Analysis of Text Two
The text under analysis is an extract from the novel “To Kill a Mocking Bird” written by Harper Lee, an American writer. It was her only book, and when it was first published in 1960, Harper Lee became known all over the world. The critics called it another masterpiece of the “Huckleberry Finn’s Adventures” kind, as the readers were struck by the sincere ingenuousness of her style.
The action takes place at Maycomb, a small town lost in the fields of Alabama. Three children – Jean Louise, her elder brother Gem and their friend Dill – try to investigate a mystery of an old house, where a man who hasn’t turned up in the street for twenty years is still living, as rumours say. The background for their adventures, jokes and tricks is no funny narration about a case from lawyer practice of their father, Atticus Finch. So two basic themes – adventures and the system of law – are combined in the book. As the represented text combines extracts from some chapters devoted to the trial over Tom Robinson, the law theme prevails.
One day at school the children noticed that the attitude to them had changed. They were teased and provoked, because their father had taken up the defence of Tom Robinson, a Negro who was charged with raping Mayella Ewell. He wasn’t guilty, it was a slander made by the girl to put the evidence of her offence away from her. But everybody was prejudiced against a Negro’s word, and Tom Robinson was convicted, and then died caught in an attempt to escape from prison.
The historical background of the book is “the year of grace” – 1935. That period in America is often called “The Age of Jazz”. It was the time of comparative wealth and peace, and prosperity was claimed an official ideology. Equal rights were established for all men, and women movement also achieved considerable results by that time. But in contrast to this, many public freedoms and human rights were proclaimed, but not executed. And Harper Lee places the action into that period, 60 years after slavery prohibition. Though the black were considered equal by courts, publicity still couldn’t bear it.
The extract for analysis represents an interlacement of the 1st person narration, introduced by Scout, which is a nickname of Jean Louise, with Atticus Finch’s speech at the court room. It constitutes the major part of the text, and that is why I’d like to begin with it.
What is the most important function of an attorney for defence? A smart lawyer can persuade the court not to convict the accused beforehand. Though investigation usually provides enough facts for the verdict, it is in the courtroom where the fate of the defendant becomes determined. And the jury is especially sensitive to a well-built speech. Let’s have a look at the situation. The judge knows the verdict already. The jury is sure of the guilt of Tom Robinson. This very public in the gallery have tried to lynch him the night before the trial. Atticus knows as well that his chances are absurd. But he is a man of extreme generousity and justice, and his conscience forbids him to leave poor Robinson defenceless. That is why Atticus puts his reputation at stake. He doesn’t want to appeal to pity. He wants to create a precedent. Therefore he appeals to reason and uses a lot of methods elaborated by the art of rhetorics.
He is extremely worried which is revealed both in his behaviour and his voice. As Scout describes it, at first he spoke with a kind of detachment he used when dictated letters (a simile). He was walking up and down in front of the jury, which is also a general sign of excitement. The scene is completed by the sentence which directly conveys his state with the help of gradation and morphological parallelism: Atticus “unhitched his watch, unbuttoned his vest, unbuttoned his collar, loosened his tie and took off his coat”. He even put his hands in his pockets, and I suppose that mentioning hands may be an allusion to the phrase “I wash my hands off it”. Scout accentuates that such behaviour was not typical of Atticus, and her impression is conveyed through the litotes “He never loosened a scrap of his clothing” and the simile “standing before us stark naked”.
Scout also tells us about the reaction of the jury, and Harper Lee hides irony in her words: “and the jury seemed to be attentive: their heads were up, and they followed Atticus’s route with what seemed to be appreciation”; lexical repetition of the word “seem’ combined with syntactical parallelism intensifies the irony. But when Atticus is half-way through his speech (a metaphor), his manner changes. He is going to touch the most important part, and to attract the jury’s attention he not only addresses them directly(Gentlemen) and keeps this manner throughout his speech, but also changes his voice to a confidential tone. “His voice lost its aridity (a metaphor), its detachment”. He is talking to the jury as if they were folks on the post office corner (a simile), thus making them feel comfortable. This sentence also contains a pun: the jury really were simple villagers, and so the simile could be understood literally. Jean Louise notes that he might have said ‘Scout”, and so she gives the readers an impression that Atticus spoke in a habitual, homely manner.
