The Role of the Narrator in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: Literary Analysis Essay

Paper Type:  Literature review
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  976 Words
Date:  2022-02-11


Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most popular and beloved American books both among teen and adult readers. A large part of its irresistible charm resides upon its use of the ingenious first-person narration: the story is seen through the eyes of a brave, imaginative, and wise little girl Scout, yet, to some extent, it is filtered through the consciousness of a grown-up whose is remembering and recounting the events. Though, this narrative mode certainly limits possibilities for moral and social commentary as well as stylistic embellishment, yet, this choice also lets the author make the narrative more lively and appealing to the reader and still be able to discuss such serious issues as racial prejudice and miscarriage of justice with the agility of mind, immediacy of perception and straightforwardness characteristic of a child.

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First of all, making the little girl the novel's narrator allows Harper Lee to offer her reader seemingly simple yet unexpectedly wise truths that would look moralistic and oversimplified in a different setting. Scout is looking at the world around her, actively interacting with it and making conclusions that she retells with charming sincerity and immediacy undisguised by literary artificiality. In this way, she talks about the lesson that her father has taught her: "Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough" (Lee). Scout is taking the metaphor almost literally - she attempts to look at the world from the spot where Boo Radley used to stand. This helps her see the world of the small provincial town from his perspective and with a clarity unusual for a little child she discovers that this suffering and struggling man has come to see her brother and herself as "his children." Without any pity for herself or an attempt to defend herself, Scout bravely confesses their lack of compassion and empathy: "Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. ... we had given him nothing, and it made me sad" (Lee). This straightforwardness and sincerity that can be seen only in a child make the book stand out among its literary peers.

Another aspect that is enhanced through resorting to such a young narrator is humor. Children view the world with an intrinsic ability to laugh at anything and anyone. They cannot stand boredom. Scout's manner of writing is distinguished by undaunted humor that sparkles in all the usual and also unusual places. With much wittiness, Scout characterizes other people in the novel. For example, Atticus's sister Alexandra is said to be "the Finch" that "married a taciturn man who spent most of his time lying in a hammock by the river wondering if his trot-lines were full" (Lee). Scout does not spare her own father describing the beginning of his career with fine irony: "Atticus's office in the courthouse contained little more than a hat rack, a spittoon, a checkerboard and an unsullied Code of Alabama. His first two clients were the last two persons hanged in the Maycomb County jail" (Lee). Quite often Scout comes up with inventive humorous metaphors and comparisons that make the portrayal concise, concrete, and memorable, as, for example, when she compares the town's ladies suffering from the heat with "soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum" (Lee). As it frequently happens in life and best Shakespeare's plays, laughter often intertwines in Scout's account with sadness which makes both of them more distinct and effective in terms of aesthetic impact upon the reader. For example, looking back at the events of the novel, Scout realizes they have profoundly changed the protagonists but even this fully adult conclusion does not keep her from humorous remarks: "As I made my way home, I thought Jem and I would get grown but there wasn't much else left for us to learn, except possible algebra (Lee). This ability to quickly switch between the funny and the sad and also combine the two is probably the key advantage of this type of narration that makes a story about deeply unsettling and even appalling things so enjoyable and engrossing.

One more important advantage of making use of a child narrator is the opportunity to show the world through the eyes of a young and open-minded human being that still sees it with enthusiasm and the immediacy of perception lost in adult age. The world of the book is teeming with colors, sounds, smells, and other sensations. For example, when Scout describes her teacher, Miss Caroline, who "had bright auburn hair, pink cheeks, and wore crimson fingernail polish" and "also wore high-heeled pumps and a red-and-white-striped dress," she says she was looking and smelling "like a peppermint drop" (Lee). In contrast, Raley's house "once white with a deep front porch and green shutters" is said to have "long ago darkened to the color of the slate-gray yard around it" (Lee). This heightened sense of the narration allows the reader to fully delve into the fictional world of the Deep South and become an integral part of it feeling and thinking together with the protagonists.


Narrating a story as seen through the eyes of a young girl certainly limits the omniscience of the author who cannot openly discuss the thoughts and feelings of the characters, offer social and historical commentary, moralize with the self-complacent expertise of an adult. Yet, it offers the reader a far more valuable opportunity to see the world afresh with the unbiased and eager eyes of a child.

Work Cited

Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. McIntosh and Otis, Inc., 1960, ToKillAMockingbird_201604/To Kill A Mockingbird_djvu.txt.

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The Role of the Narrator in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: Literary Analysis Essay. (2022, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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