In chapter 14 of To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Atticus react to Dill returning to the Finch household? What does he tell the children, and how do they react?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus reacts calmly when he discovers that Dill ran away from home and has been hiding underneath Scout's bed. Atticus proceeds to demonstrate hospitality and compassion by feeding Dill, allowing him to spend the night, and assuring him that he will not be sent home. Atticus also jokes with Dill about taking a bath. Scout and Jem are not surprised by their father's reaction and expect him to treat Dill with the utmost respect.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This episode highlights differences in parenting and how it affects children. Dill has run away from his new stepfather. While it is never mentioned explicitly in the text, it is implied that he might be abusive. He is neglectful and unaffectionate, at the least. At any rate, Dill is frightened about how his parents will react to the news of him running away. That is why he is scared when Jem gets Atticus to tell him about Dill.

Atticus, always the empathetic man, surprises Dill with his nonchalant reaction to finding the boy in his house. He smiles to put Dill at ease and offers him some food. Jem and Scout reassure Dill that he has no need to be afraid of Atticus, and Dill seems to understand this, though he is hesitant to accept it for a moment. Dill begs Atticus not to send him home. Atticus is quick to put the boy's anxieties at ease by letting him know that he is welcome to stay the night. He even lightens the mood by joking about how much dirt Dill has tracked inside with him.

Later that night, Dill tells Scout about his life at home. Scout comes to realize that not everybody has understanding parents like Atticus. This leads Scout to appreciate the close bond that she has with her father. Atticus's reaction to Dill shows that he understands that the boy must be in a rough place to have run away and needs some patient understanding from an adult.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on May 6, 2020
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 14, the Finch children are surprised to discover Dill hiding underneath Scout's bed, and Dill proceeds to explain that he ran away from home. After listening to Dill's story, Jem recognizes that Dill's family must be worried sick and decides to tell Atticus about Dill's unexpected arrival. When Atticus walks into his daughter's room, Scout tells Dill that he has no reason to fear Atticus, and Dill confirms that he is not afraid. Atticus responds by saying,

Just hungry, I’ll bet ... Scout, we can do better than a pan of cold corn bread, can’t we? You fill this fellow up and when I get back we’ll see what we can see.

Despite Atticus's pleasant response, Dill fears that he will be sent home immediately, but Atticus assures him that he won't be going anywhere soon. Atticus then tells Dill that he is simply going to tell Miss Rachel that he is alright and ask if he is allowed to spend the night.

Atticus then jokes about Dill smelling like the outdoors before leaving the children alone in Scout's room. Jem and Scout are not surprised by their father's calm reaction, hospitable nature, and respectful attitude. They realize that Atticus would never attempt to intimidate Dill, and Scout tries to ease Dill's concerns. Initially, Dill fears that Atticus will lose his temper or send him home but is astonished when Atticus treats him with such respect. Atticus does not seem surprised to find Dill underneath Scout's bed and reveals his understanding, compassionate personality by feeding Dill, allowing him to spend the night, and attempting to make him feel comfortable.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on May 6, 2020
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Atticus does not seem completely surprised to find Dill hiding in his house, and tells the children he needs some food and makes a joke about him needing a bath.  They are not surprised their father would treat Dill respectfully.

When Dill’s mother gets married, he feels abandoned and decides to go back to Maycomb.  The children find him hiding under Scout’s bed.  They know that they can’t just keep his presence a secret, because his parents will be worried about him.  They decide to tell Atticus, and as usual he is aware of the situation and understanding.

When Scout finds Dill under her bed, at first she thinks he is a snake.  Then he tells them a sad tale, of why he had to leave.  Since it is Dill, it involves a whopper about his stepfather tying him up in the basement. 

Atticus responds to the emergency with his usual respectful patience.  The children show maturity in calling for his help, after they have calmed Dill down.

I finally found my voice: “It’s okay, Dill. When he wants you to know somethin‘, he tells you.”

Dill looked at me. “I mean it’s all right,” I said. “You know he wouldn’t bother you, you know you ain’t scared of Atticus.”

“I’m not scared…” Dill muttered.

“Just hungry, I’ll bet.” Atticus’s voice had its usual pleasant dryness. (Ch. 14)

Atticus says Dill needs some real food, asks him to clean up with a joke about soil erosion that Jem explains to him, and says he won’t tell Rachel where Dill is yet.  He knows that Dill will continue to panic until he has had some food and rest. 

Eventually though, the truth about Dill comes out.  He ran away because his parents were ignoring him.

I raised up on my elbow, facing Dill’s outline. “It’s no reason to run off. They don’t get around to doin‘ what they say they’re gonna do half the time…”

“That wasn’t it, he—they just wasn’t interested in me.” (Ch. 14)

Dill had so desperately wanted a family for so long, and especially a father, that when he finally got one he expected the man to live up to his expectations.  Instead, he was disappointed.  The man was much more interested in his mother than him.  As a result, he ran away to Maycomb, where he knew that he was always welcome and wanted.  There, he felt like part of the family.

Dill clearly contrasts Atticus with his own stepfather.  Scout reminds him that Atticus is not always there, but it is not the being there that counts.  Atticus clearly cares.  He does not jump to conclusions, and he treats his own children and other children, like Dill, with respect and kindness.  This is what makes Atticus a role model to Dill.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial