Harper Lee’s, To Kill A Mockingbird focuses on the racial tensions in the depression era of 1930’s America. She bases her story in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. The story revolves around family, community and racial tensions.
The family tension between Aunt Alexandra and Atticus Finch emerges when we see old attitudes come into conflict with new ones. Aunt Alexandra has grown up and lived on Finches’ Landing and so has inherited the racist and prejudice views from generations of cotton plantation owners and slave owners. The tension exhibits itself when Harper Lee makes it clear that Atticus and Aunt Alexandra have fundamentally different views on child rearing and servant supervision. The reader can feel the tension between Aunt Alexandra and Atticus in the incident where she hears the children have been to First Purchase and are invited to Cal’s house. Harper Lee indicates tension through Aunt Alexandra’s reaction: “putting down her embroidery” and “stared at us”. In the choice of the word “stared”, she makes clear to the reader, Aunt Alexandra’s disapproval of the children being in such a place. This is our first experience of the tension and it is Aunt Alexandra’s non-verbal way of expressing her extreme discontent. Lee then allows us to hear their aunt directly question the children, which gives us an insight to Aunt Alexandra’s way of verbally expressing her discontent. The italicisation of the word “not” in Aunt Alexandra’s response to Jem’s statement that he would go to Cal’s house makes clear his aunts indignation and outrage. The reader can feel the tension through Harper Lee’s choice of language.
The intervention of Aunt Alexandra then causes tension between Atticus and Scout. Scout’s reaction to her aunt’s intervention is revealed through the words “Startled” and, “wheeled round”, Atticus’ “swift glance” shows his surprise at his sister’s interjection into his family life. We then see Atticus’ physical reaction to the situation as he rises to his feet hastily. Scout tells the reader, “he pinned me to the wall with his good eye,” and “his voice was deadly.” The author’s use of the metaphorical ‘pinned’ and ‘deadly’ hints at an unusual tension between father and daughter, thus adding to the tension felt by the reader as they can sense that this is a situation which the children are not familiar with. When Aunt Alexandra proposes dismissing Cal, Harper Lee suggests extreme tension with,“His voice was even” which suggests that Atticus senses the tension himself but is not willing to accede to his sister’s wishes.