How does Harper Lee control the rise and fall of intensity in Chapter 6 of To Kill a Mockingbird?
This is one of the most interesting chapters in the novel, and author Harper Lee takes her reader on a wild ride full of childish curiosity, intrigue, danger, innocently off-color humor and a near sighting of Boo Radley--all in one night. It is Dill's last evening in Maycomb for the summer, and Jem and Dill are pretending how to spend it, though they have already decided that a raid on the Radley's back porch is in order. Scout suggests that they "watch for Mr. Avery," and Lee launches into a story about the children previously witnessing an extraordinary event:
... an arc of yellow water descending from the leaves and splashing in the yellow circle of the street light, some ten feet from source to earth... (Chapter 6)
It was Mr. Avery urinating in the bushes, and Jem and Dill followed with a peeing contest of their own, leaving Scout "left out again, as I was untalented in this area." From this comic scene, the children undertake their mission to catch a glimpse of Boo from a back window of the Radley house. But their seemingly innocent visit is interrupted, first by a shadow that creeps across the back porch, causing the children to run for their lives; and then by a shotgun blast from the gun of Boo's brother, Nathan. Lee immediately takes the serious action back to humor: First in the off-color words of Miss Stephanie, and then by the sudden realization that Jem is standing among the group of neighbors in his underwear. He has been forced to leave them tangled on the Radley fence, but Dill quickly concocts yet another wild yarn about the children playing "strip poker," but only for matches.
Matches were dangerous, but cards were fatal... But what was strip poker? (Chapter 6)
After Dill plants a kiss on Scout, he returns to his Aunt Rachel's house in tears. But Jem still has one more duty to fulfill: He makes the dangerous return to the Radley fence, knowing that Nathan may still be watching with his shotgun at his side. They are suspenseful minutes for Scout, as she "listened for Mr. Radley's shotgun." But, finally,
There he was, returning to me... Wordlessly, he held up his pants. He lay down, and for a while I heard his cot trembling. (Chapter 6)