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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, why did Harper Lee choose not to put Atticus's lecture in direct address in chapter 5?

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By not having Atticus's lecture about Boo Radley and proper neighborly etiquette directly quoted, the perspective shifts to the children's reception of it. Rather than have the reader read the lecture from an adult's condemning or lecturing state of mind, we participate with Scout and Jem on the receiving end. Since the story is written from Scout's first-person perspective, this device falls in line with the rest of the novel. It also shows the reader the points Scout soaked in and learned best. For example, Scout seems to remember the lecture quite vividly. The reader can picture Scout and Jem standing there, guiltily looking up at their father and taking in all of the points of respect to be learned.

"How would we like it if Atticus barged in on us without knocking, when we were in our rooms at night? We were, in effect, doing the same thing to Mr. Radley. . . Furthermore, had it never occurred to us that the civil way to communicate with another being was by the front door instead of a side window? Lastly, we were to stay away from that house until we were invited there" (49).

This technique of not directly quoting Atticus in this situation, again, places the reader in Scout's shoes. Another way to look at is that Lee is able to drive the message home by Scout using the first-person plural "we," which shows the act of receiving the message. If the passage were from Atticus's perspective, the reader would see the use of second-person plural--"you." Had Lee used the second-person plural, Atticus may have come off mean and abrasive. Atticus is the adult hero who stands up for what's right in the story. Lee's device saves the reader from thinking he is too mean to his kids, when in fact, he is taking the opportunity to teach his children a valuable lesson about respect.

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