What are examples of indirect and direct characterizations of Scout Finch in 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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An author creates indirect characterization when, instead of telling the reader exactly what the character is like, the author implies or shows what the character is like. An author can show a reader what a character is like through the character's actions, dialogue between other characters, or even through the character's thoughts. In To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee definitely uses far more indirect characterization to inform her readers of what Scout is like rather than direct characterization.

We see the first example of indirect characterization of Scout in the very first chapter. Here, grown-up Scout is narrating for us what her childhood was like. At one point in the chapter, she particularly describes in detail what Calpurnia, the Finch family cook, was like. Though she uses direct characterization to describe Calpurnia, she uses indirect characterization to describe herself when she describes Calpurnia's attitude toward her when she was a child. Specifically, Scout describes that Calpurnia was always shooing Scout out of the kitchen and asking, as Scout phrases it, "why I couldn't behave as well as Jem when she knew he was older." She further relays that Calpurnia was always ordering her home when she didn't yet want to come home, and their "battles were epic and one-sided."

Through these indirect descriptions, we actually learn a great deal about Scout. First, we learn that Scout was very stubborn as a child, and her stubbornness was, in part, due to still being very young. We also learn that Scout was very opinionated and even argumentative as a child. Scout is definitely not as mild-mannered as her older brother Jem.

In contrast to indirect characterization, an author creates direct characterization by coming right out and describing to the reader exactly what the character is like. The Literary Devices dictionary provides us the following example of direct characterization:

Bill was short and fat, and his bald spot was widening with every passing year. ("Characterization")

Though direct characterization is seldom used in describing Scout, we can keep in mind that even clothing descriptions count as characterization because what a character wears can say a great deal about the character. We see Scout as the adult narrator using direct characterization to describe herself when towards the end of the novel, in Chapter 27, Scout describes the ham costume she has been assigned to wear for the first-ever Maycomb Halloween pageant.

Scout describes that Mrs. Crenshaw, "the local seamstress," bent chicken wire into the shape of a ham and covered it with painted brown cloth. But, one of the the most amusing descriptions is found when Scout as the narrator relays, "Jem said I looked exactly like a ham with legs."

The description of Scout's costume is actually very revealing and closely ties in with things we already know about Scout. The term ham has become an idiom to describe someone who acts up and is comical in their overacting. Throughout the book, we have certainly seen Scout act as a ham.

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