In Chapter 6 of To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Nathan Radley know about the intruders in his garden, and why does Miss Stephanie refer to a Negro over whose head Radley has fired?
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When Jem and Scout made their raid on the Radley back porch in Chapter 6, they were suddenly surprised by the appearance of a shadow. It was probably Boo Radley, and the children noisily scattered through the gate and the collard patch. A shotgun blast "shattered" the silence of the neighborhood, and the children managed to escape back to the Finch house--minus Jem's pants. Mr. Radley just assumed that it was a Negro who had been prowling about (and possibly stealing collard greens); he knew it wasn't Boo, since Boo must have been present on the porch when Nathan saw the figures running away in the dark. Nathan announced to the crowd who gathered that he "shot at a Negro in his collard patch," and Miss Stephanie retorted with her bad-taste joke about the accused.
"Scared him pale. Says if anybody sees a white nigger around, that's the one."
Miss Stephanie simply--and crudely--meant that the black man who had been shot at was so scared that he turned white.
Nathan Radley, it appears, doesn't really know anything about the intruders in his garden. The intruders were simply Jem, Scout and Dill, and it seems that no-one suspects them at all. Mr Radley seems to be under the impression that it was a black man who broke in to steal from his collard patch, and shot at him. This shows the readiness of most whites in Maycomb to believe the worst of the blacks. Mr Radley evidently didn't get a good look at the intruders but simply assumed it was a black man trying to steal.
Not only this: the occasion is turned into a tasteless joke at the expense of blacks, when Mr Radley, according to Miss Stephanie, declared that the shot 'scared him (the intruder) pale.' Miss Stephanie takes this up with gusto: 'Says if anyone sees a white nigger around, that's the one.' The refers to the supposed black intruder turning white from fear. Miss Stephanie, therefore, does not pass up the chance to indulge in a nasty racist joke. This is in keeping with what we see of her character in other parts of the book; she seems to enjoy making fun of others, for instance when she needles Scout during the missionary meeting in a later chapter.
The use of the wholly derogatory word 'nigger' also emphasizes the repellent racism of such people as Miss Stephanie. Sadly, the use of this kind of pejorative language and racist attitude is typical of most whites in the town.
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