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Evil plays a significant role in the novel. The racism in Maycomb is portrayed as an evil force that results in the conviction of an innocent man, Tom Robinson. Atticus takes Tom's case knowing he will lose, and he tells this hard truth to his children early in the novel. Even so, after watching Atticus defend Tom in court and after waiting for the jury to return, Jem and Scout find Tom's conviction very hard to understand or accept.
Two specific scenes in the novel are developed from a strong sense of foreboding. When the children go to the jail late at night to check on Atticus, they find him sitting in front of the jail in a chair under a reading lamp, a most unusual sight. Except for the lamp's light, Atticus is surrounded by darkness. As the children watch, four cars pull slowly onto the square. Men emerge from the cars, their hats pulled down to obscure their faces. Some smell of alcohol, and they speak in hushed whispers. All of these details contribute to a growing sense of evil; they have come to lynch Tom Robinson.
The novel's dramatic climax, when Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout in the woods on Halloween night, also develops from an established sense of foreboding. Several disconcerting events lead up to this scene. Ewell spits in Atticus' face, threatening to "get him." Ewell harasses Helen Robinson. Someone (most likely Ewell) breaks into Judge Taylor's house.
The night of the attack is dark as Jem and Scout walk past the Radley house on their way to the school auditorium; there is no moon, and they have not thought to bring a flashlight. Suddenly someone leaps out of the darkness, frightening them, but it is only Cecil Jacobs. Their trip home, however, brings real danger when Bob Ewell tries to kill them. Before he strikes, the noises Jem and Scout hear suggest that something dreadful is about to happen:
Our company shuffled and dragged his feet, as if wearing heavy shoes, Whoever it was wore thick cotton pants; what I thought were trees rustling was the soft swish of cotton on cotton, wheek, wheek, with every step . . . Shuffle-foot had not stopped with us this time . . . He was running, running toward us with no child's steps.
In her previous narration, Scout foreshadowed Bob Ewell's evil act when she said, "Thus began our longest journey together."
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