To Kill a Mockingbird By Harper Lee Summary and Analysis Part 2: Chapters 29-31

Summary

At the sheriff's request, Scout recounts what happened, realizing that one of the strange noises she heard was Jem's arm breaking. The sheriff notices knife marks on Scout's costume, and she understands that Bob Ewell had intended to kill her and Jem. She also recognizes that the stranger — the man who pulled Ewell off of her and saved both children's lives — is Boo Radley.

Scout, Atticus, Heck Tate, and Boo retire to the front porch. Atticus begins defending Jem, insisting that killing Bob Ewell was clearly self-defense. Sheriff Tate corrects Atticus, saying that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife. Atticus appreciates what Heck is trying to do, but he doesn't want anyone to cover for Jem. The sheriff remains adamant, saying that he isn't protecting Jem. As the men argue, Atticus realizes that Boo Radley killed Ewell, and it is Boo who Tate is trying to protect. They finally agree that Ewell did fall on his own knife, a decision Scout fully understands.

Boo sees Jem one more time and then asks Scout to take him home. Scout allows him to escort her to his door. She returns to Jem's room and Atticus reads aloud to her until she falls asleep. He tucks her in her own bed, and then retreats to Jem's room, where he spends the night.

Analysis

Lee uses these chapters to provide an exquisite ending to a powerful novel by allowing circumstances to come full circle. Scout finally attains her childish wish to see Boo Radley in person just one time. To her surprise, he is a nice, gentle man who appears to be somewhat sickly — not at all the monster of her imagination.

Scout realizes, too, that she, Jem, and Dill affected much of the same sorts of prejudices on Boo that Maycomb did on Tom Robinson. When she recognizes him, Scout sees that he couldn't possibly be capable of the rampant rumors she's always heard. And she's able to understand on a new level how some of Maycomb's residents feel about those who are on the fringes of society. Heck Tate hoped that Atticus could free Tom; he's going to make sure that Arthur Radley is not put in the same situation: "'To my way of thinkin', Mr. Finch, taking the one man who's done you and this town a great service an' draggin' him . . . into the limelight . . . [is] a sin, and I'm not about to have it on my head.'"

For the endless hours Atticus has devoted to teaching Jem and Scout about human nature, compassion, and responsibility, it is Scout who has to remind him that charging Boo Radley with murder would "'be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird.'" The lessons Atticus has most hoped to teach his children are given back to him with that statement. At the beginning of the novel, Atticus engages Scout in a white lie about their reading together to keep her in school without unduly embarrassing Miss Caroline. Here, this lesson comes full circle when Scout reminds Atticus that the white lie about Ewell keeps the town safe without jeopardizing Boo Radley.

For all of Scout's resistance to "being a lady," she instinctively acts in the most ladylike way possible when Boo asks her to take him home: "I would lead him through our house, but I would never lead him home." She insists that Boo escort her so that he won't lose face with the likes of Miss Stephanie Crawford — or any other neighbor for that matter.

Scout's maturity here is astounding for a child her age. By upholding societal conventions in this instance, she's able to protect another's — a man's — pride and standing in the community. Scout may not like or agree with society's expectations of her, but she now understands that acting within those parameters is often a show of kindness and compassion. Significantly, inside her home, Scout leads Boo; outside, she allows him to lead her. Scout recognizes that she can project a ladylike appearance on the outside while remaining true to herself and her own convictions on the inside.

The story ends with Scout well on her way to growing up, as well. She now has some idea of what being a lady involves, and she no longer seems to mind so much. But importantly, Lee leaves readers with the remembrance that Scout the narrator is still a little girl. For all she's been through, she still feels best sitting on Atticus' lap, having him read her to sleep.

Glossary

honed it down sharpened it.

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