An innocent child is unaware of the realities of the world until they witness through experiences and teachings, ethics and morals. A book, in the same way, consists of characters, whose experiences, feelings and thoughts convey a subtle theme or message that is usually ethically accurate.
The theme represents the controlling idea of the book and the central purpose for which the author decided to write the novel. The theme of the book is usually what the author wants the reader to take away from the book. As a crucial element of a novel, the way in which the author generates the meaning of the book is significant.The author can express the theme effectively not only through the characters present in the novel but also through specific writing styles, the focus being form and text.
In the book, “To kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee highlights the meaning of the narrative using novel standpoint, structure and irony. Harper Lee investigates the absurd attitudes of adults towards race and status in the Deep South in the 1930s through the eyes of Scout Finch. The novel illustrates the conscience of a town that is suffused in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy, which is understood through a black man’s struggle for justice.Harper Lee mainly emphasizes the irrationality of prejudice thoughts of a town, along with other themes incorporated in the book by means of distinctive form and text.
The understanding of a novel is often dependant on who is appointed by the author to narrate the novel. The narrative standpoint, through which the author chooses to narrate the story, determines the amount and type of information that the reader will gain throughout the novel. The novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, is written in first person, so that the story is told in the point of view of Scout Finch.The interesting aspect of the narrative standpoint, used in this book, is that the beginning of the book starts of with Scout Finch, an older woman, explaining her brother’s broken arm.
“When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to [Jem’s] accident” (Lee 1). The book then proceeds to the events that lead to the incident where the majority of the story is still narrated by Scout Finch, but as a young girl. The author uses young Scout Finch to narrate the story because, as a child, Scout is new to the reactions of her towards a certain race or even a controversial subject.So, Scout narrates the story, not only addressing her feelings, but she talks about events, as she understands them when she was younger.
“Atticus had promised me he would wear me out if I ever heard of me fightin’ anymore. I was far too old and too big for such childish things, and the sooner I learned to hold in, the better off everybody would be” (Lee 99). This way there is no bias adult opinion on the subject matter. The events are retold just as they happened without any comments, allowing readers to know exactly what happened and how the people in the town were feeling.
This way the readers can more easily interpret the theme of the story because the narrator is not swaying the reader with their opinions and the characters’ behaviour is narrated without change. The older Scout Finch, on the other hand, occasionally narrates the story just to provide more information. “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 sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square” (Lee 6).
The adult Scout usually gives background information that readers are conscious and they need to know in order to get a better understanding.There is some information that young Scout may not be aware of at the time, which is narrated by older Scout. “Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor.
He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad” (Lee 373). The older Scout is more aware, and she better understands situations, during the time of her childhood, as an adult which needs to be pointed of to the reader.
The story told through the eyes of Scout Finch, as an adult and as a child, allows reader to understand the theme, the prejudice attitudes of the residents of Maycomb County. Harper Lee, along with narrative standpoint, uses a specific structure to highlight the themes of the book. A book’s structure is often used to create effect and emphasis to certain aspects of the narrative plot. In the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee uses organization of the book to convey a message.
The book is divided into two parts; each part focuses on an aspect of the story while conveying a theme.The first part is mainly an introduction to all the characters, in order for the readers to get to know the personalities of the characters. One of the character focus in part one is Boo Radley. The children, Scout, Jem and Dill, are exceptionally afraid of Boo because of his bad reputation in town, due to the rumours spreading around town about Boo.
“According to neighborhood legend, when the younger Radley boy was in his teens he became acquainted with some of the Cunninghams… and they formed the nearest thing to a gang ever seen in Maycomb.
They did little, but enough to be discussed by the town” (Lee 12).It can be observed that the town is very judgemental towards different families and misconceptions are present based on rumours. It turns out toward the end of the story that Boo Radley is not as frightening as the town had made him out to be. Harper Lee, in part one of the book, using introduction of the characters show that judgements shouldn’t be made based on a person’s past because each person deserves a second chance and everyone has a potential to change.
