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Feedback on Analysis of TKaM Literary Techniques

I vividly remember  being in sophomore English in Mr. Gruber’s class analyzing the symbolism in Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights.  I smirked to a friend sitting beside me and whispered, “Sometimes a rock is just a rock.”  My attitude stemmed from the fact that for the first time in my life, I was not getting an A in English – and instead of opening my mind, I pouted and refused to learn.

Nearly twenty years later, I still remember that moment very clearly – and I feel a little disappointed by the opportunity lost because of my attitude.  I’m not trying to throw shade, I just hope that by sharing my experience, having been in your shoes, that you’ll gain an appreciation for what we are trying to accomplish. 

Logistically – identifying the choices an author makes barely scratches the surface for “digging deep” – after you’ve identified the literary device (in fiction) or the rhetorical device (in non-fiction)- you have to determine a) what is being developed and b) was the use of that device effective or not in accomplishing its goal. 

With the shift in focus this past year on analyzing author’s craft, students have been asked to reflect on how author’s use literary devices to further develop character, plot, and theme.  This is a multi-faceted endeavor. Absolutely – students can, and have, correctly identified a simile, associated with character development, and then stopped there. This VERY superficial “analysis” does not honor the art of reading and writing.  

For example, 

ChpQuoteLiterary DeviceDevelop.Analysis
22“The kitchen table was loaded with enough food to bury the family…” (286)HyperboleThematic developmentTo thank Atticus for defending Tom Robinson, people were getting him a lot of food. But it’s exaggerating saying that food will bury the family, because if we take it literally, it’s not going to make sense.

You can see in the analysis that the student has correctly identified Lee’s use of hyperbole to show just how much food has been brought to the Finches, and the student even correctly explained the context – why they were getting so much food.  WHAT’S MISSING? 

If you answered “What theme is being developed?”  you would be correct. If the student wanted to stick with thematic development, they would have to follow through with their thought process.  

First of all, I would argue that this might be more of a plot development…. “The trial is over, and the black families, despite the fact that Finch lost the case, despite being “poor,” are generous in showing their appreciation for Finch’s efforts.” 

And – even now, they are not done.  The next step is to analyze the effectiveness of using that literary device. 

“Lee’s use of hyperbole is effective here because the reader is able to truly imagine the extent of the black community’s generosity and appreciation.” 

Let’s try another.

ChpQuoteLiterary DeviceDevelop.Analysis
22”It’s like bein’ a caterpillar in a cocoon, that’s what it is…” (Lee 288)similecharacterJim compares Maycomb to a cocoon because he has been protected from all the bad in the county.  He is now becoming exposed to all the evil and starts to become more aware. This develops his character into someone more mature.

A very astute analysis of an important aspect of Jem’s character.  In this case, the student is absolutely correct, the simile does promise to expose the harsh “reality” of emerging from a cocoon – one that Jem is on the cusp of embracing. Without a doubt, an effective symbolic moment.

Yet, here we are, once again – forced to ask ourselves, does the use of this simile simply develop character?  What argument can be made for how the use of this simile might develop theme, the theme of “coming of age”?

Analyzing thematic development is certainly one of the more challenging aspects of this lesson.  You have to be able to correctly identify the theme. Below is an attempt – but once again, what theme is being developed is missing. 

ChpQuoteLiterary DeviceDevelop.Analysis
25“Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella opened her mouth and screamed.”(323)MetaphorThemeThis metaphor shows that, right from the start of this case, Tom was stuck with his guilty conviction. As Atticus stated previously, this verdict was inevitable, as Tom was a black man in a world blinded by racism and prejudice.
ChpQuoteLiterary DeviceDevelop.Analysis
26“Hung over us like smoke,” (Lee 326)SimileThematic developmentThis helped to signify how the past events had in a sense corrupted the children’s lives. They now have a weight over their shoulders that they never really had before.

The analysis above works because of the student’s word choice: “corrupted” “weight over their shoulders”…. but again, what theme is being developed?

Last week students were offered an optional extension opportunity – and this is the third time this semester students were asked to bring all this together.  The quick-write addressed the following prompt:

Prompt: How does Lee dramatize Atticus’s purpose as he makes his closing statement during the Robinson Trial? After closely reading Atticus Finch’s closing argument in To Kill a Mockingbird, write an informative essay in which you analyze such literary devices as rhetorical appeals, diction, imagery, setting, and tone. Support your discussion with evidence from the text/s.

Below is one student’s example:
The first rhetorical strategy apparent in his speech was the use of strong language. Finch had previously laid out all the facts of the case for the jury, however in his argument he repeats this information, placing more emphasis on certain actions and adjectives. This is highlighted when he described the true situation regarding Mayella’s state, claiming she was “beaten savagely” by her father, Mr. Ewell, whom he described as a “God-fearing, persevering, respectable white man.” Indeed, Atticus was being ironic referring to Mr. Ewell this way, however this forceful language reflects his passion and desperation for the audience, the jury, to understand and accept what really had happened. He also goes on to use similar language, describing Tom Robinson as a “a quiet, respectable, humble Negro” whose only fault was having the “unmitigated temerity” to feel bad for a white woman. Through his dramatic diction, Atticus was attempting to reflect to the jury, for the last time, Tom’s innocence.

Standard W 10.4
Coherent Writing
Standard W 10.1B
Evidence Selection & Stength
Standard W 10.1C
Reasoning
433

Areas for improvement: 

  1. Be sure to cite pg #s behind selected evidence – EASY FIX
  2. Reiterate Atticus Finch’s purpose of his closing statement (connecting evidence back to the prompt) – MEDIUM HARD FIX
  3. Analyze the effectiveness of the selected rhetorical device to its intended purpose (How does Lee dramatize Atticus’ purpose) – HARD FIX

We will continue working on these SKILLS with our enrichment activities. Please email me with any questions about the feedback offered here.  Thanks for reading.

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