In To Kill a Mockingbird, how and in what parts of the text are color, smell, texture and/or sound used to indicate significant relationships or associations with particular characters? What might...

In To Kill a Mockingbird, how and in what parts of the text are color, smell, texture and/or sound used to indicate significant relationships or associations with particular characters? What might these colors/senses indicate?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Authors use sensory details to create a vivid impression for their readers.   Two of the most powerful senses are colors and smells.  In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee makes masterful use of this device as a tool of characterization.  One of the best examples is with Scout’s teacher, Miss Caroline.

She had bright auburn hair, pink cheeks, and wore crimson fingernail polish. She also wore high-heeled pumps and a red-and-white-striped dress. She looked and smelled like a peppermint drop. (Ch. 2)

The overwhelming red-ness of the character emphasizes her newness.  She is completely in over her head, and overwhelmed.  There is something very childlike in this description, and in just a few lines Lee has completely captured that for the reader.

Another character we are introduced to through the sense of smell is Uncle Jack, who is “like a bottle of alcohol and something pleasantly sweet” (Ch. 9).  This captures Jack, who is a little rough around the edges but has a good heart.  Scout likes to smell him, and crawls into his lap. 

Finally, we are introduced to smell in another important place—Calpurnia’s church.

The warm bittersweet smell of clean Negro welcomed us as we entered the churchyard- Hearts of Love hairdressing mingled with asafoetida, snuff, Hoyt's Cologne, Brown's Mule, peppermint, and lilac talcum. (Ch. 12)

This introduction creates a vivid sense of setting.  We feel as if we are there.  This is reinforced by the detailed description of the church itself, outside and in, including the graveyard with graves marked with “brightly colored glass and broken Coca-Cola bottles” (Ch. 12)—another brilliant use of color.  These subtle and masterful hints bring us into Calpurnia’s Maycomb, an important way to tell the story that is also Tom Robinson’s.  The worshippers are described as “brightly clad” (except Reverend Sykes in black), but the church is unpainted inside a “faded pink silk banner proclaimed God Is Love” behind a "rough oak pulpit" (Ch. 12).  There are no hymn books, but it doesn’t matter anyway.  Only a handful of the people in the congregation can read.  Lee paints a picture of a people who care, but who have very little.  She does it, in part, through sensory details of color and smell.

Authors use other sensory details to tell their stories.  Lee uses sound, and even references it in the title.  When the children first meet Dill, they hear him before they see him!  Texture includes things that are felt, such as whether a surface is smooth or rough, like the pulpit.  All of these help the reader experience the setting and characters as if he or she is there, and get to know them.

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