Is there a name for the literary technique in which some people act normally about a topic or situation, while others (possibly including the reader) are incredulous?

For example, at the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout can hardly believe Boo Radley is in her house and sees him as a figure of her imagination, while Dr. Reynolds acts perfectly normally, saying “Evenin’ Arthur, didn’t notice you to first time I was here” and treating him as a normal person.

  • 1
    I'm not sure why you refer to it as a literary technique though. It's just a depiction of someone remaining calm.
    – Neil W
    Sep 6, 2014 at 2:25
  • I believe it's not just someone remaining calm; in the To Kill a Mockingbird example, I'm pretty sure Dr Reynolds and the adults know Boo's true personality where as Scout and the youths don't - thus Scout is in disbelief and still sees Boo as a figure of her imagination while everyone else acts perfectly normally. Sep 6, 2014 at 2:37
  • 1
    I am not sure if this is right, but I always thought that the situation you are referring to is an example of irony.
    – 0MM0
    Sep 6, 2014 at 14:22
  • It could be a surreal feeling when everyone refuses to acknowledge the unusual character of the situation, as if in a dream. Jul 17, 2017 at 19:14
  • RE: remaining calm. Oddly, Yharooer, I think your comment points out the validity of the "remaining calm" thought. Dr. Reynolds has knowledge that assists him in this, and he has the presence of mind not to be perturbed in the situation. Thus, "remaining calm" rather fits, eh? However, I think the word juxtaposition is the best answer to your question, which I believe is to describe the variance in the emotional reactions.
    – Mark G B
    Jul 26, 2017 at 21:48

3 Answers 3




The fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.

This word describes exactly the sort of scene you gave. I am not sure if you want the word to be used in the book text or not, but if so, something like this might work: "The calm reaction of Dr. Reynolds at seeing Boo Radley juxtaposed with Scout's reaction highlights her utter disbelief of what she is seeing."

  • You need to link to and attribute your reference. It's interesting that some dictionaries give 'to show contrast', some 'especially for contrast', and some just the unqualified 'The fact of two things being close together, or the act of so placing them' OWTTE. Jul 7, 2017 at 7:46
  • Since the OP was concerned with the contrast in reactions, I think juxtaposition is about as good a single word option as one is likely to find. I like it. Upvoted.
    – Mark G B
    Jul 26, 2017 at 21:43

The striking thing about the scene is the shift from the dramatic intensity of Scout's shock and astonishment to the matter-of-factness of Dr. Reynolds's greeting of Boo Radley. I'm not aware of any literary term for this particular form of dramatic contrast in tone. I do think, however, that matter-of-fact is a better term for Dr. Reynolds's behavior than such alternatives as impassive, unruffled, unflappable, or blasé. Here is the very brief entry for matter-of-fact in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003):

matter-of-fact adhering to the unembellished facts; also : being plain, straightforward, or unemotional


I think the best option would be "Impassive".

Oxford Dictionaries defines impassive as:


Syllabification: im·pas·sive Pronunciation: /imˈpasiv / ADJECTIVE

Not feeling or showing emotion: impassive passersby ignore the performers

Example sentences:

  • He had an impassive expression, as if he had been expecting this all along.
  • I was about as confused as him, but I didn't let it show, keeping an impassive expression plastered to my face.
  • His expression was impassive and I tried not to wilt under the searching gaze of those deep brown eyes.

In fact, example sentence 1 seems to be closely related with your scenario!

Another alternative would be unperturbed, or perhaps untroubled, but I'd go with impassive.

  • This is an adjective to describe a person's demeanour, but the OP seems to be looking for a word to cover a scene where one or more people remain impassive whilst others are incredulous. Sep 6, 2014 at 10:58
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    In the example given, the adults are not acting especially unemotional.
    – augurar
    Sep 7, 2014 at 2:20
  • I don't think this addresses the question. The OP wanted to describe the variance in responses, not label Dr. Reynolds' response.
    – Mark G B
    Jul 26, 2017 at 21:45

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