Research paper on To Kill a Mockingbird: elements such as irony, symbols , characterization and point of view.  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just to clarify, from the question as it is written above, it seems that the purpose of the assignment is more one of analysis, than that of research. For, an analysis paper will examine the use of literary devices such as irony, symbols, characterization, and point of view; on the other hand, a research paper, or library paper as it has been called, contains facts and examples gathered through research. Now, if the student has been assigned to find examples of the analyzes of others on To Kill a Mockingbird, this research can be conducted by consulting such references as Contemporary Literature Criticism, which has a wealth of essays on a myriad of literary works which certainly include To Kill a Mockingbird.

Assuming the position that the student is to take is an analytical approach to the literary elements as provided above, here is some information that should be of assistance:

Much of the merit of Harper Lee's initial novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, is in its superb characterization, its delightful perspectives through the eyes and heart of a young girl with the use of first person narrator, and the clever and tactical use of irony and symbols.

  • Characterization

Much of the verisimilitude of the characters is that they are based upon real people. The anachronistic father, Atticus Finch, a man of liberal beliefs in the Jim Crow South of the 1930s, is skillfully crafted so that, while some of his ideas are outrageous for his time and place, he is yet so convincingly human that even the staunchest believer in the separation of races, Mr. Underwood, feels genuine sympathy for the victimized Tom Robinson, who fatally dismissed his conditioning to mistrust white people and helped Mayella out of Christian charity.

Other characters are more or less rounded, or realistic, such as Calpurnia, because there has been many a maid in the South who has been much like a mother and a friend to the children she serves; Aunt Alexandra, a stereotypical Southern lady; Mrs. Dubose, also a typical Southern aristocrat, who is critical of others; the Old Sarum bunch; Mr. Cunningham, proud though poor; and the degenerate Bob Ewell and his children, who also are stereotypes of "white trash."

Characters such as Aunt Alexandra, a stereotypical Southern lady, and Mrs. Dubose, also a typical Southern aristocrat who is critical of others, are round characters because they change; on the other hand, the Old Sarum bunch of red-neck ruffians, the degenerate Bob Ewell and his children, and the Fundamentalist woman on the wagon who calls out to Miss Mattie, are stock characters or stereotypes.

Some characters are foils of others; that is, they exhibit traits that are in contrast to those belonging to others. For example, Miss Maudie is a foil to the town gossip Stephanie Crawford, as well as to Miss Merriweather, who boasts of her Christianity without extending any to others living right around her.

  • Irony

Harper Lee employs verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony in order to expose the hypocrisy of the citizenry of Maycomb.

Effective use of verbal irony is made by Miss Maudie when she quotes scripture in retort to the Fundamentalists who chastise her for having a resplendent garden and when, at the Missionary Tea in Chapter 24, she subtly satirizes the false charity of Mrs. Merriweather after listening to her maligning her maid.  

There is dramatic irony in Chapter 26 as Miss Gates, who gives a lesson on the cruelty of the Nazis toward the Jews, is overheard by Scout. Miss Gates defends the Jews as innocent victims, but, when speaking privately to other women, Scout recalls her having said,

"... it's time somebody taught 'em [Negroes] a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves..." 

Humorous use of situational irony occurs with the characterization of Mr. Dolphus Raymond in Chapter 16. He feigns being a drunkard when he actually drinks Coca-Cola from a bottle inside a brown bag. His doing this gives Maycomb's citizenry an explanation for his living with blacks on the wrong side of town.

  • Symbols

The main symbol in the novel is, of course, the mockingbird. This bird, which is very prevalent in Alabama, is one that imitates the songs of other birds and practices them continually; it is a harmless bird. Thus, it represents those who may appear one way because of their appearance or actions, or the opinions of a majority, but who in essence are innocent. Three characters who are mockingbirds are the following:

--Boo Radley - a man misjudged as a juvenile delinquent, a "haint," and a voyeur
--Dolphus Raymond - a man sickened by the hypocrisy of his upper-class society who lives with blacks because he chooses to do so, not for other reasons.
--Tom Robinson - a kind-natured black man who has a withered arm. Tom passes the Ewell shack and helps Mayella. He is falsely accused of rape for his charitable act. 

  • Point of View

The use of the first person narration of a young girl provides the perspective useful to a bildungsroman such as To Kill a Mockingbird. For, although a precocious girl, Scout provides a tone of innocence ingenuousness to the narration in the beginning, and a learned objectivity at the time she returns Boo Radley to his home.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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