Hyperbole, Alliteration, and Personification in To Kill a Mockingbird Flashcard Example #40029

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The Town of Maycomb
Lee’s earliest use of hyperbole occurs when she describes the sleepy town of Maycomb through the eyes of Jean Louise Finch, also known as Scout Finch, the narrator. Here, the adult Scout describes the summer heat of her childhood:

‘…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.

Hyperbole? -;
A hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that authors use to emphasize a point or create humor in their writing. Harper Lee uses hyperbole throughout To Kill a Mockingbird to describe different aspects of the novel. Scout describes life in Maycomb as feeling like there were more than 24 hours in a day. Life in the sleepy town was so dull that there is ‘nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see…’ Dill Harris is portrayed as so tiny that the length of his name is at least a foot taller than he is. Hyperbole is also used to describe Scout’s first day of school. Lee describes the students’ lunches as appearing from ‘nowhere.’ Meanwhile, Miss Caroline tells Scout that she’s started off on the ‘wrong foot in every way.’ Use of hyperbole throughout the novel adds to both the reader’s understanding and enjoyment.
Charles Baker ‘Dill’ Harris
When Scout and Jem Finch first meet their neighbor’s nephew, they’re quite taken aback by his small stature. The boy introduces himself as Charles Baker Harris and informs them that he is in fact seven years old. Jem’s first impression of him is that he couldn’t have been much older than four. He says to Dill, ‘Your name’s longer’n you are. Bet it’s a foot longer.’

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.

Scout’s First Day of School
Harper Lee uses hyperboles several times to describe Scout’s first day of school. At the start of lunch, Miss Caroline instructs students to pull out their lunches: ‘Molasses buckets appeared from nowhere, and the ceiling danced with metallic light.’

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.

Alliteration? -> (P1)
In the beginning of Chapter 1, Scout Finch, one of the main characters and the narrator of the book, describes her family background. She states: ”Being Southerners, it was a source of shame to some members of the family that we had no recorded ancestors on either side of the Battle of Hastings.” The repetition used here helps the reader take note and remember these aspects about the Finch family.

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.

Alliteration? -> (P2)
In Part Two, Scout goes to church with her family’s black housekeeper Calpurnia. This trip introduces Scout to a social group that is starkly different from her own. In describing the church, Scout says: ”The churchyard was brick-hard clay, as was the cemetery beside it. If someone died during a dry spell, the body was covered with chunks of ice until rain softened the earth.” She continues describing the inside of the church: ”Along its walls unlighted kerosene lamps hung on brass brackets; pine benches served as pews.” Alliteration is useful in this description, because it helps the reader slow down and take notice of the stark difference between Scout’s white society and the black one she is now experiencing.

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.

Personification? -;
Which sentence are you most likely to remember:

”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.

Personification in To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930s amid the Great Depression and tells the coming of age story of Jean Louise ”Scout” Finch and her brother Jem living in the racially divided South.
Examples in the Novel
Lee uses personification within the first few pages of the book. When describing the town of Maycomb, Scout, the narrator, states, ” Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.” During this time, many people struggled greatly due to the Great Depression; they worked hard and were tired. Giving the town the human-like characteristic of being ”tired” reflects the human condition of the town.

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.

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