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Chapter 8

Professor Bradley Greenburg from Northeastern Illinois University explains Chapter 8 in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

The weather turns unseasonably cold in Maycomb, and Jem and Scout get their first glimpse of snow. School is canceled, so they spend their day making a snowman with mud and slush. The snow stops in the afternoon but the temperature continues to drop, prompting people to keep their fireplaces going for warmth.

Late that night Scout is awakened by Atticus and ordered to dress and leave the house. Maudie Atkinson's house is on fire. Atticus tells Scout and Jem to wait in front of the Radley house while he goes to help the other men salvage Miss Maudie's belongings and prevent the fire from spreading to more homes.

The fire is finally brought under control, although Miss Maudie's home is lost. When it is safe to go home, Atticus suggests they go inside for hot chocolate. Atticus notices a foreign blanket around Scout's shoulders and wonders where it came from. Neither Scout nor Jem can remember how she came to be wearing it. It suddenly dawns on them that the elusive Boo Radley must have put the blanket on her. When Atticus suggests wrapping up the blanket to return it, Jem refuses. Then, as if the burden of keeping their secrets had become too much for him, Jem blurts out what he'd been holding back: about the gifts in the tree, the evening in the Radley garden, and finding his stitched pants. Calming Jem, Atticus agrees that the blanket had best be kept a story between them.

In the morning Jem and Scout find Miss Maudie in her backyard, amid the ruin. They are surprised to find she isn't grieving the loss of her belongings. She admits she always disliked the house and is already planning the house she'll build in its place. When Scout looks confused as to why she isn't more distraught, Miss Maudie explains that she was more worried about her neighbors.

Analysis

By Chapter 8 both Jem and Scout are beginning to look at Boo Radley in a different way. No longer is he the monster of neighborhood lore; he is human. The fact that he is so lonely now seems more sad than scary. Miss Maudie is the reason Jem and Scout start opening their hearts to someone who is very different from them.

While they still have some unease about Boo Radley, they begin to see him as someone who should be protected rather than feared. Their changing attitude toward Boo Radley signifies an openness that, were it practiced more widely in their community, would provide greater objectivity, or fairness, in Tom Robinson's case.

Miss Maudie's relaxed attitude toward her lost possessions surprises Scout, but Miss Maudie explains she was more worried about the fire hurting her neighbors than she was about the fate of her possessions. Miss Maudie's kindness and selflessness foreshadow a source of strength the Finch family will need later in the book.

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