In chapter 28, why does Jem say Boo Radley must not be at home? What is ironic about this? 

Jem says that Boo Radley must not be home because the Radley house is completely dark and silent, as though it is empty. His statement is ironic because Boo Radley is a recluse, who is always home.

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At the beginning of chapter twenty-eight, Jem and Scout walk towards the Radley house on their way to the Maycomb Halloween festival at the school. The night is extremely dark, there is no moon in the sky, and shadows bounce off the ominous Radley house, which looks like it is empty. Jem proceeds to tease Scout about Boo Radley, and Scout responds by saying that Boo doesn't mean any harm. The siblings then joke about their childhood fears and superstitions as they approach the Radley Place. Jem then hears a solitary mockingbird sing into the night along with the "irascible qua-ack" of a bluejay. There are several different interpretations of this specific symbolic mockingbird, which could represent Boo's watchful presence or the defenseless, innocent Finch children, who are vulnerable to Bob Ewell.

While listening to the mockingbird's tune, Jem comments, "Boo must not be at home" (Lee, 258). Jem's comment is ironic because Boo is always home. Boo Radley is a notorious recluse, who never leaves his house. Jem jokingly makes the statement because he understands that Boo is more than likely inside the home and is indirectly commenting on the solitary, spooky atmosphere of the night as well as the empty-looking Radley home. The only thing that can be heard is the sound of various birds and the strong wind blowing, which contributes to the foreboding mood. Fortunately, Boo Radley is home, keeping watch over the Finch children when they return from the Halloween festival. Later on, Boo Radley witnesses Bob Ewell attack Jem and Scout and immediately comes to their defense.

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At the beginning of chapter 28, Jem walks Scout over to the school for the Halloween activities while also carrying her ham costume. As they go around the Radleys' home, Jem brings up superstitious ghosts like Haints and Hot Steams. He's trying to tease and scare Scout a little bit since it is Halloween and the house appears dark, quiet, and creepy. When Jem says "Boo must not be home. Listen," he points out the sound of a mockingbird, which may symbolize protection and safety. Another reason why Jem might point out the mockingbird's singing is, as Miss Stephanie Crawford says, Boo goes out at night and looks in people's windows. Jem could be suggesting (and teasing) that Boo is out on patrol, so the mockingbird feels safe enough to sing around his spooky home. The irony about this is that Jem is teasing. The children have long since dropped the idea that Boo Radley eats cats and squirrels, that he's the boogieman, or that he's dangerous. Scout even says the following:

"Boo doesn't mean anybody any harm, but I'm right glad you're along" (254).

Thus, Jem uses verbal irony as a joke to tease and scare Scout on Halloween, not because he really thinks that Boo Radley is a threat to them. Again, as for Boo Radley not being at home, Jem saying that he's not is ironic because he's always at home or in the yard.

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On the way to the Halloween pageant, Scout and Jem must walk by the Radley house.  Even though they know by now that Boo is harmless, it’s still a moonless, scary Halloween night, and the Radley house is dark and spooky.  Jem says Boo must not be home because he hears a mockingbird singing in the Radley yard, an omen that Scout and Jem are safe going by the Radley house; this implies that a mockingbird would not sing its beautiful song anywhere around Boo’s vicinity.  It’s also ironic that Jem hears a mockingbird singing in the Radley yard because Boo is symbolic of a mockingbird who never harms anyone or anything. 

It is also ironic because Boo is always at home.   Although, Boo does seem to be in the right place at the right time in regards to the children.   He is there to wrap a blanket around Scout’s shoulders at Miss Maudie’s fire, he is able to place items in the knothole of the tree, and later he is able to save the children when he kills Bob Ewell.  Being there for the children shows that he does get out and about town sometimes; however, for the most part, Boo is still a recluse.  Luckily, he seems to keep an eye out for Scout and Jem throughout the novel, and this protective, kind side of Boo shows that he is certainly one of the main symbols of a mockingbird in the story.

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It's important to the kids to know Boo is gone, because they are walking alone on a moonless night, and they're slightly spooked, Scout remarking, "It (the Radley home) is a scary place though, ain't it?  Boo doesn't mean anybody any harm but I'm right glad you're along."  Jem then goes on to re-state that Boo must not be home because a mockingbird is singing in the tree in front of the Radley house, "in blissful unawareness of whose tree he sat in."  The irony of this development in the plot is that Boo Radley has been nowhere but home for years, and that the mockingbird becomes a symbol for Boo Radley after he saves the children from Ewell's attack.

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