An Overview of the Harper Lee’s Irony, Symbolism and Humor Uses in the Novel to Kill a Mockingbird

In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Harper Lee use irony, symbolism, and humor to develop her theme of social injustice?

Hidden Messages in To Kill a Mockingbird Novels often convey their themes without you noticing, To Kill a Mockingbird is a perfect example. Harper Lee conveys this message of social injustice in her novel through many characters and events. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee provides insight to the problem of social injustice. The novel takes place in the 30’s and tells the story of Atticus, and his children, Jem and Scout, who live in a small town in Alabama called Maycomb. Atticus is a lawyer and is given the task of defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape. Throughout this experience there is much injustice and problems that arise. Irony, symbolism, and humor, are used to demonstrate and continuously display social injustice.

Irony is used throughout the novel to convey the theme of social injustice. Miss Gates, Scout’s school teacher, is teaching the class about democracy. She tells the class that Germany is a dictatorship and about the holocaust, she tells them unlike Germany “we don’t believe in persecuting anybody” (248). It is said that persecuting is bad and that we, the U.S., don’t persecute anybody. This is very ironic since black people are being persecuted very much in the time of the story. Harper Lee uses irony here to show that people are not recognizing the problem of social injustice and that it is a problem in their country and community.

Social injustice is also displayed through symbolism in To Kill a Mockingbird. The children are all very afraid of Boo and shun him. The myth is that Boo stabbed his dad in the leg with a pair of scissors and is now “chained to the bed most of the time” (16). Nobody has actually seen Boo though, and this story is of course false. Boo is a symbol for social injustice as he is innocent but treated very poorly. It is not until the end of the novel that Boo is revealed and is actually a very nice considerate man named Arthur. Arthur didn’t do anything wrong but is treated unfair and is just another example of social injustice in the book.

To further develop this theme of social injustice, humor is often used. A humorous but important scene is when it snows and Jem and Scout build a snowman. The dirt in the snow makes the snowman look black and Scout complains to Jem, “I ain’t ever heard of a nigger snowman” (71). The fact that Scout does not like the black snowman shows how society has corrupted them and caused even children to display discrimination, even if it is in small forms. The theme of social injustice is once again displayed this time through humor which emphasizes its importance even more.

Harper Lee highlights the importance of social injustice by portraying it through irony, symbolism, and humor. This theme is shown again and again by using several literary devices. Irony helps to display how hypocritical and blind to problems around them the characters can be. Many symbols are used to expose the theme of social injustice and give it a deeper meaning. Humor helps brighten the mood of this problem but simultaneously sheds light on the issue. Social injustice is a major theme in To Kill a Mockingbird because when it was written, and still today, is a problem and therefore must be brought to attention in a variety of ways.

Works Cited

  1. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York, NY, Warner Books, 1982.

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