Harper Lee in her novel To Kill A Mockingbird has utilized Scout, a six-year old girl to relate the facts. Yet, the language she uses is not restricted to her age, since that would have severely limited the expressions which Harper Lee needed to give. She makes it clear that the book is being written by the adult Scout recreating her childhood experience.
A varied use of language is noticed throughout the novel. First of all, there is a difference in the language spoken by the whites and the colloquial use of language by the blacks. A compromise is reached by Calpurnia, who uses white man’s language at Atticus’ house, but switches over the black jargon the moment she is amidst the blacks.
Language describes the character of a person too. Ewell uses foul words and obscenities whenever possible, which shows his poor class. Mayella, though not using foul words, betrays a lack of education in her speech.
Atticus is formal in his speech, and his words are often laced with irony and humor. Yet he cannot be considered pompous or having an inflated ego because of this. When speaking to the children, he usually uses simple words which can be easily comprehended.
Jem and Scout sometimes use slang words, typical of their age. While speaking to Uncle Jack, Scout says. "I don’t mean to sass you", and Jem remarks "shoot no wonder, then."
Tom uses the characteristic colloquial English, saying ‘suh’ for ‘sir’ and ‘chillun’ for ‘children’. Yet, he is decent enough not to repeat the foul words used by Bob Ewell, in the courtroom. This indicates that though he has had very little formal education, his good manners and etiquette are innate.
Various derogatory terms for the blacks have also been used, like ‘nigger’, ‘darky’, ‘Negroes’, ‘colored folk’ and so on; this reflects the attitude of the whites towards the blacks. Thus language has been very adeptly and adroitly used by Harper Lee to enable her novel to read natural.
Harper Lee, through her novel has attempted to present certain moral truths to the reader: the underlying morality of the Maycomb county has been well portrayed.
The primary moral truth that is evident in the book is the prominence given to life and the need to safeguard it. This does not only concern the trial scene where a black man’s life is at stake, but various other instances too. Atticus values life fundamentally, even if it is that of a bird’s. He refuses to touch a gun, unless it is absolutely essential. His son too, is careful enough to preserve all the earthworms while building his snowman, and even reprimands Scout when she tries to irritate them. Dill too shows the same love for living creatures, and he says that striking a match under a turtle can hurt it. Miss Maudie loves her plants and bestows a lot of love and care on them.
Another characteristic human value depicted is the need for love and affection. Arthur Radley has lived an entire life deprived of companionship. Dill, starved of love, weaves fantastic stories which reveals the tragic nature of his life. Mayella too, through her words, reveals a desire for love and affection which she had only received from Tom Robinson.
Tolerance and patience are the other morals taught in this novel. Atticus teaches his children to tolerate Mrs. Dubose’s vitriolic tongue, because she had a need for them. He teaches them to be patient with Aunt Alexandra, who had never dealt with children before. And most importantly, he teaches them to be tolerant of other’s beliefs and values as he says: "You can never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
These values and morals have one unifying message -- man needs the society he lives in. All men are equal and it is pointless to make distinctions. Only by living together in deliberate tolerance and love can one make the best of life.
Though the tone throughout is somber and interspersed with serious thoughts, yet Harper Lee has injected humor in novel. She has made a subtle use of humor, so that the reader can comprehend the serious messages with the agreeable flavor of humor. Scout’s childish viewing of the entire scenario touches the reader’s heart and brings a smile to the face, while going though the entire gamut of experiences that childhood is all about. Thus she very effectively blends entertainment with serious morality.
The lesson of equality is also imparted very effectively. It is well brought out that man has needlessly differentiated between the color of complexion of people and so formed barriers of prejudice. Harper has taken pains to convey the message that one must learn to be tolerant towards others. Only then can a better understanding and a stronger bond of mankind be formed.