What literary terms apply to the quote below, found in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird:After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like...

What literary terms apply to the quote below, found in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird:

After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I.

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The sentence in the above question, found at the end of Chapter 24 in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, is a type of argument called an if-then statement, from which we can infer a larger conclusion. An inference is a type of literary device that allows a reader to draw logical conclusions from premises believed to be true; it allows us to rationally reinterpret facts presented in new ways ("Inference," Literary Devices).

An if-then statement starts with a hypothesis followed by a conclusion. A hypothesis is a prediction that can be tested. The Murrieta Valley Unified School District gives us the following example of an if-then statement containing a hypothesis and a conclusion:

If the team wins the semi-final,
then the team will play in the championship ("If-Then Statements and Deductive Reasoning").

Here, "the team wins the semi-final" is the hypothesis, and "the team will play in the championship" is the conclusion we can draw from the hypothesis that can be tested.

In Harper Lee's sentence, "Aunty could be a lady at a time like this" is the hypothesis, whereas "so could I" is the conclusion Scout is drawing from her hypothesis.

The phrase "at a time like this" particularly helps the reader infer further conclusions from the if-then statement than just the idea that Scout can act like a lady. The phrase "at a time like this" refers to a time of tragedy. Scout, Aunt Alexandra, and Miss Maudie have just been informed that Tom Robinson was killed trying to escape prison. They are so devastated by the now-complete hopelessness of his case that all they want to do is mourn, yet they know they must continue entertaining their company. Therefore, Aunt Alexandra and Miss Maudie put on brave smiles and continue treating their company with the utmost respect, as if nothing out of place has happened. By putting on brave smiles, they are placing the needs of their company above their own emotional needs, which takes a great deal of courage. Hence, when the reader witnesses Scout speak of "a time like this," the reader can infer that she is referring to a time of terrible tragedy that takes a great deal of bravery to overcome. The reader can further infer that Scout is not just thinking about being a lady, but rather she is thinking about being a brave lady, just like Aunt Alexandra. She has finally come to accept her role as a lady because she sees how the role relates to bravery.

Bravery is a recurring motif throughout the novel, and by developing inference, author Lee uses the sentence in question to further develop the motif of bravery. Through the motif, Lee establishes the minor theme concerning gender roles that teaches that it takes a great deal of courage to treat others with the utmost respect and thereby behave as a gentleman and a lady, just as Atticus behaves as a gentleman.

Therefore, three literary terms that apply to the quote in question are inference, motif, and theme.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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