To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
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How specifically do the relationships in To Kill a Mockingbird cause conflict and tension?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Jem and Scout's relationship with their neighbors in Maycomb creates a great deal of the conflict and tension in the novel. As they watch events unfold in Tom Robinson's case, they often cannot understand what they see and hear around them, but they do recognize cruelty and hatefulness. Mrs. Dubose's tirade about their father's "lawing for niggers" infuriates Jem so much that he destroys her flowers. When cousin Francis calls Atticus a "nigger lover," Scout beats him up, just as she fought with Cecil Jacobs at school for essentially criticizing Atticus in the same way.

Scout's relationship with Aunt Alexandra is also one of conflict, and the tension between her and her aunt develops to the point that it fills Scout with great anxiety and frustration. In her attempts to mold Scout into a lady, Alexandra often insults Scout and hurts her feelings. When she tries to turn Jem and Scout into "respectable" members of the Finch family line, Scout sees Alexandra as a threat to the roles she and Jem have always played in their family and to the nature of their relationship with their father:

Atticus, is all this behavin' an' stuff gonna make things different? I mean are you--? . . . Do you really want us to do all that? I can't remember everything Finches are supposed to do . . . .

Scout's fears are resolved when Atticus tells her he doesn't want her to remember it: "Forget it," he tells her.

Finally, Scout and Jem's relationship with Boo Radley creates one particular scene of great dramatic tension when Jem returns to the Radley yard to retrieve his pants from their fence. Scout is certain her brother will be killed.

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