A PRAGMATIC ANALYSIS OF RACIAL PROBLEM IN H. LEE’S NOVEL “TO KILL THE MOCKINGBIRD”

Bohdana Hodyk

Kamianets-Podilskyi Ivan Ohiienko National University

Scientific Supervisor: Matkovska M. V.

A PRAGMATIC ANALYSIS OF RACIAL PROBLEM IN H. LEE’S NOVEL “TO KILL THE MOCKINGBIRD”

This paper is devoted to the pragmatic analysis of the racial problem appearing in the utterance between interlocutors. Attention is focused on injustice, the destruction of innocence, courage, compassion, gender roles, which constitute the background of the basic values of the American Deep South. The author examines linguistic means that are used for realization of mentioned categories in practice, exercised by Harper Lee in the system of her literary language.

Key words: semantics, pragmatics, linguistic culturology, communicative behavior, category.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” is Harper Lee’s realistic novel. It was published on the 11th  of July, 1960. The novel was based on Lee’s researching toward family and her neighbors, with the moments happened around in 1930s when Lee was 10 years old. “To Kill A Mockingbird” was written and published in the most significant and conflict-ridden social change in the South since the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The famous pragmalinguist Geoffrey Leech states that pragmatics is the study of meanings in relation to speech situation. The scientist also states that pragmatics involves problem solving both from the speaker’s point of view and from the hearer’s point of view [5, p. 16].

Levinson mentions that pragmatics was the study of aspects of language that required reference to the users of the language then led to a very natural, further restriction of the term in analytical philosophy. For there is one aspect of naturallanguages that indubitably requires such reference, namely the study of deictic or indexical words like the pronouns I and you [6, p. 3].

 Morris consider pragmatics studies the relations of signs to interpreters’, while semantics studies the relations of signs to the objects to which the signs are applicable’, and syntactic studies the formal relations of signs to one another’. According to Morris, language is a system of signs that produce dispositions to social behavior. In order to understand the uses and effects of signs, we must understand the ways in which signs influence social behavior. The terms of behaviorism may differ from those of “mentalism,” because behaviorist theory may hold that signs denote “responses” or “dispositions to behavior,” while mentalist theory may hold that signs denote “concepts” or “ideas” [7, p. 25].

Brown emphasizes that choosing a particular politeness strategy is determined by three factors, namely power, social distance, cost of imposition. By considering the potential relationship between speaker and addressee, the speaker tries to choose upon the right way to express him- or herself [1, p. 33].

Jones defines pragmatic theories of deixis, presupposition and Speech Act Theory are addressed, a somewhat deterministic view is taken of the relationships between linguistic choice making and social meanings. Jones acknowledges this complexity by taking the analysis further, with engaging accounts of forms of representation and the importance of intertextual relations. Particularly welcome is the attention paid to indexical values [3, p. 18].

The scientists made great researches towards pragmatics, but I support Leech’s studies. He does not reject the Chomsky revolution of linguistics, but rather maintains that the language system in the abstract – i.e. the ‘grammar’ broadly in Chomsky’s sense – must be studied in relation to a fully developed theory of language use. There is therefore a division of labor between grammar and rhetoric, or (in the study of meaning) between semantics and pragmatics.

Maycomb has a taut, well-developed caste system designed to separate whites from blacks. If Maycomb’s caste system is not so openly oppressive as that of John Dollard’s “Southern-town”, where “Caste has replaced slavery as a means of maintaining the essence of the old status order in the South”, [2, p. 121], it still serves the same end-to keep the blacks in their place. The operations of this system are obvious. First Purchase African M. E. Church, for example, “the only church in Maycomb with a steeple and bell” [4, p. 106], is subjected to minor but consistent desecration: “Negroes worshiped in it on Sundays and white men gambled in it on weekdays” [4, p. 106]. The whites, moreover, clearly expect deferential behavior of the blacks. One of the good ladies of the Methodist missionary circle interrupts her paeans to Christian fellowship to remark, “There’s nothing more distracting than a sulky darky…. Just ruins your day to have one of ’em in the kitchen” [4, p. 212].

The Finch children, attending church with Calpurnia, their black housekeeper, are confronted with doffed hats and, “weekday gestures of respectful attention” [4, p. 106].

