Harper Lee includes many biblical, historical, and literary allusions in To Kill a Mockingbird. These allusions enable her to effectively represent small town Southern life during the Great Depression.
Biblical Allusions: Lee incorporates many biblical allusions into the plot of To Kill a Mockingbird. Like many small Southern communities, Maycomb’s residents would have been very familiar with the Bible. Christianity would also have been an important part of life for Maycomb’s black community, as suggested when Calpurnia brings Scout and Jem to her all-black church. Here are two major biblical allusions:
- When Calpurnia brings Jem and Scout to her church for Sunday service, Scout judgmentally observes that “at each seat was a cardboard fan bearing a garish Garden of Gethsemane.” This is an allusion to the Garden of Gethsemane in the New Testament, when Jesus and his disciples slept and prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion.
- In chapter 16, when most of Maycomb’s citizens make their way to the courthouse for Tom Robinson’s trial, a “shrill-voiced” woman taunts Miss Maudie by loosely quoting— with a grin of “uttermost wickedness,” Ecclesiastes 6:4—when she says, “He that cometh in vanity departeth in darkness.” Miss Maudie quotes Proverbs 15:13 when she responds, “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance.”
Historical Allusions: Like many authors, Lee relies heavily on historical allusions. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s use of historical allusions centers mostly on American history, especially the Great Depression and the influence of social inequality and racism in the South during the 1930s. Here are two of the novel’s most significant historical allusions:
- The novel takes place during the Great Depression (1929–1939), and many historical allusions refer to this difficult time in American history. Many communities—especially those relying on agriculture to sustain themselves—struggled to survive. The Finches, however, live comfortably because Atticus is a successful lawyer. Part of Scout’s moral and emotional development involves learning to empathize with those less fortunate than her, such as Walter Cunningham, whose family of farmers has been hit hard by the depression. Lee also mentions major Great Depression-era events, such as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the 1930s Birmingham strikes, as well as political figures such as President Herbert Hoover and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, such as in chapter 1 when Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.
- Racial tensions and discrimination against black communities figure prominently in the novel. Lee regularly alludes to the Civil War, or the “War Between the States,” and emphasizes the Confederate Army and the Confederate States of America. She also mentions Reconstruction, a period of rebuilding the South during and following the Civil War, and several famous Civil War-era figures like General Robert E. Lee and...
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