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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What atmosphere does Harper Lee create in To Kill A Mockingbird?

Lee's use of the language to create an atmosphere is particularly effective in Chapter 14. With the language of "ancient" and "strange," she creates a sense of foreboding. Scout calls it a "lost whispery place that had never seen a human foot fall." And, Dill's excitement with his suggestion that Boo Radley has a new way of coming outsuggests that the old ways are no longer present but perhaps can be revived.

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In terms of literature, atmosphere refers to the emotions that the author conveys through the setting or through objects in the story. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the atmosphere created by the narrative is particularly important to developing the characters’ personalities, understanding their interactions with others, and judging the decisions they ultimately make.

At the beginning of the novel, the description of Maycomb creates an atmosphere that is calm and steady. Maycomb is related as a “tired old town” where “people moved slowly…” (Lee 5). The town is one that has been untouched by time. Most of the citizens of Maycomb have lived there since birth, and their families have lived there for generations. The atmosphere is reflective of the townspeople’s reluctance to change in terms of prejudice. As a whole, the citizens of Maycomb are unwilling to accept anyone who does not fit in with the culture of their town. For example, the Radleys do not comply with the societal norms of the town: they “kept to themselves, a predilection unforgivable in Maycomb. They did not go to church, Maycomb’s principal recreation” (Lee 9). Because of these differences, the Radleys are gossiped about and even feared.

By the end of the novel, much like several of the characters, the atmosphere of Maycomb has changed into one of reflection and hopefulness. At this point in the book, Scout has walked Boo Radley home and is standing on his front porch. Boo, once ostracized and misunderstood, has just saved the lives of Jem and Scout. For the first time, Scout looks at her town through the eyes of Boo, and she reflects, “Street lights winked down the street all the way to town. I had never seen our neighborhood from this angle” (Lee 278). Scout’s new perspective displays one of the main themes of the book. The theme is that “you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them” (Lee 279). Standing on Boo Radley’s front porch, Scout is able to empathize with his life and better understand his perspective.

The changing atmosphere of To Kill a Mockingbird, from steady to hopeful, indicates that Maycomb has moved into a new era; one that will be more inclusive and understanding of others.

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The first chapter of the book does an excellent job in setting the tone or atmosphere of the whole book. Here is what Lee says:

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.

The tone is that Maycomb is a sleepy town, where everyone knows everyone else, and nothing ever happens. To add to this, things don't change, and people certainly do not change. Things are just the way they are. 

As the book progresses, something does happen in Maycomb. There is a trial of a black man, Tom Robinson. He is unjustly...

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accused and found guilty. We would think that people would be in an uproar at this, but Maycomb is Maycomb, calm and nothing ever happens. So, after the death of Tom, things go back to normal. People don't change and just go on with their lives. This is the sad reality of the the town. 

What makes people like Atticus and Miss Maudie so heroic is that they know this, but they are willing to try to bring change. This is courage - the ability to see the challenge, even though it is huge, and commit to a task, because it is the right thing to do. 

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How does Harper Lee create atmosphere during the trial scenes of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

In Chapter 17 with detailed and vivid description, Harper Lee creates a tableaux of the momentous event that the trial of Tom Robinson becomes for the residents of Maycomb County; Scout describes the occasion as "like Saturday":

People from the south end of the county passed our house in a leisurely but steady stream.

Mr. Dolphus Raymond lurched by one his thoroughbred.... A bearded man in a wool hat drove them. "Yonder's some Mennonites,"...A wagon load of unusually stern-face citizens appeared. When they pointed to Miss Maudie Atkinson's yard, Miss Maudie herself came out on the porch...standing with arms akimbo,...We knew she wore a grin of uttermost wickedness.

When the driver quotes scripture, Miss Maudie returns with scripture; Scout remarks that they must have thought she quoted the Devil as they sped up.

With this description, Lee paints hypocrisy into her tableau as a strict religious sect that shuns the way of the world by not wearing buttons and by living a simplified life who, nevertheless, feel such worldly curiosity that they come to attend Robinson's trial. Of course, the Fundamentalists who heckle Miss Maudie epitomize this hypocrisy. And with a bold brush stroke of the underlying hypocrisy of the town, Mr. Dolphus Raymond lurches past on his fine horse.

Another phrase that suggests the spectacle of human curiosity for the misfortune of others and the circus that the trial is to become is Scout's "It was a gala occasion." The courthouse square is filled with people who set up a picnic: "Some people were gnawing on cold chicken and cold fried pork chops." Scout's use of the word gnawing is significant as there is the sense of a predatory animal. And, with the "Negroes [who] sat quietly in the sun and Mr. Raymond drinks from a bag with two yellow straws" the evil to be committed against Tom by the whites, is subtly foreshadowed by Lee's use of yellow, a color so often symbolic of evil.

Then, too, the reader cannot but notice the symbolism of this description of the courthouse:

But for the southporch, the Maycomb County courthouse was early Victorian,presenting an unoffensive vista when seen from the north. From the other side, however, Greek revival columns clashed with a big nineteenth-century clock tower housing a rusty unreliable instrument, a view indicating a people determined to preserve every physical scrap of the past.

Similarly, the old men of the Idlers' Club are "resentful of the interruption of their comfortable routine" hint at the community's desire to preserve the status quo, "Atticus aims to defend him. That's what I don't like about it." In addition, the turmoil and defeat to come inthe trial is suggested with Scout's recounting of the one time that Judge Taylor was "ever seen at a dead standstill in open court, and the Cunninghams stopped him."

