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To Kill a Mockingbird | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Chapter 29 of To Kill a Mockingbird what is significant about the meeting between Scout and Boo Radley, whom she recognizes as her rescuer?

When Scout and Boo Radley are both in Jem's bedroom at the novel's end, she looks in his face and recognizes him. Although they've never met before, somehow, through the action of the novel, Scout has come to know him as a person—and so she recognizes him when she sees him. This moment does an excellent job of painting the way life could be if we looked at the individual before deciding about him or her based on rumors or innuendo. Scout and Jem's journey through the novel enables them to undo what Maycomb had led them to believe about Boo Radley. In effect they reversed their prejudice—and are better people for it.

In Chapter 30 of To Kill a Mockingbird why does Sheriff Tate work hard to convince Atticus about Tate's story about the attack of the children?

Sheriff Tate realizes before Atticus does that Boo Radley killed Bob Ewell to protect Scout and Jem. The fact that he's pocketed Ewell's switchblade suggests he has already decided how this incident must play out. The official report must reflect that Ewell died after falling on his own knife—a knife that Sheriff Tate actually believes Boo Radley brought to the scene. The interchange between Atticus and Tate is telling in that even after Atticus comes to realize what Tate is saying he must then reconcile his sense of justice and belief in the legal system with the situation at hand. Atticus's struggle with his sense of right and wrong when he thought Jem had wielded the knife was wrenching, but it becomes no less wrenching when he realizes that it was Boo. Atticus's moral code withstands the strain of the situation as he concludes that justice will be served when the sheriff submits his account that Ewell accidentally fell on his own blade. Scout echoes his decision, adding that turning Boo in would "be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird."

What does the final scene of To Kill a Mockingbird—when Scout walks with Boo back to his home—suggest about what she has learned throughout the novel?

Readers see that Scout has developed significantly from the time that she viewed Boo Radley as the neighborhood boogeyman—the personification of evil. She now recognizes him as an individual human being worthy of respect. As she gazes back at the neighborhood from the Radley porch, Scout perceives events of the past few years not from her own perspective but from the perspective of Boo Radley. While she views these past events she comes to realize that although she and Jem had never given Boo gifts of friendship in return for the gifts he placed in the oak tree, they had given him something he needed more—someone to love.

As Jem ages during To Kill a Mockingbird, how does his perception of events change, and how does that affect the development of his character?

As a boy of 10 Jem initially sees things as strictly black or white, good or evil. Like others in Maycomb he believes Boo Radley is a frightening "phantom" who eats "raw squirrels and any cats he could catch." Although Jem wants to be brave it takes some time before he accepts a dare from Dill to approach and touch the Radley house—which he does at full speed before racing back to Dill and Scout. Jem's perceptions of Boo and of bravery gradually change. When he and Scout find various gifts in the oak tree, Jem suspects that Boo is less a phantom than a real human being with feelings and a desire to be kind. Jem is sad after the knothole is cemented; he knows that Boo no longer can communicate with Scout and him. Jem's concept of bravery changes as he witnesses Atticus forced to execute a rabid dog and when Atticus explains how Mrs. Dubose preferred to battle the pain of her illness rather than continue taking morphine. Both Jem and Scout look up to Atticus, and Jem wants to become a lawyer like his father. By the time he is 12 Jem probably would define bravery as Atticus's main trait. He recognizes his father's courage in taking on Tom Robinson's case even as others condemn Atticus for it. Jem now has a more knowledgeable sense of right and wrong. The theme of equality versus inequality can be seen in his development, as he perceives the events of Tom Robinson's trial and its aftermath. He is crushed by the jury's decision; he cannot understand how they could possibly find Tom guilty. Several weeks later his belief in the goodness of people is shattered further—and then restored—when he and Scout are attacked by Bob Ewell and saved by Boo Radley. During the attack Jem exhibits true bravery—protecting Scout from injury and enduring a broken arm in the process. Events have helped Jem develop from an adventurous boy who can't resist a dare to a budding young man taking on the responsibility of protecting others.

In Chapter 1 of To Kill a Mockingbird what about the Finch family history does Scout mention that is a source of shame to the family?

