How does Dill Harris change in the novel, and why is he important to the narrative of To Kill a Mockingbird?
While Dill passes through the natural maturation process, he also has personal experiences which alter his perspectives, causing him to become aware of the intrinsic cruelty in people. And, because he develops in different ways from Jem and Scout, Dill acts as a foil character to them.
Ironically, it is Dill who at first has no concern for others' feelings as he initiates the interest in the "haint," Boo Radley. It is also he who creates the various machinations to draw Boo out from the shadowy inside of the mysterious house, even to the point of trespassing.
However, after Atticus orders the children to desist in their designs, other things happen to Dill that cause him to focus more upon his own feelings. For instance, his mother remarries and no longer finds time for Dill, even at home. So unhappy is he there that Dill boards the train from Mississippi and sneaks into the Finch home, hiding under one of the children's beds.
Having thus experienced rejection himself, Dill becomes very sensitive to the treatment of Tom Robinson while he is on the witness stand being cross-examined by Mr. Gilmer. Because Dill finds Mr. Gilmer's manner so cruel, he begins to cry and must leave the courtroom. Once outside, Dill responds to Scout's observation that Mr. Gilmer is "supposed to act that way" by countering that Mr. Finch was not abrasive in his cross-examination of the Ewells. So Scout then says, "Well, Dill, after all he's just a Negro." But Dill counters,
"I don't care one speck. It ain't right, somehow it ain't right to do 'em that way. Hasn't anybody got any business talkin' like that—it just makes me sick."
Thus, Dill becomes a foil to Scout, and he acts as a moral compass as well, which draws Mr. Raymond to comfort him since he, too, understands "the hell people give other people." Further, Dill so well understands the injustice dealt to Tom Robinson that he later exhibits adult cynicism as he remarks,
"I think I'll be a clown when I get grown . . . There ain't one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I'm gonna join the circus and laugh my head off . . . at the folks. Just looka yonder. . . . Every one of 'em oughta be ridin' broomsticks. Aunt Rachel already does."
Scout notices that Miss Stephanie and Miss Rachel wave wildly at the children as Dill speaks, in a manner "that did not give the lie to Dill's observation." Again, Dill has taught her something about people as his maturation precedes that of Scout.
Dill does what the other children in the novel do. He grows up. When younger, he is the one who instigates much of the children's mischief, the most important of which is approaching the Radley house. This action initiates the first contact between "Boo" and the Finch children which eventually leads to the children's rescue by Boo. Many critics believe the character of Dill was based on the real author Truman Capote, who was a childhood friend of Harper Lee, the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird". Lee later collaborated with Capote on "In Cold Blood", Capote's best seller about a murder in Kansas. Some even feel that Capote helped Lee quite a bit with "To Kill a Mockingbird".