To Kill a Mockingbird - Language

This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on language in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Language in To Kill a Mockingbird presents an interesting mix of local dialects, the speech patterns of children and the more complex narration of the grown-up Scout. Colourful language derived from dialect and spoken through the simple diction of a child results in some striking poetic effects. Rhetorical techniques feature heavily, especially influenced by the religious context of Maycomb and the legal concerns of the plot. Scout is even mockingly asked by Miss Stephanie at one point whether she wants to be a lawyer when she grows up.

Analysing language in a text

Language is the primary medium through which a reader is able to understand a text.

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Visual elements such as layout, font and any illustrations are all important. Although these have an effect on our understanding and interpretation of a text, written texts could not, by definition, exist without words.

Authors use language with great care. Each word has its literal meaning; beyond the literal meaning lies a weight of symbolic meanings and other associations. Imagery, such as metaphor, simile and personification, and other literary effects are all created through language. Authors also depend on their skilful use of language to create dialogue, setting and characterisation.

Pay close attention to language choices in a text. Your efforts will be repaid with deeper understanding. Linger over words in order to get beyond the surface meaning. What does the language suggest? Does it cause you to think about anything else? Remember that the author has put great care into choosing the language. This means that you should also devote care to your analysis. Taking time to think about language choice will help you to decipher the text’s deeper meanings.

Answer the questions below to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect our interpretation of a text.

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  1. "I'm afraid our activities would be received with considerable disapprobation by the more learned authorities." How might Atticus's style of speech best be described?
    Atticus humourously employs the language of the courtroom here in encouraging Scout not to tell her teacher about their agreement to read at home
  2. "The tyre bumped on gravel, skeetered across the road, crashed into a barrier and popped me like a cork on to the pavement." Which of the following literary devices creates the vivid imagery of this sentence?
    "Bumped", "skeetered", "crashed" and "popped" are examples of onomatopoeia which make the reader almost able to hear Scout's roll down the street inside the tyre. Repetitive structures in the sentence give the impression of the tyre's series of collisions, while the simile helps the reader to imagine Scout flying out of the tyre like a cork from a pressurised bottle
  3. "Everybody in Maycomb, it seemed, had a Streak: a Drinking Streak, a Gambling Streak, a Mean Streak, a Funny Streak." What effect does capitalisation have in this sentence?
    Aunt Alexandra's labels take on an air of authority as she divides the population of Maycomb into distinct groups
  4. "What happened after that had a dreamlike quality: in a dream I saw the jury return, moving like underwater swimmers, and Judge Taylor's voice came from far away, and was tiny." Which of the following does NOT contribute to the dreamlike quality of this scene as Scout remembers it?
    It is not the jury's return in itself that creates the dreamlike state, but the way in which Scout describes her memory of the scene, including how the Judge's voice sounded to her and the unnatural appearance of the jury's progress into court
  5. Why is this particular scene described as "dreamlike"? Choose the best answer.
    The passage also appears to slow time as the jury returns to unjustly convict Tom
  6. "I wanted to stay and explore, but Calpurnia propelled me up the aisle ahead of her." Which of the following is true of the use of the word "propelled" here?
    Scout submits to her father's authority and is obedient to Calpurnia and to adults she respects. Being directed by adults often makes her feel uncomfortable, however. Here Calpurnia is literally pushing and steering Scout away from everything she wishes to explore
  7. "Jem parcelled out our roles. I was Mrs Radley, and all I had to do was come out and sweep the porch. Dill was old Mr Radley: he walked up and down the sidewalk and coughed when Jem spoke to him." Which of the following words gives the impression that Jem is bestowing gifts on Dill and Scout in their games?
    Jem is in charge and decides what the roles are, what they involve, and who will play them. He hands this information out like a gift
  8. "She was a widow, a chameleon lady who worked in her flower beds in an old straw hat and men's coveralls, but after her five o'clock bath she would appear on the porch and reign over the street in magisterial beauty." Which words contribute most to a queenly image of Miss Maudie?
    After her five o'clock bath, Miss Maudie reigns like a queen as she views the street from her porch
  9. "Zeebo rose from his pew and walked down the centre aisle, stopping in front of us and facing the congregation. He was carrying a battered hymn-book." What does the "battered" nature of the hymn-book imply?
    The hymn book is well-worn and has been much used
  10. "I sat quietly, having conquered my hands by tightly gripping the arms of the chair, and waited for someone to speak to me." Which word tells the reader that this task is difficult for Scout?
    Scout is at war with herself. The phrase "tightly gripping" also expresses Scout's difficulty with this task

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