In the first chapter of the book Scout mentions that it was a source of shame that the family had "no recorded ancestors on either side of the Battle of Hastings," a battle in 1066 between the Normans led by William the Conqueror and the English Anglo-Saxons. The inclusion of this fact prepares readers to understand that family name and history are going to be significant in the novel.

In Chapter 2 of To Kill a Mockingbird what about Scout dismays her teacher, Miss Caroline, when Scout attends her first day of school?

On the first day of first grade Miss Caroline is dismayed when she realizes Scout can read. Although she blames Atticus for having taught Scout—and thus asks Scout to tell him not to teach her anymore—the skill seems as much a product of simply having sat with him as he read night after night instead of a deliberate action. Rather than embrace the fact that Scout is an eager learner Miss Caroline makes a negative example of it for Scout.

In Chapter 2 of To Kill a Mockingbird why are students mortified when Miss Caroline offers Walter Cunningham lunch money, and how does she react to Scout's explanation?

When Miss Caroline realizes that Walter has neither brought lunch nor has money for it, she pushes to loan him money to eat downtown. What she does not realize—and what Scout tries to explain to her—is that the Cunninghams are terribly poor and do not take anything for which they cannot pay. Walter can't and won't take the loan, and he is too embarrassed to explain. Scout's well-intentioned (though blunt) explanation is not well received, and Miss Caroline sends her to the corner for "starting off on the wrong foot" with her.

In Chapter 2 of To Kill a Mockingbird which local families are introduced through Scout's classmates, and how do they figure prominently in later chapters?

On Scout's first day of school, readers "meet" two local families that will figure prominently in the story. Walter Cunningham Jr. is the son of the poor but proud Cunninghams. Various members of the Cunningham family appear in later chapters, helping to strengthen the themes of class and morality. Walter Jr. pops up in Chapter 3 when Scout discounts him to Calpurnia, saying, "He ain't company, Cal, he's just a Cunningham" and Calpurnia tells her that anyone who is invited to the house is company and must be treated with respect. In Chapter 23 it is revealed that a member of the Cunningham family was on Tom's jury and voted for acquittal. Yet Aunt Alexandra declares that Scout can't invite Walter Cunningham Jr. to the Finch house because the Cunninghams may be "good folks. But they're not our kind of folks." These scenes support the theme of class. Walter Cunningham Sr. turns up as a member of the lynch mob in Chapter 15. By addressing him directly Scout breaks the anonymity of the mob and the men disperse. The morality theme is present in this scene; mob anonymity allows the men to ignore their individual code of morality, which resurfaces when the mob mentality is broken. Scout's rude classmate, Burris Ewell, introduces readers to the law-flouting Ewell family. Tom Robinson's downfall begins when Bob and Mayella Ewell falsely accuse Tom of raping Mayella. Throughout Tom's trial the themes of morality, race, and equality versus inequality are evident as the Ewells' false testimony, and the biases of the jurors lead to a verdict of guilty. Following the trial Bob Ewell shows up again harassing Tom's widow and, finally, in Chapter 28 attacking Jem and Scout on their way home from the Halloween festival. He breaks Jem's arm and then is killed by Boo Radley, who jumps in to save Scout and Jem. These scenes again illustrate the themes of morality and equality versus inequality, as the immoral Bob Ewell intends to harm individuals who are weaker than he is.

In Chapter 3 ofTo Kill a Mockingbird what agreement do Scout and Atticus reach following Scout's first day of school?

Scout has had a very trying first day at school, and she is disillusioned to the point of not wanting to go back—especially when her teacher, Miss Caroline, says that she and Atticus can no longer read together. That evening Atticus bargains that if Scout will continue going to school, the two of them will go on reading every night just as they always have.

In Chapter 3 of To Kill a Mockingbird what examples of the Ewells' illegal behavior does Atticus mention, and what is the reason that Maycomb turns a blind eye?

Atticus tells Scout that Bob Ewell refuses to make his children regularly attend school. He also mentions that instead of buying food for the family, Ewell spends his relief checks on whiskey. Because there is no money for food the family hunts and fishes out of season. The law turns a blind eye to this because they know that catching fish and game is the only way the Ewell children will be fed. More than gossiping about others, Atticus is trying to make the point to Scout that sometimes in a society it is wiser to turn a blind eye to some behaviors so that everyone can live together peacefully.

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