To Kill a Mockingbird By Harper Lee Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapters 6-7

Summary

On Dill's last night in Maycomb, he and Jem decide to "peep in the window with the loose shutter to see if they could get a look at Boo Radley." Scout discourages them from going to the Radley house, but reluctantly decides to join them. Someone inside the Radley house comes out and fires a shotgun. The children scurry out of the yard, but Jem gets caught on the fence and is forced to remove his pants to get to safety.

As the neighborhood gathers to discuss the gunfire, Dill concocts an unlikely explanation for Jem's lack of pants. Atticus tells Jem to get his pants from Dill and come home. At home, Jem confides in Scout that he's going back to the Radleys' to get his pants. Scout literally fears for his life, but Jem would rather risk life and limb than admit to Atticus that he lied.

School starts again. This year, Jem and Scout walk home together, and they again begin finding things in the Radleys' tree. After receiving several increasingly valuable treasures, Jem and Scout decide to write a thank-you note to whoever is leaving the gifts. When they try to deliver the note, however, they find to their dismay that the knothole has been filled with cement.

Analysis

These two chapters mark several endings and beginnings for Jem and Scout in terms of understanding. Chapter 6 concludes their second summer with Dill, while Chapter 7 begins Scout's second year of school. The reader should remember that first sentence in Chapter 1 states that Scout is retelling the events that lead up to Jem's broken arm. These two chapters lay much of the remaining foundation for what is to come by further exploring the children's relationship — or lack thereof — with Boo Radley and his family.

Prejudice begins to play a bigger role in the novel in these two chapters. Truthfully, it is a kind of prejudice that spurs Jem and Dill to try to "get a look" at Boo Radley. All along they claim that their interest is in the name of friendship, but readers know by now that both boys have a morbid curiosity to gawk at what they assume must be a freak of nature.

The boys show prejudice toward Scout by saying things like, "'You don't have to come along, Angel May.'" They attribute her resistance to their plan as girlish behavior, when Scout is actually more rational about the situation.

Finally, prejudice appears when the neighbors comment that "'Mr. Radley shot at a Negro in his collard patch.'" Neither Mr. Radley nor the neighbors have any evidence that the trespasser was black; they make that assumption based on their perceptions of African Americans. The low station blacks hold in Maycomb is further revealed when Mr. Radley vows to aim low at the next trespasser, "'be it dog, [or] nigger.'" With this statement, blacks are relegated to the worth of an animal. Ironically, Atticus will later deal directly with a mad dog and a black man. How he handles each situation gives true insight into his moral code.

The truth becomes a blur in these chapters. Dill makes up a fantastic story as to why Jem lost his pants. The neighbors accept the story readily, although Atticus asks some questions that lead readers to believe he may suspect otherwise. Later, Mr. Radley tells Jem that he cemented the knothole because the "'Tree's dying.'" Mr. Radley and Jem both know that the tree is fine and that the hole is plugged to stop Jem and Scout from retrieving any more treasures. However, Jem is forced to accept that explanation when Atticus says, "'I'm sure Mr. Radley knows more about his trees than we do.'"

Jem's bravery reaches new heights in these chapters. He puts himself in peril three times: trying to peek in the Radleys' window, helping Scout and Dill get to safety, and returning to the Radley yard to retrieve his pants. In the last instance, pride drives his bravery more than fear of punishment. Scout recommends that Jem deal with the punishment for lying rather than risk his life, but Jem insists, "'Atticus ain't ever whipped me since I can remember. I wanta keep it that way.'" Although Scout doesn't understand Jem's thinking, she does realize that Jem would rather lose his life than disappoint his father.

A major shift occurs in Jem that night, and in an attempt to understand this change, Scout, significantly, tries "to climb into Jem's skin and walk around in it." A second, and equally important, shift occurs in Jem when he begins to realize exactly why Mr. Radley cemented the knothole in what he and Scout now referred to as their tree. With this harsh realization, Jem moves one step closer to adulthood.

Again, these two chapters show Scout and Jem that appearances aren't always what they seem. They rightly conclude that someone is deliberately leaving gifts for them in the knothole, but they can't understand why this donor won't make himself known. After hearing Mr. Radley's stance on trespassers, Jem tells Scout in amazement that his pants "'were folded across the fence . . . like they were expectin' me.'" No one would dare go into the Radley yard after the gunfire, but who in the Radley house would fold Jem's pants without confronting either him or Atticus? They discover that some adults would rather lie than be frank with them. Jem's reaction to cementing the knothole would've been entirely different had Mr. Radley admitted that he didn't want anyone leaving or taking things from his property. The Radleys remain a mystery to them.

Scout is faced again with the issue of femininity. When the boys reluctantly allow her to join them on their peeping-Tom mission, Scout continues to voice reservations. Jem puts a halt to her reasoning by saying, "'I declare to the Lord you're gettin' more like a girl every day!'" Acting like a girl is no compliment, and Scout feels thrust into the role of coconspirator.

Gender roles are still clearly defined in these chapters. When Jem tells Scout that his pants were sewn up when he retrieved them, he's careful to relate, "'Not like a lady sewed 'em, like somethin' I'd try to do.'" Not untypical of 1930s America, women are expected to sew well, men aren't. These clearly defined roles are often what Scout rebels against. Jem believes that whomever is leaving gifts in the tree is a man. Scout initially disagrees, but he convinces her that the mystery person is male. From Scout's perspective, the gift bearer is more likely to be a woman, but that idea is soon stifled.

This world is still one in which men don't cry. When Jem discovers the cemented knothole, his immediate response is, "'Don't you cry, now, Scout.'" Scout is surprised to find the cement in the tree, but she never shows any indication of tears. Jem, however, spends many tears on this loss, leading readers to believe that he was convincing himself, not Scout, not to cry. Jem cries because a silent friendship that was cemented figuratively through little gifts in a knothole has been ended — ended before he has a chance to say thank you — by someone else's decision to literally cement the tree. Curiously, Jem, though demonstrating a newfound maturity, shows what are thought to be more feminine emotions, while Scout grapples to understand why he's so upset.

Glossary

kudzu a fast-growing, hairy perennial vine of the pea family, with large, three-part leaves: sometimes planted in the South for soil stabilization or forage.

Franklin stove a cast-iron heating stove resembling an open fireplace, named for Benjamin Franklin who invented it.

hoodoo bad luck, or a person or thing that causes bad luck.

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