The second part of the book is solely surrounding the fact that Atticus, Scout’s father, is asked to defend a black man in court for raping a white girl.The event brings forth life into town as people are shocked that Atticus actually agrees to defend the black. Atticus is aware of the racism that is present in Maycomb County, and he addresses it when he defends Tom Robinson. “Which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson’s skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you.
You know the truth, the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral; some Negro men cannot be trusted around women, black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men” (Lee 273).As a man of integrity, Atticus states the truth and highlights a very important message to his irrational town in a way for the author to convey a message to readers regarding racial discrimination. The book is also structured so that the chapters are not in chronological order.
The story, as mentioned, starts off as Scout, who is an adult reflecting on Jem’s broken arm which allows the narrator to trace back to the events that contributed to the broken arm. The broken arm in the beginning links to the two parts of the story, since Bob Ewell related to the Tom Robinson’s case attacked Jem and it was Boo Radley that saved him.The actions of the two men , Bob Ewell and Boo Radley, the night of the pagent, showcases their true identity. Their actions show that the judgements that the town made about Bob Ewell, when the town decided to support him, and Boo Radley, when the town assumed his bad character, was wrong.
It is within the structure of the book that Harper Lee also uses irony to generate meaning. In actuality, irony conveys insults or scorns; however it can also convey the message in a novel.Harper Lee incorporated irony into the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” in a way to accentuate the theme of education and discrimination at the time, in Maycomb County. When Scout first enters into first grade she is told by the teacher to stop reading and writing until grade three.
“Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading” (Lee 22). It is very peculiar, especially in today’s time, to even think that a teacher would discourage her student to stop excelling or advancing in an area of expertise.It is ironic that Miss Caroline is not encouraging Scout to keep up the good work. Miss Caroline wouldn’t have discouraged Scout if she hadn’t been taught, by her instructors, that grade one students should not yet be reading and writing, according to the education system at the time.
According to the way in which Miss. Caroline was trained, the grade one students are to be taught using the Dewey Decimal System. “The Dewey Decimal System consisted, in part, of Miss Caroline waving cards at us on which were printed ‘the’, ‘cat’, ‘rat’, ‘man’ and ‘you’ (Lee, 24).When Jem first introduces the new system of teaching, the Dewey Decimal System sounds very intense and challenging but it is ironic that the system is really very simple and the students find it boring.
When Miss Caroline saw that Scout was able to read already, she probably felt that Scout was going against the state education system. This leads her to advice Scout to ask her father, Atticus to stop teaching her how to read. Since Atticus is strict on raising his children with intellectual and moral values, he is strict on education.Unintentionally, Atticus has taught his daughter to read by putting into practice, reading books and the newspaper to Scout.
Scout just picked up the skill to read at home and at church without much help. Evidently, the theme reveals that the education system and teaching at home was at conflict. In school, Scout also learns about World War II and Hitler, whose actions are seen as unethical by the teacher and the class. Cecil, a student, shares his current event about Hitler, to which the teacher explained that Hitler is able to do such things because of the different countries’ political form of government.
‘That’s the difference between America and Germany. We are democracy and Germany is a dictatorship'” (Lee 329). It is ironic that the teacher would emphasize the idea that their country is democratic. However in reality, Maycomb County gives no importance to equality, since they discriminate against black people just like Hitler discriminated against the Jews.
It is not just the town, even Miss Gates, the teacher herself, later on in the chapter is overheard to be in favour of persecuting Tom Robinson, just like Hitler persecuted the Jews. Harper Lee once again uses irony to stress the absurdity of discrimination.The theme of a novel is essential in that the book serves as a purpose for the reader, who is reading the book and the author, who is writing the book. Each element, including the form and text of the book acts as a building block that work together to communicate the theme to the reader.
The purpose of the form and text used in the novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, is used to generate meaning through, narrative standpoint, structure and irony. An author can use many techniques to express the theme. However, it is often unnoticed that the form and text of a novel also has a purpose, to reveal the theme of a book.