Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

What are examples of parallelism in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Quick answer:

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, parallelism is a frequently used literary device. Examples include Scout's thoughts about Calpurnia in chapter 3, her list of benefits regarding students' presentations in chapter 26, and Sheriff Tate's disparaging remarks about Bob Ewell in chapter 29. In chapter 20, Atticus uses parallelism in his closing remarks, emphasizing the importance of equality. Lastly, in chapter 25, Scout uses parallelism to underscore Maycomb's racist society.

Expert Answers

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

Parallelism, the use of identical or very similar structures, can be applied at various levels, from phrases through paragraphs. Harper Lee uses parallel structures frequently. As the book is narrated in the first person, Scout often uses parallel phrases or sentences to reveal a set of thoughts.

In chapter 3, parallel structure appears within Scout’s thoughts about Calpurnia. One day, when Calpurnia kisses Scout before sending her to play outside, Scout finds herself wondering about their housekeeper’s odd behavior:

She had wanted to make up with me...She had always been too hard on me, she had...seen the error of her fractious ways, she was sorry and too stubborn to say so.

In this instance, Lee uses the past perfect tense (“she had wanted”) until the last instance, where the slight variation of the simple past tense (“she was”) helps signal the end of the string of similar clauses.

In chapter 26, when Scout is in school one day, she provides a list of the supposed benefits of the students’ required presentations on current events. Each item in the list begins with a gerund, a noun formed from a verb by adding “ing” to the end, and includes a verb that indicates the supposed benefit of each phase of the class exercise. The elements of the list are: “standing...encouraged...; delivering...made...; learning...strengthened...; being singled out made...”

In chapter 29, Sheriff Tate uses parallelism when disparaging Bob Ewell’s cowardice through ironically using words of praise:

"He had guts enough to pester a poor colored woman, he had guts enough to pester Judge Taylor.…”

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Parallelism is a literary device in which components of a sentence are grammatically the same, or similar in construction, sound, or meaning. Parallelism is an excellent persuasive tool that emphasizes and focuses on a subject, message, or theme through repetition. Parallelism also provides flow, rhythm, and symmetry to a sentence, which makes it memorable to the reader. Harper Lee employs parallelism at various points throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. In chapter 20, Atticus employs parallelism during his closing remarks by saying,

But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president.

Atticus's repeated use of the word "equal" followed by a revered individual emphasizes the importance for the jury to perceive and judge Tom Robinson equally by looking past their prejudice during deliberation.

In chapter 25, Scout employs parallelism while describing Maycomb's reaction to the news of Tom's Robinson's unfortunate death by saying,

To Maycomb, Tom’s death was typical. Typical of a nigger to cut and run. Typical of a nigger’s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw.

The repetitive term "typical of a nigger" emphasizes Maycomb's overtly racist society and highlights the citizens' ugly prejudice. The word "typical" is used in a cavalier tone, which gives the audience a deeper insight into the prejudiced point of view of Maycomb's racist population.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Parallelism is a literary device in which a writer or speaker creates sentences made up of parts that are grammatically the same or at least similar in terms of "construction, sound, meaning or meter" (Literary Devices, "Parallelism"). Parallelism is especially created through repetition. The Literary Devices dictionary gives us the example, "Alice ran into the room, into the garden, and into our hearts." Here, the repetition of prepositional phrases beginning with "into" creates parallel structure. In To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee frequently uses parallelism to establish tone and develop themes

One example of parallelism can be found in the first chapter. In her narration, Scout describes Maycomb and its society during the Great Depression. One thing she notes is that days seemed to be longer because "people moved slowly" as they "ambled across the square." She particularly uses parallelism in the following description:

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.

Here, beginning multiple phrases with a negative, such as "no," "nowhere," and "nothing," creates repetition, thereby also creating parallelism. Through the parallelism, Scout depicts the financial distress the town is in while also depicting the generally relaxed attitude of the town's citizens. The townspeople are not in a panicked frenzy as one might expect them to be during such a devastating time period; instead, they feel relaxed and a sense of optimism that helps set the tone of the rest of the novel.

A second example of parallelism can be found in Chapter 23, soon after the trial. Aunt Alexandra offends Scout by denying her permission to play with Walter Cunningham and calling him "trash." In an effort to appease Scout, Jem tries to explain their aunt's point of view by explaining what he has come to understand about the different types of people in the world:

I've thought about it a lot lately and I've got it all figured out. There's four kinds of folks in the world. There's the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there's the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes. (Ch. 23)

Here, in each clause of the sentence, Jem's repetition of the contraction "there's" plus his repetition of the phrase "kind like" creates parallelism. Though Scout disagrees with his conclusions, his analysis of different people underscores a major theme in the book--differences in education levels creates differences in people that leads to prejudiced hatred.

As different published editions of the book will have different page numbers, only approximations can be given. The above passages are found in approximately the middle of the very first chapter and on approximately the second-to-last page of Chapter 23.

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