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To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

Allusions

Main ideas Allusions

Chapter 1

Literary

Thus we came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fantasies.

This is an allusion to Merlin, King Arthur’s legendary adviser and wizard.

Chapter 2

Pop culture

Hours of winter-time had found me in the treehouse, looking over at the schoolyard, spying on multitudes of children through a two-power telescope Jem had given me, learning their games, following Jem’s red jacket through wriggling circles of blind man’s buff, secretly sharing their misfortunes and minor victories.

This is an allusion to “Blind Man’s Bluff,” a variant of the children’s game of tag in which the player who is “it” wears a blindfold.

Literary

He read in a book where I was a Bullfinch instead of a Finch. Jem says my name’s really Jean Louise Bullfinch, that I got swapped when I was born and I’m really a—

This is an allusion to Bullfinch’s Mythology, a famous collection of Greek myths.

Pop culture

I’m just trying to tell you the new way they’re teachin’ the first grade, stubborn. It’s the Dewey Decimal System.

This is an allusion to the Dewey Decimal System, a library classification system created by Melvil Dewey in 1876.

Historical

The Cunninghams are country folks, farmers, and the crash hit them the hardest.

This is an allusion to the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the most devastating financial crash in U.S. history, the event that triggered the Great Depression.

Chapter 3

Pop culture

Atticus kept us in fits that evening, gravely reading columns of print about a man who sat on a flagpole for no discernible reason, which was reason enough for Jem to spend the following Saturday aloft in the treehouse.

This is an allusion to flagpole sitting, a popular fad in the 1920s.

Chapter 4

Pop culture

One day we were so busily playing Chapter XXV, Book II of One Man’s Family, we did not see Atticus standing on the sidewalk looking at us, slapping a rolled magazine against his knee.

This is an allusion to the radio soap opera One Man’s Family, which aired from 1932 to 1959.

Chapter 5

Historical

If she found a blade of nut grass in her yard it was like the Second Battle of the Marne: she swooped down upon it with a tin tub and subjected it to blasts from beneath with a poisonous substance she said was so powerful it’d kill us all if we didn't stand out of the way.

This is an allusion to the last major German offensive (July–August 1918) on the Western Front during the First World War, a victory for the Allies that turned the tide of the war.

Religious

Miss Maudie’s face likened such an occurrence unto an Old Testament pestilence.

This is an allusion to the Plagues of Egypt, which are recounted in the book of Exodus and are disasters or plagues (including locusts, frogs, lice, flies, boils, blood, darkness, and pestilence) sent by the God of Israel to force the Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery.

Chapter 6

Religious

Because nobody could see them at night, because Atticus would be so deep in a book he wouldn't hear the Kingdom coming[.]

This is an allusion to the biblical prophecy of the Second Coming of Christ and his Kingdom, also called Judgment Day, as described in the New Testament Books of Matthew, Daniel, Isaiah, and Revelation.

Chapter 8

Historical

Mr. Avery said that it was written on the Rosetta Stone that when children disobeyed their parents, smoked cigarettes and made war on each other, the seasons would change[.]

This is an allusion to the Rosetta Stone, a large block of basalt inscribed in three languages with a report of a decree made in Egypt in 196 BC.

Pop culture

Those Bellingraths’ll look plain puny when I get started!

This is an allusion to Walter and Bessie Bellingrath, who made their fortune as one of the first Coca-Cola bottlers in the Southeast and opened their stunning 65-acre home and gardens in Mobile, Alabama, to the public in 1932.

Chapter 9

Historical/Political

“[S]he asked me what a whore-lady was . . . ” “Did you tell her?” “No, I told her about Lord Melbourne.”

This is an allusion to William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779–1848), Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister, who was involved in several sex scandals.

Religious

Let this cup pass from you, eh?

This is an allusion to Jesus. On the night before his death, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Chapter 12

Religious

We forgot her, trooped upstairs to church, and were listening quietly to the sermon when a dreadful banging issued from the radiator pipes, persisting until someone investigated and brought forth Eunice Ann saying she didn’t want to play Shadrach any more[.]

