How does Harper Lee create suspense leading up to the confrontation at the jailhouse in Chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee begins building suspense early in Chapter 15 when Sheriff Heck Tate knocks on Atticus' door. There are a group of men out in the yard, and Scout tells the reader that

In Maycomb, grown men stood outside in the front yard for only two reasons: death and politics.

Tate tells Atticus that he is "uneasy" about Tom Robinson's move to the county jail. The author uses other words such as "ominous" and "dangerous"; the men "murmer" about things Scout does not fully understand. The talk so upsets Jem that he finally "screamed" at Atticus. Later, there is talk of the Ku Klux Klan; the next day, there is the "fake peace" that descended upon Maycomb on Sundays. When Atticus leaves late on a Sunday night, taking an extension cord with a light on the end, and proceeds to drive his car--he always walked to his office--Jem and Scout knew something was up. During the children's walk downtown, Jem says that "I've just got this feeling"; but when they see Atticus innocently sitting in front of the jail, Jem decides that they should return home. However, when four cars stop in front of Atticus, and shadowy figures surrounded him, the children again heard Atticus repeat his "dangerous question."

     "Do you really think so?"
     This was the second time I heard Atticus ask that question in two days, and it meant somebody's man would get jumped. This was too good to miss.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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