‘…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.’
As a reader, you know that the heat in Maycomb probably hasn’t changed much between when Scout was a kid and when she’s telling the story as an adult. This reference, however, helps to emphasize just how truly sweltering it was. Scout shares that the collars of men’s shirts were no longer stiff by 9 AM. The average workday starts at about 8 AM, meaning the starched and ironed shirts were a mess within an hour. This is certainly an example of exaggerated speech!
Scout continues to describe Maycomb with another hyperbole:
‘People moved slowly then… A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.’
It doesn’t matter where you are on the planet, a day is always 24 hours long. Describing a day in Maycomb as longer than that highlights just how slow and boring daily life was. Scout also emphasizes this point by stating that there was ‘nowhere to go’, ‘nothing to buy’, and ‘nothing to see.’ Use of the word ‘nothing’ is a good clue that this is hyperbole. The word ‘nothing’ is very extreme. Certainly there had to be something to see or do outside of Maycomb.
Looking at Dill’s name typed out, you know that it’s really not more than two inches long. Jem’s hyperbolic comparison of Dill’s height to the length of his name emphasizes how teeny tiny Dill really is.
Clearly the molasses buckets were not pulled from thin air. They probably came from beneath the students’ desks. Describing their appearance as having come from ‘nowhere’ highlights how quickly the lunches popped up on desks.
Scout has a bit of a run-in with her teacher, Miss Caroline. Expressing her frustrations, Miss Caroline says to her in front of the class, ‘Jean Louise, I’ve had about enough of you this morning…You’re starting off on the wrong foot in every way, my dear.’
For Scout to start off on the wrong foot in ‘every way’ would mean that she’d have to do absolutely everything wrong. Readers know that Scout and Miss Caroline really only had a few misunderstandings. As the ruckus in Miss Caroline’s room mounts, a neighboring teacher pops her head into the room and yells, ‘If I hear another sound from this room I’ll burn up everybody in it. Miss Caroline, the sixth grade cannot concentrate on the pyramids for all this racket!’
As a student, you know that a teacher would never ‘burn up’ all of the students. This use of language is meant to emphasize just how angry the teacher really is.
Later in the chapter, Scout provides background about her town. In her description, she states: ”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…flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square…Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” In this excerpt, multiple alliterations are used. Since the entire novel takes place in this town, it is especially important for the reader to remember these aspects.
In Chapter 9, alliteration can be seen when Scout is describing her father Atticus’ childhood home. Scout describes that close to the house ”a two-rut road ran from the riverside and vanished among the dark trees.” She also describes: ”A widow’s walk was on the roof, but no widows walked there….” This place is significant to the Finch family because being raised here helped place them in the upper levels of society, so again, the author needs the reader to take note.
The rest of Part Two centers around the trial of a black man named Tom Robinson. At this trial, Scout is introduced to one of the poorest white families in town–the Ewell’s. Before Bob Ewell takes the stand, the author describes his home and surroundings. ”Maycomb’s Ewell’s lived behind the town garbage dump…. The cabin’s plank walls were supplemented with sheets of corrugated iron, its roof shingled with tin cans hammered flat, so only its general shape suggested its original design: square, with four tiny rooms opening onto a shotgun hall, the cabin rested uneasily upon four irregular lumps of limestone.” Knowing the Ewell’s living situation is critically important to the novel and, again, the author needs the reader to notice.
”The tree branches blew in the wind” or ”’The tree danced with the storm”?
While both sentences describe what the tree is doing, the second sentence paints a picture of the tree moving in the wind and is more likely to be remembered. Why is this? It uses personification.
Personification is an example of figurative language where human characteristics are given to non-human objects. The tree in the example above cannot literally dance with the storm but we can imagine the movement of the branches in the wind.
In chapter 1, Scout tells the reader about the mysterious Boo Radley. He got into trouble when he was younger and was put in jail. His father vowed to take care of him, and he was sent home. After that, he was taken home and rarely seen again. According to the town, ” From the day Mr. Radley took Arthur home, people say the house died.” Obviously a house cannot really die, but the Radley’s stopped taking care of it, making it seem old.
In Chapter 9, Boo makes a secret appearance when a neighbor’s house catches fire. Lee uses personification, along with other figurative language, to describe the fire. Scout relays, ”The fire was well into the second floor and had eaten its way to the roof: window frames were black against a vivid orange center.” Lee allows the reader to imagine how powerful this fire really is, by giving it the human-like quality of eating the house.
Another important instance of personification is at the end of Part One in Chapter 11. In this chapter, the focus is on the major theme of courage. Scout and Jem’s father, Atticus, spends much of the novel trying to instill this virtue in his children. At the end of this chapter, a neighbor named Mrs. Dobose dies. Atticus reveals that she was a morphine addict, but died free of her addiction.
At the end of the chapter, Atticus and Jem are discussing the circumstances of a neighbor’s death and Atticus states, ”I wanted you to see something about her…I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand…” This example of personification shows courage to be more than just a word; it gives it life and importance.