Discuss the importance of the first two chapters of "To Kill a Mockingbird".

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‘Discuss the importance of the first two chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird’

This essay will explore the significance of the first two chapters in Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. I will be studying the narrative style, different themes within the book, the mockingbird symbol, and how social context is portrayed.

        The novel begins with Scout reciting her genealogy. This is significant, because it not only introduces us to the history of Maycomb, but also gives us an insight into the Maycomb society without allowing us to become part of their community; we are treated as outsiders. “If General Jackson hadn’t run the Creeks up the creek, Simon Finch would never have paddled up the Alabama, and where would we be if he hadn’t?” This quote uses many literary devices, including stream of consciousness and a rhetoric question. Stream of consciousness is a narrative device that presents the thoughts and feelings of a character as they pass through the mind; the thoughts are not crafted nor considered, they are continuous. Stream of consciousness is effective because it allows you to truly understand the narrator - you are literally reading their minds. Scout uses this device to confuse us; she is speaking about people we don’t know. This method of narration combined with a rhetorical question is very effective. It shows that Scout expects us to know her family history, as everyone in Maycomb would, and because we don’t, she is proving that we are outsiders; we are not welcome in the Maycomb society; this immediately tells us that we will be judged.

        The book is written by Scout as an adult reflecting on her childhood, and writing about her defining moments. This is known as a retrospective narrative. As a result of this, her narrative voice varies from a child’s point of view and an adult voice. Scout’s perspective as a child heavily influences the central plot. This allows the reader to understand events in a way that the young Scout does not. However, the narrative also digresses into descriptions and accounts that presented retrospectively. An example of this is Scout’s description of Maycomb is the first chapter: “Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.” This language shows an adult’s recollection rather than a girl’s experience. It uses the past tense, and refers to ‘when’ she knew it, and not how she knows it – she is nostalgic by remembering the place from whence she came.

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        The narrative is significant in both the first two chapters, and the novel itself. This is because we are only given a biased view on the events in the book, and so we are absorbed into her narration. An example of this is her first description of Calpurnia. “She was all angles and bones; she was nearsighted; she squinted; her hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as hard.” By describing her as nearsighted and squinted, Scout makes her out to be sinister and mean. This gives us a negative view of Calpurnia. Scout also describes her hand ...

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