How does Harper Lee create mystery in Chapter 4 of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’?

I don’t know about you, but Chapter 4 is the first time I get the shivers in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Let’s think about why…

1. Mysterious things start happening. Chewing gum appears in the Radley tree, for example. Why is there chewing gum in a tree? Is it some kind of clue? Is its shininess supposed to catch someone’s attention? If so, whose? Scout’s? Jem’s? Mrs Dubose’s? These are all unanswerable questions.

2. The language, or vocabulary, seems to change. References to death start appearing. Jem talks about ‘Hot Steams’, and words like ‘gothic’ ‘melancholy’ and ‘devilry’ are common. Dill tells Scout that she’s going to die in three days…

3. The atmosphere gets tense. When Scout rolls into the Radley place, it is clear that something has shaken her. Harper Lee makes us wait until the very last sentence of the chapter to find out what this was: ‘Someone inside the house was laughing’. The tension is sustained, and we are left with the feeling that things are hotting up.


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