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EXAMPLES OF IRONY: Chapter 12, To Kill a Mockingbird
The Tapeworm. Scout questions Atticus if Jem may have a tapeworm, an organism known for growing quickly and to incredible size. Atticus responds that it is Jem who "was growing."
First Purchase Church. The church, possibly the only in Maycomb specifically for African-Americans, was purchased by the first group of freed black men in Maycomb, probably soon after the end of the Civil War. It is nevertheless used by white men to gamble in on weekdays. Additionally, Reverend Sykes warns his congregation about gambling during the service.
Happy Cemetery. Scout describes the adjoining graveyard as a "happy cemetery," because of all the colorful broken glass and Coke bottles that are strewn about the place. What Scout doesn't realize is that the glass is probably deliberately broken by the white gamblers who use the church on weekdays.
An example of dramatic irony occurs in a conversation between Scout and Calpurnia after church. In the chapter, Scout seems to be oblivious to the percolating tension that surrounds the Tom Robinson case. While she knows that Tom Robinson is in jail because "he's done somethin' awful," she has no idea what "awful" entails and how the white community really feels towards the Robinson family at present.
Because of her innocence, Scout doesn't understand why no one seems to want to hire Helen, Tom's wife, for any work. She reasons that, if the Ewells are Tom's accusers, Helen should have no problems finding work. After all, "everybody in Maycomb knows what kind of folks the Ewells are." At this point in the story, Scout has no idea that, before the trial is over, her faith in humanity and in the goodness of her fellow citizens will be severely tested.
Another example of irony from the chapter involves what the First Purchase Church is used for. The church was purchased with the initial earnings of freed slaves and is used by Maycomb's African-American community for Sunday worship. However, during the week, white men use the church as a gambling venue. This is a stunning irony, as gambling represents the sort of activity ministers like Reverend Sykes routinely preach against.
His sermon was a forthright denunciation of sin, an austere declaration of the motto on the wall behind him: he warned his flock against the evils of heady brews, gambling, and strange women.
Yet another example of irony is how Calpurnia speaks in different settings. When Calpurnia is at the Finch home or among white members of Maycomb's community, she speaks the way they do. However, when she is in church, Calpurnia uses the familiar African-American vernacular English that First Purchase members do. This fascinates Scout:
That Calpurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me. The idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages.
Here, the irony lies in the fact that Calpurnia, a well-educated African-American woman, must bow to the pressures of society in different settings. Essentially, she must speak differently at church in order to fit in. However, Calpurnia's discretion and humility are evident when she explains her actions:
“Suppose you and Scout talked colored-folks’ talk at home it’d be out of place, wouldn’t it? Now what if I talked white-folks’ talk at church, and with my neighbors? They’d think I was puttin‘ on airs to beat Moses.”
“It’s not necessary to tell all you know. It’s not ladylike—in the second place, folks don’t like to have somebody around knowin‘ more than they do. It aggravates ’em. You’re not gonna change any of them by talkin‘ right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.”
So, although it's ironic that Calpurnia has to hide her true self in some settings, we know that she does so only out of consideration for others.
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