In To Kill a Mockingbird, what techniques does Harper Lee used to portray society in the following passage: There’s four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and...

In To Kill a Mockingbird, what techniques does Harper Lee used to portray society in the following passage:

There’s four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kinds like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes.

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

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In Chapter 23 of To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the techniques author Harper Lee uses in Jem's speech to Scout about the different "kinds of folks in the world" is parallelism to emphasize the fact that society has sadly viewed the world through class distinctions all throughout history.

Parallelism happens when an author creates sentences containing similarities in grammar and length. There are many different types of parallelism, including one we call tricolon parallelism. The root word tri- means three, so tricolon parallelism happens when we simply have three parallel structures. We can see Lee's three parallel structures in the following:

(1) There's the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors,
(2) ... there's the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods,
(3) ... there's the kind like the Ewells down at the dump ...

All three of these clauses begin with the phrase "there's the kind like"; all three also end with references to people, often a name, and a location. Since all three begin and end with the same things, we see that all three of these lines are perfectly parallel and create a perfect example of tricolon parallelism.

What's also interesting about this parallel structure is organization. Jem moves from their own neighborhood to the woods and finally to the dump to show his understanding that people become more and more dehumanized the farther he moves in his argument, reflecting an understanding and prejudice that has sadly been influenced by society around him. He and his neighbors, being middle class or even upper-middle class in the context of Maycomb, are the most educated and therefore the most human; the people who live out in the woods, while they might be decent, are less educated and therefore less human; those who live in the dump are the least educated of all and therefore the least human of all.

What's also interesting in this speech is exactly where Lee decided to end the parallelism. Lee's final phrase, "and the Negroes," isn't parallel at all with the previous clauses. Jem's lack of parallelism in his final argument serves to make the Negroes stand out from the rest of his breakdown of society, which is similar to saying that the Negroes are not part of society at all. So, while those who live in the dump are the least educated and therefore the least human of all, Jem, due to prejudicial influences, does not equate the Negroes at all with part of humanity.

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