In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does an author use rhetoric to communicate the theme and/or purpose?

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rhetoric is the art of speaking or writing effectively.  In a literature class, when we analyze rhetoric, we are essentially asking, "What techniques does the speaker or author use to effectively communicate his or her main point?"

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee uses several rhetorical devices to show the prejudice of a small southern town, and therefore reveal the general prejudices which existed in such towns in the south historically.  One of her best rhetorical techniques is the use of humor through her first person narrator, the seven year old Scout.  By telling a very serious story through the eyes and memory of a young girl, Lee is able to show--through a sense of childlike simplicity and straightforward honesty--a ridiculous and hypocritical society who tended to ignorantly despise anyone or anything which was different from the "norm."

In many ways, the humor comes across as Scout retells stories using adult language, without understanding what she is saying.  In describing the snow day, and Miss Maudie's reaction to their snowman Scout recalls:

The only phrase of which I caught was, "erected an absolute morphodite in that yard!" (68)

In other ways, the humor lies in the fact that as such a young child, Scout is much more advanced than her age and size would suggest.  She is beyond her years in intelligence and maturity, which often makes the adults around her look more like children.  The scene of her first day at school is a perfect example of this.

Harper Lee's use of a child's voice in a book about very adult topics allows her to present a very real historical instance of prejudice in our country.  Through her ironic rhetoric, she not only pokes fun at this time, but shames it in a very clever and intelligent way.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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