In To Kill a Mockingbird, what conflicts might involve man vs the supernatural?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jem, Dill and Scout create their own conflict with the supernatural by believing the gossip and superstitions handed down to them from people in the community--mostly from Stephanie Crawford. At first Jem was only trying to make the newcomer, Dill, nervous by telling him about their neighborhood phantom, Boo Radley. Little did they know that the following would happen:

"The Radley Place fascinated Dill. In spite of our warnings and explanations it drew him as the moon draws water, but drew him no nearer than the light-pole on the corner, a safe distance from the Radley gate" (8).

The above passage seems to draw upon the supernatural to describe Dill's fascination. Eventually he draws Jem and Scout into adventures centered around enticing Boo to come out of the house, sending him a letter by way of fishing pole, and sneaking into his yard to get a view of him through a broken shutter. There really was nothing supernatural about it except in the children's imaginations, though. Nevertheless, conflicts do arise as they go on these adventures.

One adventure surrounding Boo Radley is when Scout finds gum in an oak tree's knothole in the Radley's yard. Kids in the schoolyard would never eat nuts that fall from Radley trees; so, for Scout to eat something from that tree is unthinkable based on deadly and supernatural beliefs. When Jem finds out that Scout found the gum where she did, he comes apart and tells her to spit it out immediately:

"I spat it out. The tang was fading, anyway. . . Jem stamped his foot. 'Don't you know you're not supposed to even touch the trees over there? You'll get killed if you do!'" (33).

These supernatural superstitions create tension with the children that also drive their behavior. If Jem didn't believe in the supernatural, he wouldn't have panicked when he discovered Scout eating gum from the Radley tree. 

Another supernatural-type conflict centers around another superstition. In chapter four, during the second summer with Dill, Jem tells him about Hot Steams, as follows:

"A Hot Steam's somebody who can't get to heaven, just wallows around on lonesome roads an' if you walk through him, when you die you'll go around at night suckin' people's breath" (37).

Fortunately for Dill, there is a remedy that can be applied if he ever finds himself in a Hot Steam. All he has to say is the following:

"Angel-bright, line-in-death; get off the road, don't suck my breath" (37).

Belief in supernatural superstitions like these is normal for children. It's interesting, though, that when it comes to Boo Radley, the adults in the community believe them as well. For example, Calpurnia spit to the side of the road when Mr. Radley's dead body was carried out of his home. Also, people in the community get involved in this conflict because they blamed random acts of nature on Boo Radley, such as an unexpected cold snap or other odd mysteries. For the children, though, they eventually grow out of it until one dreadful Halloween night a couple of years later.

On the night that Bob Ewell attacks the children, there is a supernatural sense of conflict. First, they laugh about believing in Hot Steams on the way to the Halloween festival. They also notice a mockingbird singing as they walk. Next, Cecil Jacobs scares the kids before they get to the school. Then, on the way home after the festival, they hear someone following them and get very scared. This is a very spooky scene, which the children might have thought would be supernatural. Unfortunately, they are faced with someone worse than a Hot Steam. Ironically, the phantom of Maycomb, Boo Radley saves their lives. The one man who seems like a supernatural antagonist for the children at the beginning of the book now becomes their savior. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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