To Kill a Mockingbird By Harper Lee Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapters 4-5

Summary

The school year passes slowly for Scout. Her grade is released a half hour earlier than Jem's, so Scout has to pass Boo Radley's house by herself every afternoon. One day, Scout notices something shiny in a tree at the edge of the Radley yard. When she goes back to investigate, she finds a stick of gum. Jem admonishes her for taking the gum, but Scout continues to check the knothole daily. On the last day of school, she and Jem find some coins in the tree, which they decide to keep until the next school year starts.

Dill arrives two days later to spend the summer. After an argument with Scout, Jem suggests they play a new game called "Boo Radley," which Scout recognizes as Jem's attempt to prove his bravery. Against Scout's better judgement, they enact Boo's life with great gusto until Atticus learns of the game. The children play the game less frequently after that, and Jem and Dill begin excluding Scout, spending more and more time together in the treehouse. Lonely, Scout begins spending more of her time with Miss Maudie.

When Scout insists that the boys include her in their plans, they tell her that they're going to deliver a note to Boo Radley asking him to come outside. She and Dill are posted as guards, while Jem tries to deliver the note, but Atticus intervenes, telling the children to leave the Radleys alone.

Analysis

As Scout finishes her first year of school, Harper Lee expands on several of the novel's central themes.

Education. Scout's real education occurs outside of school, as it does throughout the story. Scout herself recognizes this fact at some level when she says, "As for me, I knew nothing except what I gathered from Time magazine and reading everything I could lay hands on at home, but as I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something." Scout not only learns more outside of school, but the things she learns are also more important.

Prejudice. When Jem suggests that knothole in the Radleys' oak is an adult's hiding place, Scout corrects him, saying, "'Grown folks don't have hidin' places.'" Jem and Scout discover later in the book that many adults hide behind their prejudices, religious beliefs, and their personal notions of right and wrong.

Miss Maudie is one of the most open-minded residents of Maycomb, and true to her more liberal leanings, she even likes the weeds in her garden. Her feelings about plants are symbolic of the way some townspeople feel about others. Scout reports that her neighbor "loved everything that grew in God's earth, even the weeds. With one exception: If she found a blade of nut grass in her yard it was like the Second Battle of the Marne" because "'one sprig of nut grass can ruin a whole yard.'" Metaphorically, the Ewells are a blade of nutgrass in the Maycomb community. Some of the town's residents would also say that the African Americans who live in Maycomb are blades of nutgrass that should be eradicated from "their" yard. These perceptions become important as the story progresses.

The blacks and whites separate themselves from each other by their speech — and at some level by their superstitions. When Jem tells Dill about Hot Steams, Scout says, "'Don't you believe a word he says, Dill,  . . . Calpurnia says that's nigger-talk.'" Calpurnia, an African-American herself, doesn't want the white Finch children to talk like most of the black community does or to buy into their superstitions. Granted, Calpurnia is more educated than the majority of her peers, but it still seems unusual that she doesn't want the children emulating that speech or those beliefs.

Calpurnia's attitude about the way the Finch children should speak shows that she, too, separates whites from blacks. Calpurnia is teaching the children to be white, just as she taught her own son, Zeebo, to interact appropriately with the African-American community. Keep in mind that Calpurnia's actions do not necessarily mean that she agrees with this separation; she is simply acting in a way that is consistent with life in the Southern United States during this time period.

Bravery. When Jem creates the Boo Radley game, Scout says, "Jem's head at times was transparent: he had thought that up to make me understand he wasn't afraid of Radleys in any shape or form, to contrast his own fearless heroism with my cowardice." As noted before, the concept of bravery is very important to Jem, and he cultivates it as much as he can. He has moved from weakly accepting a dare to touch the Radley house to retrieving a tire from the Radley yard to creating a game in which the children take on the personas of various Radley family members.

Jem's bravery increases when he and Dill decide to deliver the note to Boo. Scout, though, comically points out that Jem is not quite as brave as he fancies himself to be when she exclaims, "'Anybody who's brave enough to go up and touch the house hadn't oughta use a fishin' pole,  . . . Why don't you just knock the front door down?'" a sentiment Atticus later echoes a little less humorously.

Dill's part in getting a note to Boo presents a different side of the bravery issue. Sometimes, having someone else do the dirty work is less frightening — a belief that gives mob mentality its start. Dill admits almost gleefully that the whole plan is his idea, yet Jem is the person taking the greater risk. This mentality will play out in the adult world during Tom Robinson's trial.

Trust. At this point in the story, Scout's world is a safe place — her greatest fears are largely products of her own imagination. So even though she is terrified to pass by the Radley house, she takes the gum she finds in their tree. Comically, Scout reports, "The gum looked fresh.  . . . I licked it and waited for a while. When I did not die I crammed it into my mouth." As Scout moves from innocence or naiveté to maturity — part of a coming-of-age story — she will learn that she can't always trust those things that appear safe.

The children are beginning to understand this concept on an almost subconscious level. In comparing Miss Maudie to a seemingly more virtuous neighbor, Scout says, "she did not go about the neighborhood doing good, as did Miss Stephanie Crawford. But while no one with a grain of sense trusted Miss Stephanie, Jem and I had considerable faith in Miss Maudie." The clear differences between the things that Miss Stephanie does and the things she says are another indication to the children that things are not always what they seem.

Truth. Hand-in-hand with the issue of trust is that of truth. In the course of the novel, almost every character lies at some point. Although most of the lies are meant to keep people out of trouble, some of these untruths will have dire consequences for the town as a whole.

Scout is clear that "Dill Harris could tell the biggest ones I ever heard." Overall, Dill's lies are harmless, but during his summers in Maycomb, Scout gets her first lessons in discerning truth and recognizing fiction. When Scout questions Miss Maudie about the Boo Radley myths, Miss Maudie states "'That is three-fourths colored folks and one-fourth Stephanie Crawford,'" introducing Scout to the fact that "big ones" aren't limited to children.

Scout also begins to understand that sometimes people stretch the truth to get what they want. Jem tells Dill and Scout that if Atticus specifically says they can't play the Boo Radley game, he "had thought of a way around it." The fact that Scout is uneasy about "thinking of a way around it" foreshadows the severity of the lies told later in the story. Ironically, Atticus, who throughout the story upholds truth, is the person who dupes Jem into admitting the real purpose of the Boo Radley game.

Femininity. Introduced in these chapters, the issue of femininity and women's roles in Maycomb society is a significant theme in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Jem criticizes Scout for acting like a girl, frequently making statements like "'I swear, Scout, sometimes you act so much like a girl it's mortifyin'.'" Scout experiences a plight familiar to many women of that era when Dill proposes marriage: "He staked me out, marked me as property, said I was the only girl he would ever love, then he neglected me." This sense of people as property will play out in serious ways as the story progresses.

In these chapters, Lee makes mention of four very different kinds of women: Calpurnia, Miss Maudie, Miss Stephanie, and Mrs. Dubose. (Note that the only adult the children don't refer to as Miss or Mrs. is Calpurnia, who is black.) Scout will face many forms of femininity as she tries to understand what it means to "be a girl." Importantly, Scout most closely identifies with Miss Maudie, "a chameleon lady who worked in . . . an old straw hat and men's coveralls, but after her five o'clock bath she would appear on the porch . . . in magisterial beauty." As the story progresses, Scout will drift toward adopting Miss Maudie's brand of feminine behavior.

Glossary

scuppernongs a golden-green grape of the Southern U.S.

foot-washing Baptist rural missionary Baptists who essentially take the Bible literally.

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