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To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

Chapters 7–8

Summary Chapters 7–8

In comparison to Scout’s still very childish perspective, Jem’s more mature understanding of the world is evident here, along with his strong sense of justice. When Nathan Radley plugs up the hole in the tree, Scout is disappointed but hardly heartbroken, seeing it as merely the end of their presents. Jem, on the other hand, is brought to tears, because he grasps that Boo’s brother has done something cruel: he has deprived Boo of his connection to the wider world and has broken up his brother’s attempt at friendship. This incident, which the reader must detect behind the scenes of Scout’s narrative, plays into the novel’s broad theme of suffering innocence, and Jem’s anger at this injustice foreshadows his later fury concerning Tom Robinson’s trial. While Scout retains her innocence and optimism throughout the book, Jem undergoes severe disillusionment as part of his “growing up,” and the Boo Radley incident in this chapter is an important early step toward that disillusionment.

The implicit comparison between Boo’s soap figures and Jem and Scout’s snowman reveals the difference in how each party interacts with others. Whereas Boo carves his figures out of a desire to connect with the two kids, Jem and Scout craft their snowman out of a dislike for Mr. Avery. Further, Boo doesn’t make his carvings for himself; rather, he offers them as presents. Jem and Scout, on the other hand, make the snowman purely for their own enjoyment. Boo interacts with others on their terms, while the children, not yet mature, interact with others on their own terms.

Critic Claudia Durst Johnson has argued that To Kill a Mockingbird contains many Gothic elements, from the legends and secrets surrounding Boo Radley to Dill’s imaginative stories and the children’s superstitions. The unseasonable snow and the fire at Miss Maudie’s, as well as the later appearance of a mad dog, can be seen as contributing to a sense of supernatural foreboding leading up to the injustice that pervades Tom Robinson’s trial. This interpretation, however, is balanced by the fact that both the snow and the fire bring out the best in people—school is canceled, Scout and Jem build a fine snowman, the neighbors help save Miss Maudie’s belongings, and Miss Maudie perseveres after her house is destroyed. Even when she sees her prize flowers ruined, the brave old woman does not despair; instead, she offers a cheerful comment about wanting a smaller house and a larger garden. This interweaving of dramatic, Gothic atmospherics and good-hearted small-town values epitomizes To Kill a Mockingbird and mirrors the novel’s main theme. In a world in which innocence is threatened by injustice, cruelty, prejudice, and hatred, goodness can prevail in the form of sympathy, understanding, and common sense, as evidenced by how the townspeople’s affectionate willingness to help one another enables them to overcome the intrusion of these Gothic elements into their simple small-town lives.