A menacing/threatening element is introduced when Scout describes how ‘our company shuffled and dragged his feet, as if wearing heavy shoes’. Harper Lee deftly conjures up a menacing atmosphere through the use of aural imagery. We are told how the ‘trees rustling was the soft swish of cotton on cotton, wheek, wheek, with every step’. The repeated use of the word ‘something’ intensifies the dramatic confusion of the moment. We are told that ‘From somewhere near by came scuffling, kicking sounds, sounds of shoes and flesh, scraping dirt and roots’.
Scout’s sense of panic is deftly evoked in Harper Lee’s effective use of tactile imagery: ‘Something crushed against me’, ‘Metal zipped on metal’. The use of the phrase ‘floundering to escape’ conveys Scout’s sense of helplessness. This helplessness is accentuated/enchanced in her description of how the breath was being squeezed out of her and then all of a sudden she is rescued by a mysterious fourth person.
Whilst I do think Harper Lee effectively conveyed the chaotic confusion of this night-time assault, I think Malorie Blackman did a better job in conveying the dramatic tension of the execution of Ryan McGregor. Blackman employs a variety of techniques to make this tension clearly palpable. Like Harper Lee, Malorie Blackman employs evocative imagery that appeals to our senses. An example of this is seen in Sephy’s description of her reaction to her mother’s slap: ‘Cheek smarting, eyes stinging’. However, Blackman makes much more effective use of verbs and adverbs than Harper Lee does. Words such as ‘hollered’, ‘frowned’, ‘snapped’, ‘edgily’ and ‘ordered’ add to the dramatic feel of the scene as tensions run high.
Also Blackman makes effective use of similes which help to accentuate the suspense and tension. When Sephy discovers the real reason as to why she is at the prison, she describes it in the following terms: ‘Shock, like a bucket of ice-water flowed over me’. She describes the look of hatred on Callum’s face as ‘a look that cut right through me like the sharpest, keenest scalpel’.
Also Sephy’s ignorance at the beginning of the scene also adds to the dramatic build-up of the tension. However, we are told that she ‘knew it was something very serious indeed when Mother opened our front door and Dad’s official government Mercedes was parked on the driveway’. The awkwardness and sense of unease is further underscored in the use of the simile to describe her father’s face ‘as stiff as a door’. The tension and drama are also underscored by Blackman’s use of rhetorical questions that serve to make readers privy to Sephy’s private introspection:
‘What on earth are we doing in Hewmett prison?’
‘What was going on?’
‘How to make my desperate thoughts reach him?’
The oppressive atmosphere of the execution scene is conveyed in the description of the muggy ambience (atmosphere): ‘Already my dress was beginning to stick to me’.
An almost carnival like theatricality is introduced with the spokesperson announcing: ‘Ladies and gentlemen and noughts we are here today to witness the execution of Ryan Callum McGregor’. This sadistic pleasure parallels with that found in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in the whites’ description of Tom Robinson’s trial as ‘a gala occasion’. Sephy is completely shocked by what is about to unfold: ‘And only then, when it’d been spelt out for me, did I finally recognize what I was doing here’. The final countdown of the prison clock adds to the horror of what is happening and Sephy’s realisation that ‘when it struck six, it’d be over’ underscores the gross injustice of the scene. This tension is dispelled in the next chapter when Ryan McGregor is granted a last minute reprieve. However, think Malorie Blackman was a lot more successful in her portrayal of a dramatic moment than Harper Lee because she made use of a lot more of the features of writing than Lee to convey this dramatic tension.