“The only enemy of innocence and beauty is time,” Irish poet William Butler Yeats once asserted. In To Kill a Mockingbird, a bildungsroman novel by Harper Lee, a young girl named Scout delves into the world around her and familiarizes herself with her town’s unspoken rules through her father and her own experiences throughout the story. As she matures over time, her innocence fades away into the awareness that injustice, especially in the form of discrimination, is all around her.
Harper Lee utilizes dialogue, juxtaposition, metaphors, and symbolism to convey her contempt and disapproval of the unspoken rule in Scout’s town that black people are inferior to white people.
By using symbolism and metaphors to represent them, Lee effectively contrasts different characters in the story. While visiting his African American client, Tom Robinson, Atticus, Scout’s father, reads a newspaper under “the light [of a] bare bulb” (Lee 201). Atticus decides to keep vigil at Robinson’s jail cell as he anticipates that a lynch mob will come to harm his client.
He strongly believes Robinson’s life is valuable, as any other townspeople are, and decides that a sleepless night is worth saving his life. As a result, the light bulb that illuminates the jail cell’s pitch-black surroundings symbolizes Atticus and his goal of shielding Robinson from others that wish to hurt him. He watches over Robinson and ensures his safety, although he knows his own life could be on the line. The newspaper he reads is a symbol of knowledge and education, which indicates that Atticus is a sagacious person.
Both of these symbols characterize Atticus as an admirable and unprejudiced character. Later, the lynch mob arrives, and their “shadows become substance” as they come under the light (202). Lee compares the lynch mob to a group of shadows, which associates them with evil and malevolence. Although Robinson did not mistreat them in any way, they are after him simply because he is falsely accused of a crime. The lynch mob is the darkness that yearns to harm Robinson, while Atticus is the light that protects him. By differentiating Atticus and the lynch mob, Lee reveals that she supports those who value all lives and are open-minded, willing to accept and defend anyone no matter their skin color.
Another indication of Lee’s disdain for racism is through her characters’ dialogue, which distinguishes them from each other. The words the characters utter play an important role in their characterization. During his testimony, Bob Ewell is revealed as one who is disrespectful and vulgar, especially when he suddenly “stood up and pointed his finger at Tom Robinson” and continued to accuse Tom Robinson of taking advantage of his daughter while using vulgar language (Lee 231). Without any warning of profanity, Ewell launches in a bdelygmia, which suggests he is an uncouth person. He does not take into consideration that he is testifying in a courtroom, in which profanity does not belong, and there are women and children inside. On the other Robinson is cautious and thoughtful during his testimony, as reflected by his actions. For example, while warning the audience of strong language, “[he] swallowed” and “his eyes widened” before he said “ (Lee 260). Robinson is considerate of the people around him and fears that they may be uncomfortable when they hear vulgar language. Compared to Ewell, who is depicted as a spiteful racist, Robinson is displayed as a kindhearted character who is mindful and compassionate. Through their speech, Lee points out that although Ewell is white, it does not make him superior to Robinson, who is African American. In other words, Lee argues that prejudice only blinds and veils.
Lastly, the author employs juxtaposition to compare the Ewells’ and the African Americans’ abodes. The Ewell’s land is depicted as “the playhouse of an insane child,” with an enclosure that “passed for a fence” around “a dirty yard” (Lee 228). The Ewells’ home is barely even home. By comparing it to a playhouse, the author establishes an image of a repulsive plot of land with junk strews all over the place. Furthermore, she mentions that the structures, such as the fence, are not well-built, which emphasizes the poor conditions the Ewells live in. In contrast, the colored folk’s “cabins [look] neat and snug” with “ delicious smells about” (Lee 229). The African Americans’ picturesque cabins and the delightful aromas fabricate a friendly atmosphere. Lee uses concrete diction to show that the African Americans’ homes are much more pleasant and cozy than the Ewells. Although they are white, the Ewells’ property is less welcoming. Lee reveals that race has no correlation
With comparisons between different people in the story through dialogue, juxtaposition, metaphors, and symbolism, Lee scrutinizes the unwritten rule that white folk has a higher rank as opposed to colored folk. She criticizes the unreasonable prejudice the town displays through the point of view of the young girl named Scout who unearths the ugly truth of racism in her town. Through her profound story, Lee argues that there is only one race – the human race.