In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Harper Lee's use of language affect and influence the reader?   

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Harper Lee's use of language in the novel is varied in style and masterful in achieving her various literary purposes. Descriptive passages are rich in imagery and sensory language; narrative passages are direct in relating events. Moreover, dialog is frequently written in vernacular style to reflect the characters' identities--listening to Atticus speak is far different from listening to Bob Ewell's voice, not only in content but in diction. The language Atticus uses reflects his intelligence and education; Bob Ewell's language reveals his ignorance. Also, the voice of Alabama is heard in many Southern expressions and colloquialisms.  In using language so skillfully, Harper Lee tells a gripping story, creates individual characters, and captures life in Maycomb. The language of the novel serves to develop many of the local color elements in it.

Through the primary voice in the novel, Scout's, Harper Lee creates the dramatic irony that drives the novel. Through Scout's eyes, and in her own language, events unfold for readers to understand and interpret from their adult perspectives. Frequently, this creates humor in the novel; often it creates drama. Harper Lee's ideas of social equality and justice are expressed through Atticus's integrity and through his children's growing awareness and ultimate understanding of decency and moral behavior. From her perspective, the South at this time was a place of racism and cruel injustice, weighed down by generations of tradition and social class. However, she also shows it to be a place where courage and individual conscience live and where change will occur as parents like Atticus teach their values to their children.

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