What is the plot structure of To Kill a Mockingbird?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee's coming-of-age novel, To Kill a Mockingbird follows the traditional plot structure outlined by Gustav Freytag's pyramid.  This involves the common patterns beginning with the exposition that has an inciting incident, the rising action in which a complication occurs, the climax, or point of highest emotional intensity, the falling action which often has a catastrophe, and the denouement or resolution of all conflicts.

Exposition - The introduction of characters, the setting, and basic situation.

In the beginning of the novel the innocent voice of Scout introduces her family, maid, and neighborhood, friends and schoolmates and teacher--her world. In this little world of Maycomb, Alabama, Scout explains that there is a "haint," Boo Radley. The inciting incidents of  the  stressful day that Scout has with her new teacher and the inconsiderate games revolving around Boo Radley that Dill devises for Scout and Jem indicate how different points of view about people can lead to conflicts.  Atticus attempts to ameliorate situations for Scout by encouraging her to perceive things from the point of view of others by

"climb[ing] into his skin and walk[ing] around in it."

Rising Action - The complication of the novel is initiated by Atticus Finch's acceptance of acting as the defense attorney for Tom Robinson, who has been accused of rape. This act of Atticus gives rise to invectives against him by several townspeople, and it causes Jem, especially Scout, stress. In fact, they find themselves trying to protect their father from physical harm as, for instance, a mob smelling "like whisky and pig sty" comes to the jail to take the law into their own hands by dragging Robinson out and hanging him. It is in this jailhouse scene which Scout diffuses through her intervening with Mr. Cunningham that she learns the meaning of her father's words,

"The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

Climax - The high point of suspense and emotional intensity.

Without question, the trial of poor, kind Tom Robinson is a very emotionally charged part of Lee's novel.  The false testimony of Bob and Mayella Ewell shocks Scout and Jem, among others. And, when Tom inadvertently lets it slip that he has "felt right sorry" for Mayella, he seals his fate among the jurors who cannot allow such a breach of racial conduct.

Falling Action - After the trial is over, Bob Ewell spits tobacco in the face of Bob Ewell; the wrongly convicted Tom Robinson panics and tries to escape the jail. In a catastrophic act, he is shot multiple times by the police. And, the children are attacked by Bob Ewell until Boo Radley intervenes. 

Denouement - The conflicts with Tom Robinson and Bob Ewell are resolved by their deaths, after Dill runs away, he is returned to his mother, and Scout learns that Boo Radley has done much more for her and Jem than they have for him. Standing on his porch, she finally sees things through his eyes. "Just standing on the Radley porch was enough."



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To Kill a Mockingbird

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