Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill A Mockingbird, find examples of personification and metaphors.

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An example of personification comes in chapter 1 when Scout describes Maycomb as "a tired old town," but being tired is something that humans, not towns, experience.

Also in chapter 1, women are metaphorically described as being "like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum," and Scout considers her neighbor Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose "plain hell." Charles Baker Harris, or Dill, is deemed by Scout to be "a pocket Merlin" for his imagination.

The Radley place is also described through personification: "the remains of a picket fence drunkenly guarded the front yard." And when Boo Radley was released from the courthouse basement and his father brought him home, "people said the house died." At the end of chapter 1, after Jem has touched the Radley house on a dare and run away, Jem, Scout, and Dill glance back and see that "the old house was the same, droopy and sick." Making the house seem alive and slightly malevolent or at least dangerous adds to the mystique of Boo Radley, who is known to lurk inside it.

In the second chapter, Scout's teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, personifies, and disapproves of, Scout's creative thinking by telling her "let's not let our imaginations run away with us." At lunchtime in the classroom, "the ceiling danced" from the reflection of light off the children's metal lunch pails.

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To Kill A Mockingbird has many instances of figurative language, beginning with the title. Atticus Finch, the main character, reminds his children that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird," and the reader understands this from a metaphorical perspective because, as will be revealed in the story, prejudice and discrimination ruin relationships and lives. Mockingbirds "don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy," explains Miss Maudie to Scout, who is puzzled by her father's talk of sin in the context of mockingbirds, the real sin being that against an innocent man, Tom Robinson whom the mockingbird represents.

Boo Radley is also a victim in To Kill A Mockingbird because, after making some bad decisions, he is confined to his home for many years. His father thought that "anything that's a pleasure is a sin," and this metaphor is used to reinforce the destructiveness of  relationships based on a need to be socially accepted in a socially unjust environment. Boo Radley is assumed to be some sort of a monster based on preconceptions and rumor.

Atticus, as ever, wants his children to recognize the rights of others to their opinions and to never judge anyone until they can, "climb into his skin and walk around in it." Scout is very upset because her teacher does not appreciate her abilities and the fact that she had learned to read before starting school but Atticus wants her to understand that her teacher is new to the area and therefore, the young Scout must make allowances for her. 

"A person's conscience" is personified (attributing human qualities directly to the conscience which, in itself is only one aspect of a person) when Atticus talks of his reasons for taking Tom's case. He says:

"The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience"

suggesting that the conscience can make decisions independently. Atticus has to "live with myself."  This usage supports the issue of moral blindness that pervades Maycomb County.  

Atticus "one-shot Finch" surprises his children when they learn that he has a depth of character which had previously escaped them. He has not told the children about his abilities handling a gun because, as he says,

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know that you're licked before you begin (metaphor) but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

The use of personification ("courage is a man...") is a strong reminder to the reader that appearances can be deceiving and, much like the message from the "The Grey Ghost," which Atticus read to Scout, there is an overriding need to "finally see" people for what they really are. 

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Chapter 8 has several metaphors and some personification when she describes the fire at Miss Maudie's house.  One example is when the men arrive to put the fire out.  There are two examples in the following to discuss.

"At the door, we saw fire spewing from Miss Maudie's diningroom windows.  As if to confirm what we saw, the town siren wailed up the scale of a treble pitch and remained there, screaming."

The fire was "spewing," which is more like what water does.  Fire is not in liquid form, so that comparison (metaphor) is the fire and water being compared. 

The second example is personification.  The siren is screaming, which is a human characteristic.

One more example is personification of the fire again. 

"fire silently devoured Miss Maudie's house."

The fire sounds like it's eating the house (as humans would hungrily eat a meal).

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