What are some examples of sarcasm (not irony) in To Kill A Mockingbird ?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A rhetorical and literary device, sarcasm involves the use of satiric or ironic remarks meant to mock or amuse someone or some section of society. There are several kinds of sarcasm, ranging from subtle to vituperative. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie employs sarcasm, and occasionally, Scout does, too.

  •  Manic Sarcasm - "This type of sarcasm is delivered in an unnatural happy mood that it makes the speaker look like he has gone crazy."

--In Chapter 16 in anticipation of the Tom Robinson trial, a wagon load of "unusually stern-faced citizens" roll past Miss Maudie and point to her yard which is "ablaze with summer flowers." She stands with her hands on her hips and her head tilted in such a way that the children know she is waiting with "a grin of uttermost wickedness." As the driver slows down a woman calls out shrilly, "He that cometh in vanity departeth in darkness!"

Miss Maudie answers her equally with a line from Scripture, "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance!" When the foot-washers hear her, the man speeds up her mules and they rush off.

  • Polite Sarcasm - When a speaker uses polite sarcasm, his/her listeners do not immediately recognize that his kind remark was actually sarcastic until they have thought it over.

--In Chapter 23, the reprobate Bob Ewell spits tobacco in the face of Atticus in order to retaliate for "insulting him" when all Atticus has done at the trial is draw people's intention to the fabrications made by Ewell. When all Atticus does is wipe his face, Ewell is incensed, "Too proud to fight, you ....bastard?" Atticus calmly replies with subtle sarcasm pointed at Ewell's immature behavior, "No, too old" and quietly walks away. 

Miss Stephanie [who understands the sarcasm] said you had to hand it to Atticus Finch, he could be right dry sometimes.

--In another example of polite sarcasm, on Scout's first day of school, she is excited about attending; however, her experience turns out to be very disappointing and hurtful. When Miss Caroline scolds Scout for knowing how to read and not having been taught properly, declaring that her father does not know how to teach, the author, Harper Lee, is being sarcastic about certain educational methodologies and educational theorists as she has the inexperienced and naive Miss Caroline, educated in the theories only, say,

"Now you tell your father not to teach you any more. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I'll take over from here and try to undo the damage--"

  • Deadpan Sarcasm - This type of sarcasm is uttered in such a way that the listener does not know whether or not the speaker's intention is to mock or not. 

--Miss Maudie delivers this type of sarcasm in Chapter 24 at the Missionary Tea. When the sanctimonious hypocrite Mrs. Merriweather praises the missionary in Africa for his good deeds, then criticizes the do-gooders of Maycomb, not too subtly alluding to Atticus who mean to help the blacks in Maycomb. She specifically blames these "good but misguided people" for the "sulky, dissatisfied" attitude in her maid Sophy, whom she thought of firing, but knows that the depression is on and "she needs her dollar and a quarter every week she can get it."

"His food doesn't stick going down, does it?" [Miss Maudie asks her with tight lips about Mr. Merriweather, implying more, however.]
"Maudie, I'm sure I don't know what you mean," said Mrs. Merriweather.
"I'm sure you do."
Mrs. Merriweather reddened, glanced at me, and looked away.

Mrs. Merriweather finally realizes that Miss Maudie's remark is satirical, pointing to the woman's hypocrisy and rudeness in the home of Atticus Finch.

  • Brooding Sarcasm – In this type of sarcasm, the speaker makes a seemingly polite statement, but the tone of his/her speech has a certain bitterness to it.

--In Chapter 2, Miss Caroline is incredulous, at first, that Scout is able to read fluently. After she tells Scout that her father does not know how to teach, Scout mutters that she is sorry, then "meditates" on her "crime":

I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question