Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

In To Kill a Mockingbird, what visual medium techniques are used?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Lee uses much visual imagery (vivid description that we can see) in her novel to create a sense of realism and to create the mood of the community: she describes how houses relate to each other (especially how the Finch home relates to its neighbors) and she offers, for instance, much description of the courthouse and its surroundings as the trial of Tom Robinson begins.

Yet, while detailed, these visual descriptions are subjective. What we are seeing is filtered through the eyes of a young adult remembering what her hometown looked like as a child. It is one child's visual recollection as processed through an adult consciousness.

Scout, for example, often uses generalization to sum up her perceptions of the town as it was in the 1930s, then moves to detail. In the description of Maycomb below, we can imagine a camera from afar gradually zooming in and then perhaps focusing on a particular black dog or group of mules hitched to carts. It is these specific details that make the novel come alive, such as the "bony" mules that flick flies with their tails under shady oak trees. Because we can picture this scene, it seems real to us. At the same time, however, that the detail is sharp and specific in spots, it is also, as mentioned above, openly subjective. Musing as an adult, Scout remembers the town with a child's intensity and heightened awareness: "it was hotter then . . ." This is not an objective recording of actual temperatures, but the way memory works:

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

In this scene, as in others (look, for example, at how the description of the courthouse's facade is used to show how the town resists change) Lee is doing more than simply describing. In the above passage, the description, for instance, makes a point about the hot, sleepy, slow-moving, apathetic nature of Maycomb.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team