Hyperbole in To Kill a Mockingbird

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  • 0:00 What is Hyperbole?
  • 0:59 The Town of Maycomb
  • 2:47 Charles Baker 'Dill' Harris
  • 3:23 Scout's First Day of School
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Have you ever been so bored that you could fall asleep? Have no fear, this lesson about hyperbole in To Kill a Mockingbird will not have that effect! In fact, it's so informative and lively, you'll want to jump for joy once you've finished reading!

What is Hyperbole?

Have you ever been so hungry that you could eat a horse? As you're reading this lesson, perhaps you feel so loaded down with schoolwork that it seems like you have a million things to do. You may even be so tired that you could hibernate for the next few months.

Take a moment to consider these ideas. What do they have in common? Each of them is a hyperbole, or an exaggerated statement. Authors frequently use hyperbole in their writing to emphasize a point and to create humor. Take for example the task list of 'a million things.' Is it likely that you, or anyone else, would ever truly have a million things to do? No, probably not, but explaining how busy you are in terms of 'a million tasks' really hits the point home!

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, includes hyperbole throughout the novel to help the reader better understand specific aspects of the novel. Let's look at a few

The Town of Maycomb

Lee's earliest use of hyperbole occurs when she describes the sleepy town of Maycomb through the eyes of Jean Louise Finch, also known as Scout Finch, the narrator. Here, the adult Scout describes the summer heat of her childhood:

'…a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning.'

As a reader, you know that the heat in Maycomb probably hasn't changed much between when Scout was a kid and when she's telling the story as an adult. This reference, however, helps to emphasize just how truly sweltering it was. Scout shares that the collars of men's shirts were no longer stiff by 9 AM. The average workday starts at about 8 AM, meaning the starched and ironed shirts were a mess within an hour. This is certainly an example of exaggerated speech!

Scout continues to describe Maycomb with another hyperbole:

'People moved slowly then... A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.'

It doesn't matter where you are on the planet, a day is always 24 hours long. Describing a day in Maycomb as longer than that highlights just how slow and boring daily life was. Scout also emphasizes this point by stating that there was 'nowhere to go', 'nothing to buy', and 'nothing to see.' Use of the word 'nothing' is a good clue that this is hyperbole. The word 'nothing' is very extreme. Certainly there had to be something to see or do outside of Maycomb.

Charles Baker 'Dill' Harris

When Scout and Jem Finch first meet their neighbor's nephew, they're quite taken aback by his small stature. The boy introduces himself as Charles Baker Harris and informs them that he is in fact seven years old. Jem's first impression of him is that he couldn't have been much older than four. He says to Dill, 'Your name's longer'n you are. Bet it's a foot longer.'

Looking at Dill's name typed out, you know that it's really not more than two inches long. Jem's hyperbolic comparison of Dill's height to the length of his name emphasizes how teeny tiny Dill really is.

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