This is an allusion to Shadrach, who, in the biblical book of Daniel, was one of three men whom King Nebuchadnezzar threw into a fiery furnace, but escaped unharmed because of their faith.

Religious

At each seat was a cheap cardboard fan bearing a garish Garden of Gethsemane, courtesy Tyndal’s Hardware Co. (You-Name-It-We-Sell-It).

This is an allusion to the Garden of Gethsemane located at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where, on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed and was later arrested.

Chapter 13

Pop culture

(she did not permit Calpurnia to make the delicacies required to sustain the Society through long reports on Rice Christians)

The term “Rice Christians” is an allusion to people converted to Christianity in primarily Asian countries where diets are based on rice.

Chapter 15

Pop culture

“Called ʼem off on a snipe hunt,” was the succinct answer. “Didn't you think a’that, Mr. Finch?”

This is an allusion to a “snipe hunt,” which is a practical joke in which a person is taken into the woods at night and told to look for birds called snipes, which aren’t there.

Chapter 16

Historical/Political

Local opinion held Mr. Underwood to be an intense, profane little man, whose father in a fey fit of humor christened Braxton Bragg, a name Mr. Underwood had done his best to live down.

This is an allusion to Braxton Bragg (1817–1876), a senior officer in the Confederate Army and considered one of the worst commanders of his time.

Historical/Political

Look at all those folks—you’d think William Jennings Bryan was speakin’.

This is an allusion to William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), a politician from Nebraska who ran for president three times and was famous for drawing huge crowds at his speeches.

Chapter 20

Historical/Political

Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond of hurling at us.

This is an allusion to Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the president at the time of the novel, who was devoted to the support of civil rights. “Distaff” refers to the female side of a family.

Historical

But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president.

This quote contains allusions to John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937), who is considered to be the richest American in US history and perhaps the wealthiest person in modern times, and to Albert Einstein (1879–1955), a German physicist who is considered one of the most intelligent minds who ever lived.

Chapter 26

Pop culture

Little Chuck Little, a hundred years old in his knowledge of cows and their habits, was halfway through an Uncle Natchell story when Miss Gates stopped him: ‘Charles, that is not a current event.’

This is an allusion to Uncle Natchell, a cartoon mascot for a fertilizer; many of the advertisements at this time were told in story form like a comic strip.

Historical/Political

The only time I ever saw Atticus scowl was when Elmer Davis would give us the latest on Hitler.

This is an allusion to Elmer Davis (1890–1958), a radio news reporter for CBS who became the director of the U.S. Office of War Information during World War II.

Chapter 27

Historical/Political

You don’t have to touch her, all you have to do is make her afraid, an’ if assault ain’t enough to keep you locked up awhile, I’ll get you in on the Ladies’ Law, so get outa my sight!

This is an allusion to the Ladies’ Law, which was written in Alabama’s criminal code in 1907, that made it illegal for a person to use “abusive, insulting or obscene language” within earshot of a girl or woman, and those found guilty of such a crime faced a punishment of a fine, imprisonment, or hard labor.

Historical/Political

He said, “You tell Cecil I’m about as radical as Cotton Tom Heflin.”

This is an allusion to Thomas “Cotton Tom” Heflin (1869–1951), a politician from Alabama who served in the U.S. Congress from 1905 to 1931; Heflin was an outspoken racist who was supported by the Ku Klux Klan.

Historical/Political

I asked who killed it: he said nine old men.

The phrase “nine old men” is an allusion to the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court, which declared the NRA unconstitutional in 1935.

Pop culture

Miss Tutti denied it and lived in a world of silence, but Miss Frutti, not to miss anything, employed an ear trumpet so enormous that Jem declared it was a loudspeaker from one of those dog Victrolas.

This is an allusion to the Victrola, a gramophone produced by RCA Victor; in the advertisement, a dog peered into the Victrola’s horn.