There’s a passage in “To Kill A Mocking Bird” by Harper Lee, where Scout Finch, the 8 year-old protagonist, describes a scene where a mad (rabid) dog, called Tim Johnson, limps up her street:
"I thought mad dogs foamed at the mouth, galloped, leaped and lunged at throats, and I thought they did it in August. Had Tim Johnson behaved thus, I would have been less frightened…Tim Johnson was advancing at a snail’s pace, but he was not playing or sniffing at foliage: he seemed dedicated to one course and motivated by an invisible force that was inching him toward us."
As I read this, I thought to myself why does Harper Lee do this? Why does she write the scene this way? And then it hits me; Tim Johnson is not just a rabid dog, Tim Johnson is a metaphor for racism. That’s how racism spreads. Racism doesn’t gallop; it crawls at a snail’s pace, limping from door to door, to the indifference of most people. One man, Atticus Finch, Scout’s lawyer father, knows what he has to do:
"With movements so swift they seemed simultaneous, Atticus’s hand yanked a balltipped lever as he brought the gun to his shoulder. The rifle cracked. Tim Johnson leaped, flopped over and crumpled on the sidewalk in a brown-and-white heap. He didn’t know what hit him."
And when Scout asks Atticus why he is fighting a losing battle, defending his client, Atticus tells her:
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
Lee writes the words that matter to let us see, hear, smell, taste, and feel Scout’s world. And she says more through metaphors with less. She turns prose into poetry.