Levinson defines that pragmatics is the study of language use, that is, the study of relation between language and context. The relation is basic to an account of language understanding which involves the making of inferences which will connect what is said to what is mutually assumed or what has been said before. Pragmatics can also solve the problem between the speaker and the hearer, especially the problem about point of view. For instance, we also can observe the racial segregation in chapter 16 where Scout describes the scene outside the courthouse: the colored people sat, “in the far corner of the square” [4, p. 147], and the reader is introduced to Mr. Dolphus Raymond, a man who despite his skin color, “sat with them,” [4, p. 145], with “them” referred to as the Negroes. The use of an impersonal pronoun “them” suggest that Scout herself might feel as if the Negro community are separate to the white community. This perhaps gives us, as readers a more critical viewpoint of the narrator. The idea of racial segregation is continued as Scout describes the picnic. When she asks Jem about Dolphus Raymond, Jem replies: “He’s got a colored woman all sorts of mixed chillun” [4, p. 145].

This demonstrates the character of Dolphus Raymond as perceived by Maycomb County. He is introduced as a wealthy but disliked man in Maycomb County despite the fact that he “owns all one side of the riverbank [and is] from a real old family” [4, p. 146].

Context is one of the factors that give an effect to people how they use the language. Context is one of those linguistic terms which are constantly used in all kinds of discourses but never explained because context is only relevant in the social situation by the participants themselves. has the relationship with meaning and therefore, context is important in pragmatics [6, p. 5]. Though Dolphus Raymond has traits valued by Maycomb County residents, he is still disliked by them due to his marriage with a black woman. He is often seen drinking what is presumed to be whiskey out of a paper bag. The character of Dolphus Raymond could be also be symbolic of the broader theme of prejudice in Maycomb County as a white man who associates himself with the black community would still be considered as black. When asked about what mixed children were, Jem says that they were, “Half-white ... .They’re real sad” [7, p. 146], he mentions that “colored folks” won’t consider that they are the same because they are “half-white” and “white folks” won’t consider them as the same because they are “half-black”. He mentions that these “mixed chillums“don’t belong anywhere” because they are “in- between”. This gives a more critical viewpoint of not only the white community as well as the black community, showing, as well, that the black community is just as racist as the white community.

Leech accounted for the problem of speaker’s point of view is how to produce an utterance that delivers message to the hearer and perfectly understood [5, p. 19]. For example, when the three children enter the courthouse, Scout overhears a conversation between Idler’s Club members, one saying, “Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him. That’s what I don’t like about” [4, p. 148],  use of the word “aim” in the quote, “Atticus aims to defend him” suggest that the Idler’s Club member suspect that Atticus is conspiring with the black community to get Tom Robinson acquitted. However, as readers, we understand that since the court has appointed Atticus to defend Tom Robinson’s case, it is Atticus’ job to get him acquitted. This quote shows how despite the fact that there are more obvious reasons for Atticus’ aims, many of Maycomb’s residents will look to, perhaps, a more judgmental conclusion, Scout provides the readers with a more logical reason, as shown in the quote:  “This was news, news that put a different light on things: Atticus had to, whether he wanted to or not. I thought it was…That’s what they didn’t like about it. It was confusing” [4, p. 148]. This shows the narrow mindsets of adults as opposed to Scout.

Thus, the novel was a successful one, won the Pulitzer Prize, and became a classic of modern American literature. The primary themes of “To Kill A Mockingbird” involve racial injustice and the destruction of innocence. Scholars have noted that Lee also addresses issues of class, courage, compassion, and gender roles in the American Deep South.

References

  1. Brown, Penelope. “Politeness: Some Universals In Language Usage.” Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp. 32-33.
  2. Dollard, John. Journal of American History. Caste and Class in a Southern Town. Volume 25, Issue 1, 1938, pp. 121–122,
  3. Jones, Rodney. H. “Discourse Analysis, a Resource Book for Students”, 2019, pp. 18-19.
  4. Lee, Harper. “How to kill a mockingbird”. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1960, 257 P.
  5. Leech, Geoffrey. “Principles of pragmatics.” Routledge; 1 edition, 2016,
  6. 14-20.
  7. Levinson, Stephen. C. “Pragmatics.” Cambridge University Press, 1983,
  8. 2-5.
  9. Morris, Charles. “Writings on the General Theory of Signs.” The Hague: Mouton, 1971, pp. 25-26.