To Kill A Mockingbird: Rhetorical Analysis

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Harper Lee’s controversially-esteemed novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, contains an assemblage of rhetorical strategies. Taking place in the 1930s, the theme of gender roles is easily identifiable due to their stark contrast to comparison to today’s gender roles, which are much more hazy because men and women nowadays have a lot of equal responsibilities. Though, women and men are still expected to act certain ways, it’s typically not as strict as it was in the past. With men expected to be burly breadwinners and women to be dainty and stick strictly to doing housework, the gender roles of the ‘30s were much more confining. These roles are heavily expressed throughout the novel using rhetorical strategies such as flashbacks and repetitions.

Despite the judgment of others, Atticus Finch does not seem to abide by these expectations and his parenting reflects this. He is much more lenient when it comes to rules and makes an effort to develop his children’s own personalities through learning experiences. On the contrary, Aunt Alexandra and the inhabitants of Maycomb’s beliefs are instead very traditional. When talking about Cousin Joshua being the author of a book, Jem’s description of him based off of what he heard from Atticus triggers Aunt Alexandra’s fury. This causes her to force Atticus to confront the children about acting how a young boy and girl should. While Atticus is relaying the message to his two children, his daughter, Scout contemplates, “This was not my father. My father never thought these thoughts. My father never spoke so. Aunt Alexandra must have put him up to this, somehow” (pg. 155). Lee purposely uses repetition in this quote to emphasize the fact that Scout is coming to a sort of face-paced conclusion about Atticus. Atticus has been reduced from his children’s inspirational, teacher role model to merely their father. This is evident in the fact that Atticus is not referred to by his first name, which would be the usual. Instead, he is referred to by a simple “father”. By instructing his children to act by their respective roles, he confuses them. He goes from telling them constantly to be or do what makes them happy, to commanding them to conform to society’s standards.

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Equally important, Scout is emotionally affected by this, as she begins to cry. In this brief point in her life, Atticus does not resemble the teacher they once adored. He had lost all value to them and is only seen as their father because of his sudden, unusual nature. Atticus immediately feels guilty when he sees her tears and apologizes for even speaking such a way to them. They forgive him quickly and Scout thinks to herself, “I know now what he was trying to do, but Atticus was only a man. It takes a woman to do that kind of work.” This is a perfect example of a flashback, as it is written to show that the adult Scout is reflecting on a past event. By doing this, Lee provides us an explanation of Atticus’ actions on a more emotional level. Scout notices immediately through his tone that Atticus sounds more business-like than sincere. They’re visibly confused and when Scout begins to cry, Atticus instantly regrets his manner and tries to reassure his children by suggesting that maybe he’ll cost the family more money, just like Cousin Joshua did. When Scout looks back at this memory now in adulthood, she becomes more self-aware and recognizes Atticus’ efforts to comfort them and the fact that the whole conversation was Aunt Alexandra’s doing. Scout now “knows what he was trying to do,” in attempting to reassure his children but also realizes that he obviously lacks a mother’s ability to nurture children instinctively, which plays into the theme of gender roles. Because Atticus is a man/the father, he does not have the nurturing-ways that a woman/mother would have.  


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