To Kill a Mockingbird - Irony and Sarcasm

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is a highly regarded work of American fiction. The story of the novel teaches us many lessons that should last any reader for a lifetime. The messages that Harper Lee relays to the reader are exemplified throughout the book using various methods. One of the most important and significant methods was the use of symbols such as the mockingbird image. Another important method was showing the view through a growing child's (Scout Finch) mind, eyes, ears, and mouth. There is another very significant method that was used. In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee utilizes the effects of irony, sarcasm, and hypocrisy to criticize a variety of elements in Southern life.

Harper Lee employs the effects of irony in To Kill a Mockingbird as a way to criticize the deficiency of public education. "Now tell your father not to teach you any more. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind." (pG. 22) Instead of praising Scout's ability to read at an advanced level, Miss Caroline discourages it. This ironic example set by Miss Caroline seems to demonstrate the inadequate training that she had received for her occupation. Miss Caroline seems to have been instructed upon a strict standard on how her students are expected to behave, but when she encounters something different, such as Scout's advanced ability to read, she advises Scout to stop being advanced, whereas a modern-day schoolteacher would capitalize on Scout's ability to read and encourage her to read more. "You won't learn to write until you're in the third grade." (pg. 23) The strict, recipe-style, rubric method of teaching that Miss Caroline uses is once again emphasized here. Miss Caroline once again discourages Scout's advanced abilities and regards Scout's ability with contempt. "The Dewey Decimal System consisted, in part, of Miss Caroline waving cards at us which were printed 'the,' 'cat,' 'rat,' 'man,' and 'you.'" (pg. 23) The Dewey Teaching Method was supposed to place an emphasis on "active" learning, yet the irony in Miss Caroline's "use" of it was that her teaching method wasn't "active" at all. It was, in fact, extremely passive. The students in the class didn't do anything. They became extremely bored and learned very little. As I have established, the use of irony clearly reveals the deficiency of the public education system in the 1930's. Teachers did not seem to be trained enough to handle the vast abilities of their students. Instead, they seemed to be trained to handle a narrowly confined amount of expected abilities. If Miss Caroline had recognized that Scout had advanced abilities, she could have allowed Scout to advance to a higher grade and save Scout from going through a school year that teaches her stuff that she has already learned. Public education is not the only element that Harper Lee uses irony to criticize, however. American political attitudes are also criticized using irony.

Harper Lee also uses sarcasm to criticize the American political attitudes that were clearly evident in the South. "(When Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, Winston County seceded from Alabama, and every child in Maycomb County knew it.)" (pg. 21) By listening to their parents and other adults, the young children of Maycomb have grown to despise Winston County for the same reason the adults despise it because it seceded from Alabama in 1861. It would seem pretty idiotic to most people to despise people based upon what their ancestors had done 70 years ago. "North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background." (pg. 21) Overheard from adults, most likely, Scout's thoughts reflect the beliefs of a majority of the people in Maycomb. The political attitudes in the provincial South are criticized as the people seem to want to stick to their old ideas and beliefs. Evolving new ideas and beliefs are systematically rejected; anybody that adapts the new ideas are regarded as having "no background." "People up there set 'em free, but you don't see 'em settin' at the table with 'em? I think that woman, that Mrs. Roosevelt's lost her mind-just plain lost her mind coming down to Birmingham and tryin' to sit with 'em." (pg. 237) The outright hypocrisy that Mrs. Merriweather states when referring to the North