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Chapter 4

Professor Bradley Greenburg from Northeastern Illinois University explains Chapter 4 in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

The author whisks Scout through much of the school year, which she sums up as no better than Scout's first day. By this time Scout has gained enough confidence to pass the Radley house on her own, even if she feels compelled to run. On one particular day she spies something shiny in the knothole of one of the two oak trees at the edge of the Radley lot. A closer inspection reveals that it's two pieces of gum in foil wrappers.

Scout starts chewing the gum, and Jem questions where she got it. When he threatens to tell Calpurnia that she found it by the Radley lot, Scout is forced to spit it out. The gum is the first of many small gifts they'll find in the knothole. On the last day of school they find a small box containing two Indian head pennies. At this point they're still not sure whose hiding spot they've stumbled upon, so they agree to keep the pennies until school starts.

When Dill returns for the summer, Jem and Scout are so excited they seem to forget about the mysterious knothole. The three of them launch into play, rolling Scout down the street in an old tire. When Jem gives the tire an extra hard push, it shoots down the road and slams into the Radley's porch. Scout abandons the tire, leaving Jem to retrieve it.

Jem comes up with a new idea for a play they can perform called "Boo Radley." It consists of reenacting many of the stories they've heard about the Radley family, including the one where Boo stabs his father with scissors. They perfect their play over many days, but they are embarrassed when Atticus discovers them during their performance and gives them a stern lecture.

Scout is ready to quit the play even though Jem tells her she's acting like a girl, a taunt that often gets Scout to do exactly what Jem wants. Scout explains that it's not just Atticus's disapproval that makes her want to quit but also what happened the day the tire hit the porch: she had heard someone laughing inside the house.

Analysis

It becomes obvious that Scout's intellect and curiosity aren't mixing well with the rigid Maycomb school system. Like Maycomb's residents, the school wants conformity. A free thinker, Scout feels oppressed by the school, although the author suggests that with her support system of Atticus, Calpurnia, and Jem, she'll be fine.

A mystery enters the lives of Scout and Jem with the arrival of gifts in the oak tree. They puzzle over who the mysterious gift giver might be, but spend no time questioning the gift giver's motives.

Lee uses most of the chapter to celebrate Dill's return to Maycomb. With Dill present it is certain there will be more focus on his obsession: luring Boo outside.

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Questions for Chapter 4

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