What are examples of duality within To Kill a Mockingbird and where are they found?

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owls21 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines duality as "the quality or state of having two parts" (Merriam-Webster). Using this definition, we can find many examples of duality in American literature, and specifically, in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Frequently when we discuss the notion of duality, we consider two ideas/principles/ways of being that are in opposition to each other, such as "war vs. peace" or "wrong vs. right." The characters within To Kill a Mockingbird are generally portrayed as either "wrong or right" or, to use somewhat stronger language, "good or evil." Harper Lee presents us with a depiction of humanity that is complicated and conflicted. The novel raises questions about whether one can be truly good or evil (and further, whether true evil or pure good exist), and asks us to consider the extent to which our behaviors are learned and reinforced. It presents immortality and injustice as something to be confronted, and it gives us the opportunity to examine reactions to and against these concepts.

Some examples of duality within To Kill a Mockingbird include innocence vs. experience/maturity, justice vs. injustice, comfort vs. poverty, morality vs. immortality, acceptance vs. intolerance, and many others. "Good vs. evil" can certainly be explored with To Kill a Mockingbird, but in order to do so, we must take into account how to define both ideas and whether or not gray areas (between good and evil) exist within the book. We must ask, "If these gray areas exist, where do they occur? What do they say about strict notions of good and evil?"

Ultimately, there are many ways in which duality can be explored in To Kill a Mockingbird. Contemplating the duality of justice vs. injustice, we might examine the trial and dialogue following it as an example. In Chapter 22, exiting the courthouse, Atticus and Jem have a simple exchange on the notion of justice vs. injustice and wrong vs. right:


"It ain’t right,” he muttered, all the way to the corner of the square where we found Atticus waiting. Atticus was standing under the street light looking as though nothing had happened: his vest was buttoned, his collar and tie were neatly in place, his watch-chain glistened, he was his impassive self again.
“It ain’t right, Atticus,” said Jem.
“No son, it’s not right.”
We walked home (Lee, Chapter 22).

On the notions of both innocence vs. maturity and comfort vs. poverty, we see in Chapter 12 a particularly representative example:

The Governor was eager to scrape a few barnacles off the ship of state; there were sit-down strikes in Birmingham; bread lines in the cities grew longer, people in the country grew poorer. But these were events remote from the world of Jem and me (Lee, Chapter 12). 

In the above passage, we see that Scout and Jem exist in a world of youthful innocence. They are, at least within the passage, unaffected by external events in Alabama, and they enjoy a position of relative comfort and security while city residents grow anxious about food or finances. They inhabit their own isolated space, which we might interpret as the space of childhood or the space of comfort.

When considering dualities, we can be as clever or creative as we desire, finding new and interesting ways in which concepts might oppose one another. They key to preparing any argument when interpreting and analyzing literature is finding support for it and explaining said support.

(Primary Source: Lee, Harper,To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1960. Print.)