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How does Harper Lee create interest in Chapter one of To Kill A Mockingbird

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How does Harper Lee create interest in Chapter one of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’?

During the first chapter of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee uses many style techniques and character and plot devices to create interest and leave the reader wanting more. The most obvious style technique is introduced on the very first page of the book, where it is revealed to us that that the narrative of the story is told from two different viewpoints – one detailing the story from a child’s point of view in 1936, and one speaking as an older version of the main character, Scout, filling in the details that were unbeknownst to her younger self, usually due to her naïvety at the time. This creates endless possibilities for Lee to produce moments of humour as the older Scout looks back at her time as a child, seeing how much she still had to learn about the human psyche, and life in general. Also to do with style, Lee begins the story with details of an event which takes place at the very end of the book, when Jem breaks his arm.

This makes the reader interested about how the event came about, and whether there was any malicious intent behind it. We know that an explanation is coming at some point in the narrative, but the only way we can get to it is by continuing through the book. Finally, when Jem is describing Boo Radley to Scout and new arrival Dill, he uses language like “malevolent phantom”, which, for a nine year old, is very sophisticated language. This leads us to expect that Jem has overheard some of the adult citizens of Maycomb talking about the Radleys, and has picked up this phrase. Instead of just telling us about the assumptions, Lee at the same time leaves us with views about the entire town, their attitude to the nature of the Radleys, and how happy they are to candidly speak about them using language such as “malevolent” in the presence of a child.

The plot of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ also makes the reader want to find out more than what they are initially told. Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, is introduced with a description of his office. This office only consists of a few pieces of furniture and personal objects, suggesting that he doesn’t really need anything to enjoy his job as a lawyer, because he is passionate enough about it already. This has connotations of his character being fair and just throughout the book, something that we would want to find out. Atticus is also described as respected by the people of Maycomb, with the quote “He knew his people, they knew him”. This implies that he has done something to earn their respect, and we are left to wonder what. During the book, Atticus is constantly referred to as simply “Atticus”, as opposed to “father”, by Scout and Jem. This makes us think that the Finch family might be more separate than it would seem at first glance. Although Atticus may have done something to win over the town, he may not have been able to win over his children.

To back up the point about Atticus being passionate about his job, a story is told during the first chapter of the book about one of Atticus’ previous law cases, concerning two men, both of them murderers. Atticus tried to convince them to plead guilty to the charges and save their lives, but they refused. So it got to the point where “…there was nothing much Atticus could do… except be present at their departure”. This shows that he would go out of his way to help people, no matter what they have done. This story portrays Atticus as loyal to both his job and his people, and we are interested to find out whether he remains to throughout the book. To reinforce that point made about Dill’s distance from his family, in particular his father, we are told that despite his full name being “Charles Baker Harris”, he prefers to be called simply “Dill” (“Folks call me Dill”), suggesting that he wants to break all possible ties that he has with his family, and he achieves this by ignoring his given name and choosing a new one. Similarly, Scout ignores her given name, “Jean Louise Finch”, too, maybe implying the same thing. It is interesting for us to find out if this is true or not. We also find out in chapter one another reason to believe that Atticus is fair, and this is in the company he keeps. America in the 1930’s was still very racially discriminate, but we learn that Atticus’s maid, Calpurnia, is black. We don’t know whether her relationship to Atticus is a happy or an abusive one, and this makes us interested whether Atticus is one of the many racists in the South, or whether he is different.

Finally, when Dill encourages Jem to touch the Radley house at the end of chapter one, Jem’s character trait of wanting to show to the other children that he is superior. Jem goes through with Dill’s plan and eventually touches the house, leaving us wondering whether he would be prepared to do increasingly dangerous things to show this dominance to Scout and Dill.

Overall, Harper Lee creates interest in the opening chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird by using different plot devices, character traits, and finally writing styles to give us only expectations of characters and events, without revealing the whole truth immediately.

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