In To Kill a Mockingbird, how do Jem and Scout meet Dill? What do the children know about Radley's family history and what began the misery in his house? Why did Jem touch the door?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Charles Baker Harris (Dill) lives in Meridian, Mississippi, but after his mother remarries, he is sent to Alabama to stay with his aunt, Miss Rachel Haverford, during the summer vacation. Because the Finch children live across the street, the neglected Dill is delighted to be there, and all three have exciting adventures together. 

In the first chapter, the adult Scout as narrator provides the history of the Radley house and Arthur. This history is supplied by "neighborhood legend." There are some rumors that Jem recalls, but other sources—"Jem received most of his information from Miss Stephanie Crawford, a neighborhood scold" (Ch.1)—and Miss Maudie Atkinson provide details.

According to this "neighborhood legend," young Arthur Radley fell into bad company with the Old Sarum bunch. One night the constable of Maycomb arrested the boys for their mayhem, and at their trial, the judge sent the boys to the industrial school. But, the sanctimonious and inflexible Mr. Radley felt that going to this place would be a disgrace. He gave his word that if the judge released Arthur to him, no "further trouble" would occur. From then on, Arthur became a prisoner in his own home instead of going away for only one year.

According to Miss Stephanie, when Arthur was thirty-three years old, he was sitting on the floor in the living room, cutting articles from the local paper to paste into a scrapbook that he kept.

As Mr. Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors into his parent's leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants, and resumed his activities. 

Mrs. Radley ran screaming into the street that Arthur was killing them all, but when the sheriff arrived, he found Boo still sitting in the livingroom, cutting up the Tribune. He was thirty-three years old then. (Ch.1)

After this incident, Boo was locked in the courthouse basement because the sheriff did not wish to have Boo in the jail "alongside Negroes." According to Miss Stephanie, some members of the town council told Mr. Radley that if Boo did not return home, he was going to die from the mold and the dampness of that basement. Mr. Radley reclaimed Arthur and made him "into a ghost" as Atticus said.

The imaginative Dill is intrigued by the rumors about the Radley house and its occupants. Together with Jem, he devises ways to make contact with this "haint." One instance of their plans is the time that Dill dares Jem to touch the Radley house. Jem considers this dare for three days although, as Scout narrates, "Jem had never declined a dare." Dill taunts Jem each day, accusing him of being "scared."

Finally, Dill "got" Jem when he accused all the "folks in Maycomb as such scary folks," unlike those from Meridian where he lives. Jem then goes as far as the lightpost. However, Dill continues to taunt him, "You gonna run out on a dare?" Jem stands still for so long that Dill finally says, "I won't say you ran out on a dare an' I'll swap you The Gray Ghost if you just go up and touch the house." (Ch.5) Jem agrees, but he still displays his reluctance as he walks back and forth at the corner of the lot, scratching his head, an action that leads Scout to sneer at him, and then "Jem threw open the gate and sped to the side of the house, slapped it with his palm and ran back past us . . . " (Ch.5)

durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem and Scout live in Maycomb County with their father Atticus Finch. They first meet Dill, whose real name is Charles Baker Harris, when he visits his aunt Rachel, their neighbor, for the Summer holidays and continues to visit every Summer. He is a year older than Scout and they three become firm friends. 

Jem and Scout relate stories about the Radley place after it sparks Dill's imagination. Atticus won't tell them anything about the Radleys so they get all their information from another neighbor, Miss Stephanie, who confirms the anti-social nature of the Radley family who never bonded with the community and were always seen as strange. Boo Radley hasn't been seen out, in daylight, for many years after getting involved with the wrong crowd as a teenager whereafter his father locked him in the house. This is what started the problems for the Radleys. The rumor has it that, at one point, whilst confined to his home, Boo stabbed his father, in the leg, with a pair of scissors but, rather than send him away, his father kept him in the house indefinitely. Even after his father died, Boo still remained indoors and his brother came to the house and assumed his father's responsibilities.  

There are therefore, many stories about Boo Radley and how he sneaks around outside at night. The children are both fascinated and terrified by their perception of Boo. Dill is determined to force Boo out of his house so he dares Jem to go into the Radley yard. Dill is convinced that Jem will not get past the gate. Jem thinks about it and not wanting to turn down a dare, he decides to do it and runs in and touches the house. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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