How is tension created and then relieved in Chapters 16-19 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These four chapters detail most of the trial of Tom Robinson, the primary plot during the second half of To Kill a Mockingbird. It is an exciting few hours for the three children, who have sneaked into the courtroom and remain partially hidden in the balcony among Tom's supporters. The suspense builds slowly, beginning with the relatively bland testimony given by Sheriff Tate. But then the fireworks begin. Bob Ewell accuses Tom of being "that black nigger yonder ruttin' on my Mayella!" It took Judge Taylor five minutes to silence the commotion in his courtroom, and Reverend Sykes suggested that the children leave. Mayella's following testimony becomes even more emotional and descriptive; she cries repeatedly and eventually storms from the stand calling everyone "yellow stinkin' cowards." 

When Tom takes the stand next, he tells his story in a calm, believable manner; but when the prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer, cross-examines him, he belittles Tom, calling him "boy" over and over. It is all too much for Dill, whose "sobs were heard by several people in the balcony." Scout takes him out for a breather, where they meet up with Dolphus Raymond at the end of Chapter 19. The next chapter begins with some comic relief, a welcome change after the serious events that preceded. But Dolphus soon becomes emotional as well, and Scout recognizes that the courtroom may be the best place for them after all. It is a roller-coaster series of emotions for the young children, who are eventually discovered when Calpurnia comes to the courtroom to give Atticus the news that they are missing.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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