In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the significance of the gifts that appear in the knothole of the tree trunk?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, the significance of the gifts that appear in the knothole of the tree trunk is twofold. First, it indicates that Boo Radley is trying to communicate with Scout and Jem. Secondly, it shows us that Boo isn't the boogie-man that local legend makes him out to be.

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Boo Radley begins to leave little gifts for the children in the knothole of a tree on his property. This is a very significant moment in the novel, because Lee is characterizing Boo through his actions. Up until this point, all we know about Boo is what the children have picked up about him through exaggerated gossip and what we might call the town's folklore.

The Boo of the children's imagination is a monster, a dangerous figure. Part of the thrill of interacting with him is the fear factor. It takes daring, for example, for Jem to run on to Boo's back porch or run and touch a wall of his house.

When the children find the gifts from Boo, this changes readers' perception of the kind of person he is. Much information is conveyed from the gifts. First, it becomes clear that Boo has been watching the children and knows they are fascinated with him. Second, the gifts show that he is not offended but amused by their antics. Third, the silly gifts—sticks of gum, a broken watch—suggest that he has empathy, even if the children do not, and knows what they will like.

Boo's kind and generous actions belie the stereotypes about him as a monster. His kindness is especially significant as it mirrors the kindness of Tom Robinson in helping Mayella. Robinson, too, is seen through the eyes of people who have prejudged him as a monster.

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Scout and Jem have become utterly fascinated with Arthur "Boo" Radley. Or, to be more precise, they've become fascinated with the legend of Boo Radley, constructed out of tidbits of local gossip and hearsay over many years.

To them, as with just about everyone else in Maycomb, Boo is a scary boogie-man figure, a crazy recluse whose imagined home life provides the Finch children and their friend Dill with plenty of raw materials for their little games.

But when Boo starts leaving little gifts for the children in the knothole of a tree on the Radleys' property, Scout and Jem begin to see a different side of him. Contrary to what the people of Maycomb might think, Boo really isn't some kind of scary monster; he's actually quite a kind, gentle soul, as subsequent events will confirm.

In putting these keepsakes where he knows that Scout and Jem will find them, Boo's establishing a communication link with the outside world, something he's never done before. This in itself is significant, given his reputation in town as a total recluse.

It's somewhat tragic, then, when Boo's brother Nathan fills up the knothole in the tree with cement. In doing so, he's closing down the communication link between his brother and the Finch children.

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At the beginning of the novel, Boo Radley is described as the "malevolent phantom" who is depicted as a monstrous beast that terrorizes Maycomb. Initially, the children believe the false rumors about their reclusive neighbor. As the novel progresses, Scout and Jem begin to find gifts in the knothole of the Radley tree. The gifts are essentially Boo's way of communicating with the children. Since Boo is extremely shy and rarely leaves his home, he attempts to develop a relationship with the children by giving them gifts. His gift-giving is significant because it portrays his magnanimous personality, which contradicts the negative rumors about him. The reader can determine from Boo's extension of friendship that he is a kindhearted, selfless individual. Some of the gifts seem to hold more significance than others. The carved figurines must have taken a substantial amount of time to make, which suggests that Boo truly cares about Jem and Scout. Also, the Indian-head coins, spelling bee medal, and watch may have meant a lot to Boo. Giving Jem and Scout gifts that possibly hold personal significance depicts Boo's strong feelings of friendship toward the children.

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The gifts that are left by Boo Radley for Jem and Scout in the knothole of the Radley oak are meant to be a message of friendship from the most mysterious man in Maycomb. Boo has been watching the children play in front of his house, and the gifts serve as an ice-breaker between them. Some of the gifts have specific significance; some do not. The chewing gum found by Scout, with its shiny outer foil wrapping glittering in the sunlight, is the first gift. It seems to have no significance other than being an irresistible treat for Scout--and which Jem determines is not poisonous. (Remember, the Radley pecans are believed to be deadly.) The Indian-head pennies are probably just some coins Boo had laying around the house, but to Jem they are "strong magic... good luck." The carved soap images are meant to be likenesses of Jem and Scout, and the "tarnished medal" was probably the spelling bee medal won by Boo himself when he was a child. As for the watch, chain and knife, Boo may well have seen Jem playing with his grandfather's watch, which Atticus let him carry once a week; now he would have one of his own. And the knife seems to be author Harper Lee's way of foreshadowing the knife that Boo uses to save the children at the end of the story. 

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