How does Harper Lee build up Tension Throughout the Novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”?
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Harper Lee includes many events in the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to build up tension. In general, there is not so much tension in the first part of the novel, but it slowly builds up to the climax of when Bob Ewell tries to kill Scout and Jem. I am going to talk about the other events which lead up to this.
The first thing that Scout talks about in the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is Boo Radley. The name “Boo” gives off quite a scary thought about who he is because Scout and Jem do not know how he is and are scared of him. They call him the “malevolent phantom” where malevolent means showing wish to do evil on others and phantom being a mysterious figure. This builds up tension as they are being prejudiced to someone they do not know much about and only through rumours.
Additionally, Scout beats up Walter Cunningham because she gets into trouble since Walter does not have any lunch money and she stood up for her. Walter could represent Scout and Jem later in the novel where they got attacked for something that was not their fault by Bob Ewell. This foreshadows the later events and builds up more tension for the reader.
Also, during one winter, they had the “coldest weather since 1885”. Scout responded to this with “The world’s endin'” which shows that there is going to be a change in events, something the Maycomb County have never come across. Furthermore, during this winter, Miss Maudie had a house fire which juxtaposes with the coldness of the snow. This shows that there is going to be a sudden change in events. The coldness of the winter also juxtaposes with the hot summer. Atticus says “I can’t stay here all day with you, and the summer’s going to be a hot one” which shows that there is going to be a lot of tension within the community prior to the trial.
Moreover, during Christmas, Scout had a fight with Francis and Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Jack did not want to here Scout’s side of the story. This could represent the jury in the trial. Also, Scout persuaded Uncle Jack to listen to her side of her story; when he did, he understood saying “I don’t like Francis getting away with something like that” whereas the jury did not change their views or “stand in Tom Robinson’s shoes” This creates tension as this shows the prejudice being embedded in the community and also foreshadows that something bad will happen later on to Tom Robinson later in the novel.
Additionally, Jem kills Mrs Dubose’s camellia flowers which represent a “mockingbird” as they only give off pleasure. This could foreshadow the killing of Tom Robinson because he was killed for helping Mayella Ewell because “he felt sorry for a white woman”. The death of the camellia flowers build up tension for the reader because even though it is a small event, it foreshadows that the later events will be bigger and leave a scar on the community.
In addition, Tim Johnson, the rabid dog was “shot” by Atticus because he had rabies. Tim Johnson catching rabies was not his fault. This foreshadows the events of Tom Robinson being shot because he had allegedly raped Mayella Ewell. Also, Scout and Jem wanted to learn to shoot after this event which could show how the community want to shoot to show their courage but it could also show the mindless actions of the guards wanting to shoot Tom Robinson.
What’s more is that Bob Ewell spits at Atticus which shows how he wants too attack everyone in the Maycomb Community. However, the level of attack depended on what class they are in. Bob Ewell unnecessarily attacked Tom Robinson, because he is black, he was killed because of it whereas with Atticus, being higher up in class was only spit at. This creates tension as the reader knows that Bob Ewell will stop at nothing to attack different people in the community.
Moreover, the mob attack at the county jail could show the racism being embedded into the community. Miss Gates says: “Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced.” Not realising how prejudiced they are to black people. The mob attack could represent the Nazis Scout learnt about in school persecuting the Jews even thought the Nazis know that the Jews were just like them. This represents the white community knowing that Tom Robinson is innocent, but because he is black, they still have to persecute him. This builds up tension within the novel because the event gives off a negative view of the white community and this prejudice is going to continually escalate.
Finally, near the end of the novel; Cecil Jacobs jumped out at Scout and Jem whilst walking through the dark woods on Halloween. Halloween is seen as a scary time where people dress up as werewolves and other scary creatures. Also, the event took place when it was dark and quiet; people usually associate this time as unpredictable and thought of as scary. Cecil Jacobs jumping out at Scout and Jem foreshadows Bob Ewell hiding away from them but jumping out and attacking them. This again builds up tension to the climax where Bob Ewell attacks them children.
All these events build up tension throughout the novel, leading up to the climax of where Bob Ewell attacks Scout and Jem. Even thought some of the events are small, they help to build up the tension and foreshadows the later events of the novel.