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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockinbird, what is a passage that shows setting shaping the mood/ tone of the story?

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Several passages create a mood or a feeling as a result of the setting in To Kill a Mockingbird.

In the first chapter, Scout begins to paint a picture of the town that depicts the Depression quite specifically. People moved slowly, they were exhausted and hot. This gives the readers a mood of desolation, loneliness, or depression. It feels nostalgic, but of a time when Americans endured, not celebrated. On the other hand, it was a time when all people had was each other, and in this state, misery loved company.

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.

Setting is demonstrated throughout the book to reveal tone and mood:

  • When the Radleys place is described, the reader feels mysterious, fearful, and caution.
  • When the courthouse is described in chapter 16, the mood is anticipatory.
  • When the people travel to the courthouse in chapter 16, the tone is exciting and almost celebratory... at least these people had something to do for once! We hear this in Scout's descriptions of the people lunching on the lawns and using the metaphors and similes of parades and circuses.

Finally, the best descriptive scene in terms of setting that impacts the tone is in chapter 28. The chapter opens with several references to darkness and uses language of the place as ominous. Readers get the idea that something terrible is about to happen. Here are some tidbits from that chapter:

The wind was growing stronger, and Jem said it might be raining before we got home. There was no moon. The street light on the corner cast sharp shadows on the Radley house...

We turned the corner and I tripped on a root growing in the road...

We turned off the road and entered the schoolyard. It was pitch black...

“Didn’t know it was this dark. Didn’t look like it’d be this dark earlier in the evening. So cloudy, that’s why. It’ll hold off a while, though.”

Someone leaped at us!


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