Question about writing from the perspective of Helen (Tom Robinson's wife)? TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD I'm not asking for anyone to write anything for me-I've already written it but I've got a bit of a...

Question about writing from the perspective of Helen (Tom Robinson's wife)? TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

I'm not asking for anyone to write anything for me-I've already written it but I've got a bit of a problem. I've wrote out a eulogy from Helen Robinson to Atticus Finch and I've got to say-pretty happy with it. The problem is that -well, this is hard to explain and I may explain it wrong but hear me out- I've read both the book and watched the move of-to kill a mockingbird and the characters Calpurnia, Helen and Tom all speak differently. I'm not sure if there is a word for it but let me show you what I mean:

For example-instead of saying "she didn’t seem to help her at all" Tom robinson would say "she didn’t seem to help her none" 

And they also use the following

  • nothin’
  • naw (in substitute for no)
  • lemme (let me)
  • outa (out of)
  • wanta (want to)
  • fittin’
  • mighta
  • yonder
  • ‘em (them)

To make this eulogy truly believable and to achieve a good mark I know I have to portray the character correctly and if I use 'big words' that clearly wouldn't be in Helen's vocabulary, it would not be believable. 

I need some help with this dialogue and its wording. (All answers appreciated)

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Helen Robinson's perspective would be rather narrow and inner-directed. She would probably not perceive anything as greater than the surroundings in which she lives. So, any blame that she places upon people would be limited to Maycomb County.

In the Deep South, especially during the 1930's before Americans became mobile and relocated to new geographical areas, there were distinct dialects spoken by whites and by the African-Americans (more variance in places like New Orleans, of course). The less educated a person was, the more he/she deviated from Standard English, (and dropped letters from words in speech) as is true yet today.
In addition, "Southern English" also employs more archaic English words since most of the migration to the South occurred in the late 18th and early 19th century, and there was little influence from other nationalities or newer immigrants since most European immigrants stayed in the Industrial North. (As Scout mentions, the people in Maycomb County began to resemble one another.) 

Now, if you are seeking examples of the dialect that Helen Robinson would speak in, you may want to look at novels such as Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Miss Hurston, an African American, was also an anthropologist, as well; so, she is an accurate source. Also, look for novels by Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon, Beloved, The Bluest Eyes, etc.) and stories by Toni Cade Bambara("Blues Ain't No Mockin Bird"). These authors write in dialect.

Perhaps, too, you can imitate some of Tom Robinson's words in the narrative. In Chapter 19, for example:

"No suh, I works in his yard fall an' wintertime....he's got a lot of pecan trees'n things."
"No, suh, none's I know of."
"....I didn't have nothin' but this hoe,...No ma'am, there ain't no charge.
"I say where the chillun? [the verb is left out] an' she says they to  all gone t'town...."

Here are few general "traits" of the dialect you want [offered by a person who has lived in Alabama for decades]:

  • -ing is pronounced in'  [somethin'], but many African-Americans of Helen's time would say som'fin with=wif  kilt for killed chill'uns for children
  • was is always used regardless if the subject is plural --- "We was" "They was"  wasn't - warn't
  • ain't works for I am not, you are not, he is not, etc. It also can mean have or did ---I ain't done it. He ain't had that.
  • archaic words are used   reckon, fetch,  aggravate for irritate   carry= to take someone somewhere   fell out = fainted
  • Double negatives are used        I ain't got none    He never had none.

For more assistance, see the following website that has tips on speaking with a Southern pronunciation:

(This has "How to speak Sutherin')

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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