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What Events Were Foreshadowed in "To Kill a Mockingbird"?


Harper Lee wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird" as a first-person narrative in the voice of an adult Scout Finch, who is six years old at the story's beginning. The narrative effectively combines a child's unbridled impressions with an adult's perception to describe meaningful events that take place over the course of three years. Lee employs the literary device of foreshadowing to give readers subtle clues about future developments in the story. She also uses foreshadowing to help readers understand a character's behavior and to set the mood for an upcoming scene.

Like Father, Like Son

On Scout's first day of school, she introduces readers to several classmates whose behavior offers clues to about characters that appear later in the story. Walter Cunningham is the son of impoverished sharecroppers. Scout explains to her teacher that Walter's refusal to accept an offer of lunch money is due to his family's ethics. Scout's father, Atticus Finch, a lawyer, once represented Walter's father and accepted farm goods as payment. Scout later shames Walter's father into remembering this friendly arrangement -- and that she is his son's friend -- when he is part of a mob threatening Atticus. Another classmate, Burris Ewell, speaks to the teacher in a cruel, vulgar manner. His father, Bob Ewell, appears later as a menacing figure who likely abused his daughter.

A Guardian in Disguise

Scout and Jem join the crowd of people watching as the house of their neighbor, Miss Maudie, burns down on one of the coldest nights in Maycomb's history. Scout, who was wakened from sleep by her father, is wearing pajamas, her robe and a coat. Despite this, she is shivering from the cold. The following morning, when Scout and her brother are discussing the night's events with Atticus, he notes that the blanket Scout is wearing around her shoulders was placed there, unbeknownst to her, by their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley. Boo's protective gesture foreshadows the role Boo later will play in protecting Scout and Jem from Bob Ewell.

Leading with His Left

At the beginning of Tom Robinson's trial, Atticus Finch cross-examines Sheriff Heck Tate, Bob Ewell and Bob's daughter Mayella Ewell. All three confirm that Mayella's injuries were concentrated on her right side. Atticus also asks Bob Ewell to sign on envelope in clear view of the jury to establish that Ewell is left-handed. Atticus' emphasis on establishing that Mayella's injuries were on her right side and that Euwell is left-handed foreshadow the revelation that Tom Robinson, Mayella's accused attacker, has a useless, deformed left arm. Atticus' goal is to lead the jury to suspect Mayella was beaten by her father rather than by Tom Robinson.

Danger in the Darkness

Bob Ewell's assault on the Finch children is foreshadowed by his words and actions in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Ewell threatens Atticus with harm, and when Tom Robinson is killed in prison, Ewell remarks, "One down, two to go." Ewell also claims Atticus was behind his firing from the Works Progress Administration. Aunt Alexandra's words on the afternoon of the Halloween pageant also foreshadow the evening's violent event when she says, "Somebody just walked over my grave," suggesting she has an unexplained sense of foreboding. The author uses foreshadowing to set an ominous stage for Halloween night by describing an impending storm, the darkness and isolation of the schoolyard, and Scout's immobilization in her costume.

About the Author

Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.

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