According to Jem, what does the phrase 'he bought cotton' mean in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers
litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jem says that Mr. Radley “bought cotton” because he does nothing.

The Radleys are the mystery of the block.  They are very reclusive people, and rarely interact with others.  The children are fascinated with Boo Radley, who seems to be so reclusive he never leaves the house.

I never knew how old Mr. Radley made his living- Jem said he "bought cotton," a polite term for doing nothing… (ch 1)

Mr. Radley apparently just walks to town once a day to buy groceries and only stays out for a half an hour.  The mystery of the Radleys is too much for Scout and Jem.  They come up with a variety of stories about the family, especially Boo.

Further Reading:
Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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