Harper Lee’s style in ‘Two Kill a Mockingbird,’ is such that she uses a variety of methods to convey certain emotions, reveal aspects of a character’s personality, or to heighten or ease drama. A recurring technique that Harper Lee uses to create humour is that of perspective, childhood unawareness and the assumptions that Scout and the people surrounding her so casually make. As the entire novel is written from the eyes of a very young girl, her biased, stunted opinions, limited experience and juvenile convictions cause a great deal of amusement.
An instance of this (in the second chapter) is that of Scout’s description of Alabaman folk having no background or Jem’s honest certainty that it is the Dewey Decimal System that is being initiated in the school. Moreover, a prime illustration of this point is Scout’s straightforward certainty that Miss Caroline would know about the Cunninghams or her failure to realise she was going to be punished as well as to what bargain she had made with Miss Caroline (the spit handshake). Through Ms. Caroline, Harper Lee paints a satirical picture and uses the tool of irony to ridicule the rigidity of education in the Deep South.
Ms. Caroline is a mechanical parrot who can only cope with and understand what she has been trained for. Hilarity is created when she scolds Scout for reading and being literate, a skill that would normally be commended. It is further made amusing by her form of inflicting corporal punishment which is almost trivial (though not in Scout or Miss Caroline’s eyes). This scene, which would be shocking by today’s standards as it gives on insight into the weaknesses of the education system (as told from the author’s view point). However, Harper Lee makes the scene amusing by using the device of understatement.
She states the events in a light casual manner and emphasizes it with a lack of emphasis. The sheer absurdity of a teacher telling a child not to read coupled with the way it is narrated combines to create humour. Miss Caroline’s lack of experience is further used for amusement when she calls on Walter Cunningham to take her loan. Walter Cunningham’s character is a proud one. Although he is relatively poor, he still has a sense of self-dignity. So even though the offer is tempting when he is offered a quarter by Miss Caroline to buy lunch, he politely refuses.
Miss Caroline’s persistence and condescending demeanour, leaves him ashamed but still resilient (he still refuses the loan). Under normal circumstances, the reader would feel for Walter and share his shame but Harper Lee quickly changes the pace and lightens the mood of the scene with Scout’s contribution. Another example of childish conviction even in false facts is when the other children assume that familiarity breeds ignorance. In fact, familiarity breeds contempt but they are assured that Scout is needed to defend Walter.
Harper Lee changes the mood of the scene and lightens the tension by injecting humour. This is largely done as a means of mocking the school system of those times, something she did not support. Through the means of irony, over exaggeration (the story of the cats), under exaggeration, situational humour and assumptions, the author entertains her readers. Furthermore, she uses humour to not only subtly mock the school system but also the firmly enshrined beliefs of those times. This is almost solely through the blunders of Miss Caroline. Harper Lee also uses it to show a character’s mindset or personality.
Such is the case with Scout who automatically presumes Miss Caroline knows of the Cunninghams’ ways or with Miss Cunningham assuming that every child should not be able to read or write. In summation, Harper Lee’s means of creating humour are wide ranging though she relies on the fact that Scout is a six-year old girl with a narrow outlook. As for her reasons, though humour is obviously used to create just that; humour. It is also used as an instrument to control the flow of the book and to make more obvious or disguise its various nuances.