In the trial scenes, Bob Ewell mirrors the Idlers' Club with his attitude. His moral and intellectual degeneracy is displayed in his speech as he describes Mayella "like a stuck hog inside the house--" and his reference to Tom as "that black n--- yonder ruttin' [like an animal] on my Mayella!" His eying of Atticus with suspicion also suggests the turmoil to come. Likewise, Mayella's display of ignorance and circumventions casta pall upon Tom's chances for justice as the trial is interrupted by frivolousness when she accuses Atticus of "sassing her." Then, Mr. Gilmer's prosecuting "almost reluctantly" furthers the dismal prospects for Tom.

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How does Harper Lee use setting to establish and develop tone in To Kill a Mockingbird?

The term tone is defined as the writer's attitude toward the subject in a written work. Tone can be created through diction, point of view, and other literary elements. Among literary elements, setting can be used to develop tone because setting can convey emotions. In To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee uses the setting of the sleepy town of Maycomb, a town aroused to activity due to racial tensions, to develop her rebuking yet accepting tone throughout the book.Author Lee describes the setting of Maycomb as a "tired old town" in the opening chapter. It is a "tired old town" for several reasons: (1) the story takes place during the Great Depression when no one has any money to do much or go anywhere; (2) being a very rural town, it looks a bit run-down with its grass growing on sidewalks and its courthouse sagging; and (3) its people are very set it in their ways, moving slowly as they carry on with the traditions of their day. Lee's opening description of Maycomb helps paint the picture that the town is full of quiet, generally decent folks who are stuck in their ways. Throughout the book, Lee shows that being stuck in one's ways can be both good and bad. Later in the book, after Tom Robinson loses his trial, Jem feels disillusioned by the people of Maycomb, having once thought "Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world" (Ch. 22). Miss Maudie corrects Jem, saying, "We're the safest folks in the world" (Ch. 22). Lee uses such comments about the setting of Maycomb, including its people, to show that, while Maycomb is full of safe people, they are not necessarily the best people, because they are stuck in their ways, particularly stuck in their racist views. All in all, Lee uses the setting of Maycomb to give us a dual perspective: on the one hand, Maycomb is full of generally decent folks, but on the other hand, Maycomb's people are not without their flaws. Hence, Lee's tone throughout the book rebukes certain actions performed by the folks of Maycomb while also accepting their generally good nature as people.A second moment in which Lee uses setting to develop her dual tone is the mob scene. The mob scene takes place in front of Maycomb's county jail where Atticus sits under a light bulb, reading a newspaper, as he calmly waits to defend his client. Interestingly, Lee describes the jail as the "most venerable and hideous of the county's buildings" (Ch. 15). She further describes it as something an insane person might have dreamed up, a "miniature Gothic joke" (Ch. 15). Since Gothic arts and literature are known for their darkness and their portrayals of the depraved human soul, we see that Lee is using the jail to symbolize the darker side of human nature. More interestingly, the jail stands in stark contrast with the quaint buildings of the town positioned on either side of the jail along the town square such as The Maycomb Tribune office and Tyndal's Hardware Store. It is in front of the hideous, dark, Gothic jail that goodness prevails as Scout manages to remind Walter Cunningham of his humanity through friendly conversation, leading him to give the order to break up the mob. Lee uses the contrasting setting of the dark jail against other charming buildings to symbolize the dual nature of Maycomb's generally good yet prejudiced people and further develop the dual tone she uses to address the subject of her novel, a tone that both criticizes and accepts the actions of generally good yet prejudiced people.

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How does Harper Lee use setting to establish and develop tone in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Lee uses the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird to establish a tone of cantankerousness, akin to a grumpy old town that has seen better days.

After the description of the Finch family and some of the distinctions of being a Southerner, Scout describes the town of Maycomb.

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. (ch 1)

In this one sentence, and the ones that follow, Lee establishes a tone of age.  Maycomb is almost like a person, and if Maycomb was a person it would be a grumpy old lady.  It was hotter then.  People moved more slowly.  There was nothing to buy and no money to buy it with.  Maycomb has seen better days, and it is tired.

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How does Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird create an atmosphere of childhood?

Harper Lee uses diction(word choice), characterization, point of view, and mood to create an atmosphere of childhood.

From the start, readers discover through both point of view and diction that the story is being told by a child. Scout demonstrates fear of Boo Radley in the opening chapter as she describes the neighborhood legends about him. The language (about mutilating chickens and his blood-stained hands) is consistent with children who would fear a phantom, not adults who would talk about the hermit who lives down the street. She sees her town and surroundings throughout the first half as a series of obstacles a child experiences, not a social community with the unredeeming flaw of racism. In her perspective, readers notice the proximity of the Radley's to the school, readers understand the classes of the society through the 1st grade classroom, and readers experience the elderly, the middle class, and the Negros through her eyes.

The characterization of Scout, Dill, and Jem all demonstrate type-cast childhood stages and experiences. For example, Scout is the child who perpetually fights society's effort to pigeon-hole her into a mold. Jem is the child dealing with emotional instability due to the early death of his mother and the fact that he is dealing with adolescence. Dill is the abandoned or unwanted child trying to find worth in something.

Finally, the theme of innocence helps create a mood of childhood throughout the work. Although Lee's purpose is to send several messages about very adult issues, when readers experience the innocence of Tom, Boo, and even the children, the brash nature of injustice is given more serious attention. Audiences can relate to a man being treated unfairly, but when seen through the untainted eyes of a child, readers are reminded that morality is still important.

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