Atticus is eager to persuade the audience. First of all, he addresses the jury in the beginning of every other paragraph to encourage their attention. Another thing, he builds his speech on the well-known scheme: he gives his thesis “The defendant is not guilty” in the beginning of the speech, then furnishes it with facts, telling his version of the so-called crime and accentuating contradictories in the version of the chief witness for the state. Then he passes to establishing the conditions, on which the jury should base their verdict, and speaks about the facts that are considered to be the general truth – “All men are created equal”. He finishes with the repetition of the thesis paraphrasing it: “Restore the defendant to his family”. The general impression, on which the speech is calculated, is that the thesis formulated at first is developed, proved and flows out of the facts logically.
Should not the audience be so prejudiced against Tom Robinson, Atticus would be sure to win the case. On a careful observation, he applies certain stylistic devices tounderline the most important points.
First of all, Atticus assures the jury that the case is very simple — with the help ofgradation and antithesis: “this case is not a difficult one, it requires no minute sifting of complicated facts, but it does require you to be sure beyond all reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant. This case should never have come to trial”. He sums it up by a simile: “this case is as simple as black and white’. Then Atticus points out the defects of the investigation applying a metaphor: “the state has not produced one iota of medical evidence”. He shows that the testimony of the witnesses is bare-worded. Then Atticus gives a highly emotive thesis built up as antithesis: “The defendant is not guilty, but somebody in this court-room is”. This periphrasis instead of the name heightens the suspension which is intensified by a long pause made by Atticus (which is shown by graphic means – a new paragraph). In the next paragraph it seems that Atticus has changed a topic, but this is done deliberately. He says “I have nothing but pity in my heart for the chief witness for the state, but my pity does not extend so far as to her putting a man’s life at stake”; his irony and hidden negative attitude to the slander are revealed through antithesis, a metaphor “at stake”, a lexical repetition “my pity” and the emphatic construction “nothing but’. The triple repetition of the word “guilt” helps to move this idea deep into the minds of the jury.
Then Atticus tells the public his own version of the events. He motivates Mayella Ewell’s behaviour by her fear to be unmasked. His sentence “She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time-honoured code of our society, a code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with” is a whole cluster of stylistic devices: there is antithesis, lexical repetition, epithets, detachment with emphatic word-order (a code so severe), and assonance in it, and it reminds of a parable. Irony sounds in the adjoining phrase “I cannot pity her: she is white”. Then he applies a chain repetition of the words “breaking” and “persisted”, and points out the essence of the case in a sustained metaphor of a child trying to avoid punishment and hiding the evidence. Here he uses gradation “He must be removed from her presence, from this world” and antithesis “she did smth every child has done – but she was no child hiding stolen contraband”. He also asks a rhetorical question “What was the evidence of her offence?”, and then repeated the name of Tom Robinson thrice, thus underlining her fear of him.
After that Atticus tells the audience what took place in fact: there was no rape, Mayella just kissed the Negro, and was caught by her father. Atticus underlines the absurdity of the case by lexical and syntactical repetition combined with antithesis “She tempted a Negro. She was white, and she tempted a Negro”, and also by an ironical epithet “unspeakable”. Then Atticus tries to prove that Mayella was beaten by her farther. In the book he carries out an experiment, making him sign a paper. This episode is omitted in the text, but Atticus sums up the experiment “he swore out a warrant, no doubt signing it with his left hand, and Tom Robinson now sits before you, having taken the oath with … his right hand”. Here antonyms combined with syntactical parallelism and lexical repetitions reveal the contrast.
Atticus finishes the analysis of the case with a highly ironical statement “And so a quiet, respectable, humble Negro who had the unmitigated temerity to “feel sorry” for a white woman has had to put his word against two white people’s”. The euphemism “to feel sorry” is used here not to hurt the feeling of the white. Atticus directly announces that the testimony of the witnesses is false, and based on the evil assumption that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around women. Gradation and generalization are employed to show the absurdity of it, and play with people’s prejudice against rough generalizations. The next paragraph is built up in a contrast to the previous one, and Atticus uses the parallel phrase about Negroes, just changing the word “all” to “some”. The paragraph is based on the interplay of the words “truth” and “lie”: “which we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson’s skin (a simile and a pun, as the word “black” is used in its concrete and metaphorical meaning simultaneously), a lie I do not have to point you. You know the truth, and the truth is this… But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of man (antithesis)”. The adjoining sentence is based on parallel constructions united by gradation: “There is not a person in this room who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man who has never looked upon a woman without desire”. This in itself may be an allusion to the language of sermons: “Everybody has a sin in the core of the heart”, and is calculated for uniting all people in the court-room into one body of the so-called criminals.
