also helps us to figures of speech (such as similes), imagery and devisces of sound (such as repetition) to help us see and know the characters of Maycomb better.
The author described Maycomb as “an old town, but a tired, old town.” The personification of the town as a tired, old person and the repetition of ‘old town’ reinforces the image of people and things moving very slowly in the town and that the buildings of the town are old. It is also said that “in rainy weather, the streets turned to red slop”, giving an impression that the town us small and not developed like a city. The town is described as very hot, where “ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweet and sweet talcum.” The simile that the “ladies were like soft tea-ckaes with frostings.” helps the reader see how hot Maycomb can be and the routine of some of the women as they responded t o the town’s conditions by bathing often.
Most of the people in Maycomb know each other very well since Maycomb is a small town. They are very friendly. The author described the closed shutters and doors of the Radley house as “alien to Maycomb’s ways: closed doors meant illness and cold weather only”. The word “alien” shows a sharp contrast between the Radley’s unfriendliness and the rest of the community’s warmth.
Most people in Maycomb hold high values, such as values of the family. Scout’s family is one of the stable families in Maycomb. The children, Scout and Jem are allowed to act as children, playing outdoors. Scout’s experiences of getting into trouble with Calpurnia, their cook, are shown in the author’s use of simile “ her (Calpurnia’s) hand was as wide as a bed slate and twice as hard.” This helps the reader to imagine Scout’s naughtiness and feel her pain and indignation at being spanked.
However, the community has some unloving families, such as the Radley family. “From the day Mr Radley took Arthur home (from the court), people said the house died.” The house is representative of the family and the personification that the “house died” meant that there was no longer love or happiness in the Radley family.
Many people in the community treated the Radley family as social outcasts rejecting and excluding them because of their snobbishness, unfriendliness and harshness. Many people made rumours about Arthur Radley, which shows that a large part of Maycomb society was ignorant and cruel. Miss Stephanie Crawford said that “she woke up in the middle of the night one time and say him (Boo Radley) looking straight through the window at her … said his head was like a skull lookin’ at her.” The simile that Arthur Radley’s face was like a skull makes the image of him very scary and threatening. Miss Stephanie is an adult but was treating Arthur, who is younger and more vulnerable than her, as a non-hunan and a reject from society.
Many people in Maycomb are judgemental and intolerant. Maycomb society is also racist, rejecting the black community and allowing them to work in only a few jobs such as being servants. Calpurnia is black and when she said that Mr Radley was the meanest man and spat in the yard, Scout and Jem looked at her in surprise, “for Calpurnia rarely commented on the ways of white people.” Although Scout’s family is not racist, this statement shows the general conditions and way of life which the black community have to be subservient and non-critical towards the white people.
The Ewells are also treated as social outcasts. They “are people but lived like animals” The simile that “they lived like animals” makes us see very clearly that they have very low living conditions and do not have much human dignity or respect for each other or for other people. They are “the disgrace of Maycomb” and the rest of the community is very critical of them.
Many people in Maycomb tend to be very aware of their differences and to categorise each other. The Cunninghams are poor and hard-working. They are described as “the Cunningham tribe”; The word tribe suggests that they are less advanced and poorer than the rest of the community.l
The children in Maycomb reflect the rest of Maycomb society to a large extent. They are very aware of the history of the American civil war and that they were on the side of the Southern states. When Miss Caroline Fisher said that she was from North Alabama which was part of the Northern States, “the class murmured apprehensively, should she harbour her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region” The word “harbour” suggests that Maycomb people see people from the Northern States as holding negative features and the words “peculiarities indigenous” suggest that the Maycomb people view people from the Northen States as strange and less advanced.
However, the children also have good qualities, which reflect some of the good parts of Maycomb society. When Burris Ewell made Miss Caroline cry, the rest of the class tried to comfort her by saying such things as “now don’t you fret, ma’am. Miss Caroline, why don’t you read us a story? That cat thing was real fine this mornin’…” The phrase “that cat thing” shows that the children view the story of the cat which Miss Caroline read in the morning as something strange, but they wanted to make her happy by asking her to read another story.
Harper Lee uses language creatively and effectively to help us see and know the people and place of Maycomb better. From her use of various figures of speech, imagery and devices of sound, we find that Maycomb is a small town, and it’s people live in a “small-town” community. Most of the Maycomb community is friendly but most of the people are also judgemental and intolerant, excluding other pople such as snobby, unfriendly families, poor people and the black community. They also tend to categorise each other on the basis of social status. The children of Maycomb reflect the rest of the Maycomb community to a large extent, and the language used to describe them also helps us to understand Maycomb society.