How Does Harper Lee Increase the Tension Over the Trial in Chapter 15?

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In chapter 15, the chapter before Tom Robinson’s trial, Harper Lee increases tension hugely compared to the previous chapters. She begins to build tension right from the start when Heck Tate turns up with a group of men. This is significant because Scout says that ‘In Maycomb, grown men stood outside for only two reasons: death and politics’, and death is a sign of bad things because it foreshadows what is going to come next. ‘Jem turned out the living-room lights and pressed his nose to a window screen’, this shows that Jem clearly feels that he has to be secretive and does not want to be seen, I sense that he might be scared of the men because he does not know why they are all there and he does not want them to see him.

The next event in which tension is built up is in church the following day. Harper Lee writes that Heck Tate was at church, this is strange because ‘He never went to church’ according to Scout, meaning that there must be a very important reason for Mr Tate being there, but we do not know why. Also, making things stranger, Mr Underwood makes an appearance, and Mr Underwood ‘had no use for any organisation but The Maycomb Tribune… Something must have been up to haul Mr Underwood out’. This statement clearly tells us that there must be something going on we do not know about and it is serious enough that Mr Heck Tate and Mr Underwood have to visit church. Atticus says that Tom Robinson was moved to the Maycomb county jail, but then he says to himself that ‘If they’d kept him there in the first place there wouldn’t have been any fuss’, this sounds as though he is annoyed, but also that something happened. It is obvious Tom Robinson was moved to a different jail, but why and for how long we have no clue, making the whole thing very mysterious because we are not told what happened, only there has clearly been some difficulty getting him back to the Maycomb county jailhouse and that there are some people who do not want him back in the jailhouse.

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That evening after church, Atticus goes out but he does not say where he is going. He takes the car with him, which he never does if he is going anywhere in Maycomb because ‘he liked to walk’ and he only took the car for ‘business trips’, so it is very suspicious and we want to know instantly why he had taken the car with him. Later on that evening, Jem says to Scout ‘I’m goin’ downtown for a while’, to me suggesting he needed something, I didn’t immediately catch on to the fact he wanted to find Atticus. Scout replies to this by saying ‘It’s almost ten o’clock’, this stands out because it is late at night, which is a symbol for bad things happening, because most often than not, at night in the dark bad things are considered to happen. This increases tension because we get an inkling the children are going to either find Atticus in trouble, or themselves in trouble. Adding to this, ‘there was no moon’, which then increases tension even more, because it means it will be pitch black as well as late at night, signalling danger ahead looming ahead.

When Jem, Scout and Dill finally find Atticus outside the jailhouse he is all alone reading his newspaper on a chair from a light he had taken with him. This is very strange at first because you are not told yet why he is there, this causes tension because as the reader you are thinking to yourself that there has to be a reason he is there, he would not got to all the effort of bringing a light and a chair to read his newspaper out side the jailhouse when he could just read at home, so when Jem says ‘He’s alright, let’s go home. I just wanted to see where he was’, you know being the reader that there has to be something else going on to explain Atticus’s whereabouts, so you sense that if the children left Atticus something with happen to him once they have left.

Four cars arrive, Harper Lee describes them as ‘moving slowly in a line’ and ‘stopped in front of the jail’ – ‘nobody got out’. This is an extremely tense moment, as we do not know who is in the cars, neither does Jem, Scout or Dill. When the men get out of the car, ‘Shadows became substance’. By saying shadows, Harper Lee successfully has us thinking that bad things could be to come because shadows represent darkness once again, and just by using the word ‘substance’, tension is built because it represents the threat solidifying.

Next comes the tensest part of the chapter because Jem, Scout Atticus and Dill are all put in a place of certain danger… Scout bursts into the middle of the mob, which she thinks is made up of men she knows. When Scout storms through and shouts ‘H-ey Atticus!’ and says to us ‘I thought he would have a fine surprise, but his face killed my joy’, that is the moment we realise that actually she really should not be there, and by ‘A flash of plain fear was going out of is eyes’ especially, we can gather that Atticus must be very worried. Around the men was ‘a smell of stale whiskey and pig-pen about’, the smell of whiskey causes tension because it is a sign of danger, if the men have been drinking then they will be dangerous and out of control. Also, by saying there is a smell of ‘pig-pen’ about it tells us they are most likely farmers and are probably uneducated.

‘Hot embarrassment shot through me: I had leaped triumphantly into a ring of people I had never seen before’. This confirms to us that she really is in the wrong place at the wrong time because she does not know the men so this builds tension as we wait to see what will happen between the children and Atticus and the mob. Atticus asks Jem to take Scout and Dill home, to which Jem refuses; he wants to stick by Atticus, so when someone said ‘you’ve got fifteen seconds to get ‘em outa here’, its seems there will be hope for the children to leave without being hurt, and the tension slackens a bit, but on the contrary, Jem still refuses and puts himself and Scout and Dill in danger. This makes things really tense because the mob now can so very easily hurt any of them. When Scout singles out Mr. Cunningham, she is breaking mob rule, meaning that by isolating one person there is less threat, because the threat comes from the mob as a whole. So, Scout talking directly to Mr. Cunningham caused him to break mob rule and caused him to change his mind and leave, rather than hurt them. This then got rid of all that tension, however there is still a big sense of relief between the four characters, Jem, Scout, Atticus and Dill.

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