What is an example of direct characterization for Atticus in Chapter 3 of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird?

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are more indirect characterizations than direct ones in Chapter 3 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. A "direct characterization" is simply a straight-forward way of describing an individual, usually employing simple adjectives. In Lee's novel, Atticus Finch serves as the story's conscience, the proffer of wisdom to his inquisitive and occasionally judgmental daughter, Scout, the novel's narrator.

As a thoughtful, conscientious and educated individual, Atticus often speaks metaphorically while using indirect characterizations to diplomatically get his point across to his children. For this reason, it is particularly noteworthy that Atticus does use a direct characterization in Chapter 3 in reference to the character of Bob Ewell, the town's most virulently racist example of poor white trash, a man who squanders what welfare money he receives on alcohol while hunting and trapping animals out of season to put meat on his family's table. When the subject of the Ewells, the daughter of whom, Mayella, precipitates the tragic chain of events involving the crippled black Tom Robinson when she wrongfully accuses him of rape, comes up at the Finch home, Atticus uses what can be described as an example of direct characterization in referencing the Ewell family. As described by Scout in her ruminations about that period of her life:

"Atticus said the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations. None of them had done an honest day’s work in his recollection."

This is a very direct characterization of the Ewells offered by Atticus. In this example, "the disgrace of Maycomb" constitutes a direct characterization, as it defines the characters of the Ewell family in a direct, straight-forward way. Another example of a direct characterization involving Atticus in Chapter 3 occurs in the context of Scout's efforts at being excused from school despite the absence of a compelling reason:

“If I didn’t go to school tomorrow, you’d force me to.”

“Let us leave it at this,” said Atticus dryly. “You, Miss Scout Finch, are of the common folk. You must obey the law.”

In the above passage, Atticus describes his daughter as "common folk," a direct characterization to which he applies to himself. In this context, "common folk" refers to all those citizens of Maycomb, and beyond, who are expected to comply with the word and the spirit of the laws that preserve the civilization in which they exist. Atticus is drawing a distinction between his children and those of the Ewell clan, with the latter being uncommon and consequently exempt from the strict rules of society the absence of which would result in total anarchy. Everybody accepts that the Ewells are beneath contempt, so expectations of them are nonexistent within the context of the laws that guide the rest of society.

A final example of a direct characterization involving Atticus in Chapter 3 again occurs within the context of Atticus's attempts at explaining to Scout why the latter is expected to continue to attend school without interruption and why she will continue reading with Calpurnia, the family's African American housekeeper. Noting the formality of her father's language as the educated lawyer negotiated an arrangement with his young daughter, Scout makes the following observation: "Jem and I were accustomed to our father’s last-will-and-testament diction . . ." This is a direct characterization because it explicitly defines the character of Atticus Finch, although it uses language the meaning of which would be lost were this passage read in a vacuum. Atticus has reverted to "attorney" mode for the purpose of engaging Scout in a quasi-legalistic negotiating process.


Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question