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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What are examples of hyperbole in the first three chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Some examples of hyperbole in chapter 1–3 of To Kill A Mockingbird are Calpurnia's hand being "twice as hard" as bed slat, Boo Radley dining on live squirrels and cats, and Calpurnia telling Scout guests can dine on the tablecloth if they like but that Scout can't make rude comments about it.

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Another example of hyperbole comes in chapter 2, when Scout's new teacher, the out-of-her-depth Miss Caroline, gives her a good ticking off, telling her that she's "started off on the wrong foot in every way". This is a clear exaggeration, as Scout was only trying to be helpful to the new teacher. But because Miss Caroline is so incredibly insecure and out of her depth, she wrongly perceives Scout's helpfulness as impertinence.

Miss Caroline is also mightily miffed at Scout for her confession that she reads at home with her father. On the face of it, there doesn't seem anything wrong with this. Yet Miss Caroline regards Atticus's reading with Scout as somehow intruding on her prerogative as a teacher. But Scout had no idea that she was doing anything wrong, so to say that she's "started off on the wrong foot in every way" is a clear example of hyperbole, a total exaggeration.

Scout also indulges in a spot of hyperbole herself in the same chapter when she describes what happens at lunchtime. We're told that "Molasses buckets appeared from nowhere," which is an obvious exaggeration, because of course nothing can appear out of nowhere, whether it's buckets of molasses or anything else.

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Hyperbole is excessive exaggeration that is not meant to be taken literally, meant to emphasize a claim. An example of Scout using hyperbole is when she says that Calpurnia's hand is "twice as hard" as a bed slat. Calpurnia's hand is not literally twice as hard as a bed slat; Scout is simply trying to emphasize that Calpurnia was a disciplinarian who could give her a hard swat.

Hyperbole surrounds Boo Radley, the subject of tall tales. Not only does he dine on raw squirrels and cats:

When people’s azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them.

These stories are not literally true, but serve to convey the apprehension of the townsfolk toward Boo Radley.

When Jem invites Walter Cunningham to dinner to make up for Scout beating him up at school, Scout embarrasses him by calling him out for pouring molasses all over his food. Calpurnia uses hyperbole when she calls Scout into the kitchen and scolds her for being rude. Calpurnia doesn't literally condone a guest eating a tablecloth, but wants to make a point:

That boy’s yo’ comp’ny and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?

Putting so much hyperbole into characters' mouths early on is Lee's way of gently and humorously introducing readers to the culture of Maycomb before introducing the more serious theme of racism.

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Hyperbole is a type of figurative speech used in literature to emphasize and exaggerate specific features of characters, places, and objects in a story. Harper Lee uses hyperbole in To Kill a Mockingbird to give readers a feel for how the children view their world and the people in it.

For example, in chapter one, Jem describes Boo Radley to Scout as "about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that's why his hands were bloodstained – if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off." Boo Radley is not, in fact, a phantom nor does he eat raw squirrels and cats. But by using such an exaggerated description of the character, Lee is able to show the reader that the children in town view the reclusive Boo as a sinister, larger-than-life person that they are scared of. 

In chapter three, Atticus tells Scout, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." This is another example of hyperbole. It is clear that Atticus does not mean that Scout needs to physically wear someone else's skin like a suit of armor to understand them. Instead, this is Atticus's (and Lee's) way of telling Scout that she needs to have empathy for others because one can't truly understand why others feel the way they do or take the actions they take unless one seeks to understand the circumstances the other person is experiencing. 

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Hyperboles are used throughout To Kill a Mockingbird. A hyperbole is a statement that is exaggerated for emphasis and not intended to be taken seriously.

In Chapter 1, Scout describes the town of Maycomb. She uses hyperbole to emphasize how little there is to do and see in the town and in the area nearby:

A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.

Scout is exaggerating when she says there is "nowhere to go" in Maycomb. People go to the O.K. Café, the drugstore, and to the square in town. Residents go to work, school, and church. It is true that there are few shopping options in Maycomb and that cash is hard to come by because of the Great Depression. There are no large towns for miles outside of Maycomb County, but that does not mean there is "nothing to see."

On Scout's first day of school, she meets her teacher, Miss Caroline. Miss Caroline is a new teacher, and she is not prepared for her rowdy class. The class is so loud that they can be heard in the classroom next door. Miss Blount, the teacher from next door, comes to Miss Caroline's class to tell them to be quiet:

"If I hear another sound from this room I'll burn up everybody in it. Miss Caroline, the sixth grade cannot concentrate on the pyramids for all this racket!" (Chapter 2)

Miss Blount is exaggerating when she says she will burn everyone in the class. She is threatening them in an exaggerated way to make the children keep quiet.

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