To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Verbal Irony In To Kill A Mockingbird

What are some verbal ironies in Chapters 1-3 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?


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booboosmoosh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are several examples of verbal irony used in Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird often attached to Scout.  I'll provide one with which to get you started.

Dr. L. Kip Wheeler provides the following definition:

IRONY: Cicero referred to irony as "saying one thing and meaning another." Irony comes in many forms. Verbal irony (also called sarcasm) is a trope in which a speaker makes a statement in which its actual meaning differs sharply from the meaning that the words ostensibly express. Often this sort of irony is plainly sarcastic in the eyes of the reader, but the characters listening in the story may not realize the speaker's sarcasm as quickly as the readers do.

One example of verbal irony is when Miss Caroline tells Scout that her father does not know how to teach and therefore cannot teach her to read when she already does read, and quite well. When Scout complains to Atticus, he agrees that they will keep reading, but secretly: this is his compromise.

The verbal irony appears when Atticus says:

I have a feeling that if you tell Miss Caroline we read every night she'll get after me, and I wouldn't want her after me.

Atticus is obviously not afraid of Miss Caroline and is intentionally saying something contrary to what he believes, probably to entertain Scout who has been so upset.

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As a literary device, irony is the general name given to such techniques that involve surprising, interesting, or amusing contradictions.  With verbal irony, words are used to indicate the opposite of their usual meaning.  Here are some examples of this type of irony (the verbal irony is how Scout expresses her comments on the situations, which may in themselves also be ironic):

Chapter One

1.  Scout as narrator relates that her father went to Montgomery to learn law; later when he was admitted to the bar, he returned to Maycomb and began his practice.  However, during his first five years, Atticus "practiced economy more than anything." [What Scout really means is that Atticus had little business and had to economise because he was poor.]

2. So Jem received most of his information from Miss Stephanie Crawford, a neighborhood scold. [In actuality, Jem is misinformed.]

Chapter Two

3. After Scout reads for Miss Caroline, the teacher tells her that her father does not know how to teach.  Scout narrates,

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

[Scout does nothing wrong when she reads the papers  She says this to ridicule Miss Caroline's comment about Atticus.]

4.  When she is scolded for writing, rather than printing, Scout remarks, "Calpurnia was to blame for this." [Thanks to Calpurnia who placed the written letters on a tablet before her, Scout has practiced handwriting on rainy days and learned before third grade.]

Chapter Three

5. After her scoldings by Miss Caroline and Calpurnia, Scout thinks of running away if she must refrain from reading and writing.  However, she remarks,

By late afternoon most of my traveling plans were complete. [ She has abandoned thoughts of running off]

For, she and Jem race each other to greet their father who comes from his office.

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