How does Scout's point of view create irony and, as a result, humor in chapters 4 through 9 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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By using Scout's point of view to tell the narrative throughout To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee creates both verbal and situational irony, which creates both humor and suspense.

Verbal irony occurs when a speaker uses words that literally mean one thing to say the exact opposite of what's being said. Scout frequently uses verbal irony in her narrations in order to use her adult voice to describe her feelings as a child, which often creates humor. In the beginning of Chapter 4, Scout notes that her first school year is almost over and reflects back on the year, saying, "The remainder of my schooldays were no more auspicious than the first." The word auspicious can be interpreted to literally mean "prosperous" or "favorable"; however, Scout's first day of school was anything but prosperous and favorable (Random House Dictionary). On her first day of school, her teacher, Miss Caroline, had told her to stop reading since her father, who hadn't ever taught her to read, was, according to Miss Caroline, teaching her wrong. In short, Scout ended her first day of school feeling like she was being robbed of her education and continued to feel the same way up to the last day of her first school year. Therefore, as we can see, Scout uses verbal irony to express her feelings by stating the exact opposite of what she feels. This coupled with her further description of the Maycomb County educational system helps create humor.

Situational irony is developed when an audience or reader is led to believe a certain outcome will occur as a result of a situation when the exact opposite outcome actually occurs instead. Situational irony is created through Scout's narration of the rumors and myths surrounding her neighbor Arthur (Boo) Radley. Throughout the early chapters of the book, the reader is sucked into the children's emotional hype concerning their neighbor and are willing to believe Arthur is just as crazy and as much of a threat as the children believe him to be. Scout helps create the reader's perception of Arthur through her narrative descriptions of her running past the Radleys' house on her way home from school, of being afraid to be in the Radleys' yard when Jem rolls her in the tire into the yard, and of Jem saying such things as, "Don't you know you're not supposed to even touch the trees [on the Radleys' lot]? You'll get killed if you do!" (Ch. 4) Rather than creating humor, Scout's narrative descriptions building situational irony create suspense. However, as the action continues to unfold in the story, the reader begins to see that the outcome concerning Arthur Radley is neither what the children nor the reader has been led to expect.

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