In Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, what superstitions do the children have in connection with the Radley house?  

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the children have superstitions about the Radley house because of the spooky stories that exist about those who live there. For example, the school children won't eat the nuts in the schoolyard that fall from the Radleys' trees because they believe they'll die (9). Also, Jem demonstrates his own beliefs in this superstition when Scout finds a couple of pieces of gum in a knothole of an oak tree in the Radleys' yard and starts chewing it immediately. Jem yells the following:

"Spit it out right now! . . . Don't you know you're not supposed to even touch the trees over there? You'll get killed if you do!" (33).

The house is dilapidated and unapproachable, too, but the superstitions mostly come from the Radleys' family drama revolving around the son named Arthur--nicknamed Boo. In chapter 5, Scout asks Miss Maudie if Boo Radley may have died and been stuffed up the chimney without anyone knowing. She gets this idea from Jem, who like Miss Stephanie Crawford, loves to make up stories about the poor man and spread them around town. (Jem mostly does it to scare Scout, though.) Fortunately, Miss Maudie sets Scout straight by saying, "I know he's alive, Jean Louise, because I haven't seen him carried out yet" (43).

Finally, the behavior of the town influences the children's fears and superstitions about the Radleys' house. For instance, Scout describes what she knows of the house as follows:

"Once the town was terrorized by a series of morbid nocturnal events. . . although the culprit was Crazy Addie . . . people still looked at the Radley Placer, unwilling to discard their initial suspicions. A Negro would not pass the Radley Place at night, he would cut across to the sidewalk opposite and whistle as he walked" (9).

The behavior of the town influences the children to be scared of Boo Radley and the house. Superstition plays a significant role in the novel because it is one part of the reason that people are prejudiced in Maycomb. Eventually, the children learn not to believe everything they hear or see.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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