In To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, how does Dill's family situation compare with Scout's?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Let's be honest--it would be pretty impossible for any parent to be as wise, noble, just, and honest as Atticus Finch. Even with that understanding in mind, Dill's parents are pretty weak compared to Scout's dad.

Scout Finch is the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and her family is the focal point for everything that happens in this novel. Scout’s father, Atticus, is a state legislator and a lawyer. He is upright and forthright, standing firmly for what is right as well as showing respect for everyone, no matter their circumstances.

Jem is Scout’s older brother, and he, too, is an upstanding young man despite his occasional bouts of boyish pranks and trouble-making. The Finch children lost their mother shortly after Scout was born, and the woman who has helped raise them is Calpurnia, a black woman who grew up with Atticus and his siblings. Calpurnia is well educated and not at all afraid of imposing a strict discipline on Scout and Jem.

The Finches spend time together, including Scout’s famous learning how to read while sitting on her father’s lap when he reads the paper and the family trips to Finch’s Landing. Though Atticus is gone sometimes to do the people’s business, the children are never alone. They are well cared for and have time to themselves; however, the adults in their lives are certainly active participants in Jem’s and Scout’s lives.

In contrast, Charles Baker Harris (generally known as “Dill”) has parents who take care of him but do not appear to be very interested in spending time with him. Let’s be honest here, too—Dill is a story-teller (prevaricator, liar) and we cannot trust much of what he says. While that is true, it is also true that Dill is sent away every summer, a fact which gives credence to his claims in chapter 14 that his parents seem indifferent to their son.

“The thing is, what I’m tryin‘ to say is—they do get on a lot better without me, I can’t help them any. They ain’t mean. They buy me everything I want, but it’s now—you’ve-got-it-go-play-with-it. You’ve got a roomful of things. I-got-you-that-book-so-go-read-it.” Dill tried to deepen his voice. “You’re not a boy. Boys get out and play baseball with other boys, they don’t hang around the house worryin’ their folks.”

Dill’s voice was his own again: “Oh, they ain’t mean. They kiss you and hug you good night and good mornin‘ and good-bye and tell you they love you

We’ve already heard a multitude of Dill’s outrageous stories by this time, so Scout is right to be dubious when she talks to him; however, Dill speaks these words privately to Scout and we have a good sense that this is the truth of his family life.

Clearly Jem and Scout have a better life than Dill, which is of course why Dill always wants to come to Maycomb and spends so much time with the Finch children. He is important here and he gets the attention he fails to get at home. His parents are not abusive and apparently have plenty of money, but they do not give Dill what he most wants—their time and attention.

For more analysis and insight on this classic novel, check out the excellent eNotes sites linked below.

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