Miss Maudie discusses some of the town’s problems with the children. She says, “The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets—” Secrets seem to be a theme in the novel. Even a small town holds many secrets. What are some of the secrets from the story thus far? How might the secrets affect the story?
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The atmosphere of a small town like Maycomb where everyone knows each other’s business makes people hide the “skeletons in their closets”. Everyone in Maycomb has a secret of some kind. Here are a few:
- Mr. Dolphus Raymond pretends to be an alcoholic so people of Maycomb have a way to explain why he has a black mistress and bi-racial children. Actually, all he has in the brown paper bag is a bottle of Coca-Cola.
- Mrs. Dubose hides her addiction to pain medication from the town. She is ashamed of her addiction, and vows to break it before she dies.
- Mayella Ewell hides the abuse from her father, Bob Ewell, out of fear. She keeps the truth about Tom Robinson a secret because of this fear. She also hides her loneliness as a woman stuck taking care of her brothers and sisters.
- Jem and Dill keep their adventures to see Boo Radley and invite him for ice cream from Atticus.
- Dill keeps the truth about his father from Scout and Jem by over exaggerating his father’s accomplishments and lying that his father chained him up in the basement.
- Probably the biggest secrets are the ones Boo keeps about himself. We learn in the novel that Boo has been forced to stay in the Radley house because of an arrest when he was younger. The rumors claim that Boo is insane and dangerous. He becomes a figure of folk lore used to explain events in town. Miss Stephanie perpetuates the rumors by spreading gossip that Boo peeps in windows and kills azaleas with his breath. He, in essence, becomes a scapegoat based on superstitions for the town. However, despite these rumors, it is Boo who keeps the biggest secret, and that is that he is a kind and caring individual and nothing like how the gossip describes him. He leaves things for Scout and Jem in the knot of a tree, covers Scout with a blanket during the fire at Miss Maudie’s, and eventually saves Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell.
It is a mystery as to why Boo allows himself to be manipulated by his family’s embarrassment and oppression. After all, a lot of time has passed since he committed the harmless crime in which he was sent to a juvenile state home. Perhaps it is the values of the community that keep him inside, or it is a choice he has made. However, we, as readers, know the true character of Boo as Harper Lee slowly lets us get to know him throughout the novel.
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