At this point Atticus passes to the last part of his speech. He calls for justice, and makes use of an allusion to Thomas Jefferson, to remind people of the man the state is proud of, and of the danger of prejudice. He knows that his phrase “All men are created equal” has become a trite one, and honestly points out the importance of its correct use. He uses metaphors “distaff side” and “hurling at us” with derogative meaning to arouse negative emotions and readdresses them to those who use the principle irrelevantly of the situation. He brings an example of schools where the stupid and idle are promoted with the industrious (substantivized adjectives), and then underlines that all men are not created equal, employing syntactical parallelism accompanied by anaphora: “some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity, some man make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others – some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men”. There is also bathos in the sentence: some people are gifted – and some ladies make better cakes, and it makes the pathos milder.
Then Atticus adds that in contrast to all this, the courts are the great levellers, as they make a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. In this sentence lexical and syntactical parallelism is combined with antonomasia and hyperbole to make the jury feel proud for their court and their country, and realize how responsible their duty is. He also resorts to rhyme “Our courts have their faults” and to parallely inverted word order “There is one way – there is one human institution” to make his speech more colourful.
He concludes his speech emphasizing the moral responsibility of the jury and making them no way for escape. Metaphorically he says that they are the court, and they will be responsible for Robinson’s death if they convict him. He employs chain repetition to come to a logical conclusion: “A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up”. His final words are an act of pastor-like convincing: “Restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty”.
As one can see, Atticus applies the stylistic devices that give more expressiveness to his ideas. He skilfully underlines the key points, proves them, and heightens the suspension when he needs to. It should be also noted, that he makes use of rhetorical questions (eg. What was the evidence of her offence? What did she do? What did her father do?) to add the importance to the answers on them, which he gives himself. He also resorts to emphatic word order (of necessity she must put him away; a code so severe that) and to certain emphatic constructions like “it was quilt that motivated her”. There are also examples of “emphatic do” in his speech (We do know in part what Mr Ewell did; it does require you to be sure). Atticus also uses the negative pronoun instead of the negative particle “not” (she was no child, she has committed no crime, I am no idealist, no code mattered to her, to no particular race of men). From the syntactical point of view, he speaks in long composite sentences, many of them are parallel. It is interesting, that the graphic arrangement of the paragraphs also is symbolic: they are almost equal in length, they end in some conclusion, and very often are joined to each other by lexical repetitions(eg. To get rid of her own guilt – I say guilt, gentlemen; She must destroy the evidence of her offence – what was the evidence of her offence? She tempted a Negro – She was white and she tempted a Negro; etc). All these helps Atticus’s speech be not only highly informative, but also very expressive, persuading, colourful and arresting attention. It is abrilliant example of oratorical style.
But it is represented within the narration made by a nine-year-old girl, and in the book this episode symbolizes her first counteraction with injustice. It is a 1st person narration, and her speech is very emotive and ingenuous. As a child she notices small details: a tip of the pen, a gavel in the hand of the judge, etc. She also uses contracted forms and colloquialisms (to punch, to toy, to shut one’s eyes, to peek at sb, to snap). But at the same time it is evident, that she is a daughter of a lawyer, as their individual styles bear some resemblance: she also uses parallelism and repetitions (could be expected to see, could be expected to watch for; The foreman handed the paper to Mr Tate who handed it to the clerk who handed it to the judge; guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty), simile (the jury returned, moving like underwater swimmers; as if each “guilty” was a separate stab; his voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s), a metaphor of Atticus in the role of a hunter, when “it was like watching Atticus walk into the street, raise a rifle to his shoulder and pull the trigger, but watching all the time knowing that the gun was empty”. She resorts tohigh-flown words and phrases, as they are in use in their house – a dreamlike quality, tiny voice, made his way, was reluctant, wasn’t a thunderer – and in combination with achildish interpretation of the events they sound a bit funny, but suggest that Scout took after her father and imitates him subconsciously.
To sum up, I’d like to say, that the extract gives a false impression of the book. It is devoted to childhood first, and the story with Tom Robinson is just an episode in it, though giving much for thinking. The idea of the fight between justice and injustice is given there unobtrusively, and the main advantage of the book is its adventure-like character, which distinguishes many books about children, written for the grown-ups. When reading this book, most of all I liked the epigraph, which says: “Even lawyers used to be children”. And I think, that it is sometimes important for a child to see injustice to know, how valuable justice is.