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Irony in to Kill a Mockingbird Essay

Irony:

A rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is an incongruity between the literal and the implied meaning.

Example:

“’We are a democracy and Germany is a dictatorship… Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced’” (329). Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird.

Context:

In To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, during class, little Cecil Jacobs gives his current event about Adolf Hitler to the class. Miss Gates, the teacher, takes this opportunity to teach the children a lesson about how wrong prosecuting the Jews was and how she “hate Hitler so bad” (331). Scout later finds this misleading because at the courthouse, she overheard Miss Gates telling Miss Stephanie “’it’s time somebody taught [black people] a lesson, they were getting’ way above themselves’” (331).

Concept:

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee utilizes irony to emphasize the connection between the issue of racism in Maycomb to Hitler’s intolerance for Jews. Lee applies the reference to Adolf Hitler as a representation of the discrimination in Maycomb. During a lesson, Miss Gates expresses her belief of how it was horribly erroneous Hitler’s injustice to the Jews was. Although she believes “‘[in Maycomb], we don’t believe in persecuting anybody’,” she is oblivious to the prejudice she is against because it was fairly distinct in the aftermath of Tom Robinson’s trial, that the town, in fact, does commit the act of aversion towards black people (329).

Scout recalls Miss Gates telling Miss Stephanie in the courthouse after Tom Robinson’s trial, that “it’s time somebody taught [the black people] a lesson’” (331). Miss Gates contradicts herself by teaching the children a lesson about the detestable acts of persecution while she hypocritically judges the blacks harshly right in Maycomb. She herself is mirroring the actions of Hitler, persecuting the black people in her own town when she herself says that the people of Maycomb “don’t believe in persecuting anybody” (329). It is ironic because Miss Gates has these views on Hitler whereas her actions are comparable to Hitler’s.

Connection:

In To Kill A Mockingbird, the above example links to the characterization of the Maycomb townspeople. Their hostility reveals a darker, more lurid side to the seemingly peaceful town. The biased townspeople are very discriminating to the black people. Their hateful ways show ignorance and how they rule the community’s concept of what democracy means. When Atticus says that Tom Robinson’s case “is as simple as black and white,” he literally means it is that simple. The white people easily side with Bob Ewell’s story rather than with the truth just because it is a black man’s words. This displays their prejudice and animosity against black people.


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