How does Harper Lee create tension in chapter 28 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Harper Lee creates tension from the beginning of chapter 28 of To Kill a Mockingbird with the setting of a pitch black night, talk of ghosts, and Cecil Jacobs jumping out to scare Jem and Scout. The tension continues as they walk home alone after the pageant: it continues to be very dark, they hear ominous noises, and Jem finally shouts to Scout to run. The element of an unknown threat builds up the suspense, tension, and fear.

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In chapter 28 in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee creates tension through setting, mood, and imagery. By juxtaposing two different environments and rapidly switching between them, she destabilizes the reader’s sense of security. The early focus on the school festival and the inclusion of typical interactions between ...

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In chapter 28 in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee creates tension through setting, mood, and imagery. By juxtaposing two different environments and rapidly switching between them, she destabilizes the reader’s sense of security. The early focus on the school festival and the inclusion of typical interactions between Scout and Jem make the situation seem normal. An ambiance of familiarity also includes humor, as Jem teases his sister and Cecil Jacobs plays a prank. Humor is also developed through the other characters’ actions, especially Mrs. Merriweather yelling “Pork!” at Scout and the descriptions of her ridiculous ham costume.

The Halloween setting and Scout’s questions about scary ghosts begin to establish a sinister undertone. As the chapter progresses, the use of a nocturnal setting and progressively more frequent references to darkness change to a somber mood. Auditory as well as visual imagery is employed, as when Jem listens to the bird call. The sense of hearing then plays a more serious role, adding to the tension as the children listen in the “still” night, unsure if they hear a noise.

The tension continues to build as the children slowly walk, look, and listen, trying to figure out who is following them. From near silence, their stalker’s footsteps begin to be audible. The tension is momentarily broken as Jem shouts, “Run!” As their attacker can now be felt but not seen, tactile sensory imagery is employed. Scout feels the attack, which is largely futile against her costume. The tension continues to build as she is rescued, for now there are two unknown people involved.

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Lee creates tension from the start of the chapter by setting it on a dark night as Jem and Scout walk to the Halloween pageant. Scout mentions the Radley house as scary and Jem asks her is she is afraid of "haints," or ghosts. As they continue walking, Scout trips over a branch, notes it is "pitch black" outside, and asks Jem how he can tell where they are going. We end up with an early scare when Cecil Jacobs suddenly jumps out at them, making Jem yell. Cecil's action foreshadows more fear to come and adds to the spooky feeling of the evening.

After the pageant, Jem and Scout turn down a ride home, raising the worry that they should have taken it. Outdoors, it continues to be pitch dark. As they are walking, all by themselves, the lights in the auditorium go out. Jem then stops them, saying he thinks he heard something. The children listen, then start off again, and Jem stops them again. By now, an ominous sensation of fear and foreboding is forming. The more they try to brush off the sounds they hear as Cecil Jacobs or Scout's costume, the more worrisome the situation becomes.

The tension builds until Jem screams to Scout to run.

The dark night, the children walking alone, and the uneasy fear of an unknown danger ratchets up the tension of the scene.

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Harper Lee creates tension in the chapter through her use of mood.  First of all, the Halloween Pageant is something out of the ordinary.  For years, children always trick or treated in their neighborhoods until some pranks against Tutti and Frutti Barber causes such a commotion that it is decided that an organized activity would be best.  So, simply by changing tradition, Harper Lee begins to create a mood in the chapter.  She also creates a change of mood earlier in the novel when a sudden snowstorm blankets Maycomb and causes Miss Maudie’s house fire. 

In addition, she has set up a dark, scary mood with shadows, a lone mockingbird calling out in the night, and a moonless sky. Jem and Scout are alone and talking about “haints” (ghosts) right before Cecil Jacobs jumps out of the bushes and scares them.  

After the pageant, Scout is barefoot and vulnerable walking home in her restrictive ham costume, and when Jem hears footsteps rustling behind him, the tension rises until after the death of Bob Ewell. Harper Lee's choice of words in describing the setting as well as foreshadowing the attack of Scout and Jem through Cecil Jacobs and their talk about ghosts creates a tense mood in the chapter.  

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In chapter 28, Jem and Scout are travelling to the pageant at the school. Lee creates suspense a number of ways:

  1. She stages the scene on Halloween night, October 31st.
  2. She uses images of darkness: "There was no moon" (258), "High above us in the darkness a solitary mocker poured" (258), "we turned the corner and I tripped on a root growing in the road" (258).
  3. They talked about scary things... "The street light on the corner cast sharp shadows on the Radley house" (258), "we laughed. Haints, Hot Steams, incantations, secret signs" (258)
  4. It gets really quiet and then Cecil Jacobs scares them in the beginning of the chapter.

Having symbols, images, dialogue, and events that build suspense in the beginning of the chapter contribute to the significant even that occurs at the end.

 
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