What are characteristics or qualities of Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dill is personable, outgoing, and friendly. He is also adaptable. Dill takes to Scout and Jem easily, and he shows a willingness to interact with the siblings on their terms.

Scout relates that Dill participated in their drama sessions with enthusiasm and that he was receptive to their ideas:

Routine contentment was: improving our treehouse that rested between giant twin chinaberry trees in the back yard, fussing, running through our list of dramas based on the works of Oliver Optic, Victor Appleton, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. In this matter we were lucky to have Dill. He played the character parts formerly thrust upon me—the ape in Tarzan, Mr. Crabtree in The Rover Boys, Mr. Damon in Tom Swift. Thus we came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies.

From the passage above, we also learn that Dill is imaginative, and it is this particular quality that fuels his sense of adventure. Scout tells us that it is Dill who gave her and Jem the "idea of making Boo Radley come out." Dill's fascination with the Radley Place prompted him make the challenge to Jem:

Our first raid came to pass only because Dill bet Jem The Gray Ghost against two Tom Swifts that Jem wouldn’t get any farther than the Radley gate. In all his life, Jem had never declined a dare.

In this first "raid," however, Dill is not the one who does the honors: Jem is the one who actually runs up to the Radley house and slaps it with the palm of his hand. Dill may be adventurous, but he is also a realist. His sense of adventure is restrained by his pragmatic, calculating nature: he is willing to explore, as long as someone else goes first.

Dill also tends to be melodramatic; we get the idea that much of what he tells Jem and Scout is inspired by his overactive imagination. Here are two examples:

He was somewhat heavier, no taller, and said he had seen his father. Dill’s father was taller than ours, he had a black beard (pointed), and was president of the L & N Railroad. “I helped the engineer for a while,” said Dill, yawning. “In a pig’s ear you did, Dill. Hush,” said Jem.

We had strolled to the front yard, where Dill stood looking down the street at the dreary face of the Radley Place. “I—smell—death,” he said. “I do, I mean it,” he said, when I told him to shut up. “You mean when somebody’s dyin‘ you can smell it?” “No, I mean I can smell somebody an‘ tell if they’re gonna die. An old lady taught me how.” Dill leaned over and sniffed me. “Jean—Louise—Finch, you are going to die in three days.”

Despite his tendency to exaggerate, Dill is a wonderful companion to Jem and Scout. Together, they enjoy many great adventures in the novel.

price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Dill comes to Maycomb at the beginning of the novel, he is eager to please and make friends.  He tells tall tales and brags about his life when he says he has seen Dracula and is only seven but can read.  He is a humorous, sensitive child and a follower.  Dill is Jem’s sidekick in the games they play and the trouble they get in.  Dill, however, can be quite adventurous when he dares Jem to touch the Radley house, something Jem does to prove himself.  Dill also lies for Jem when Jem is caught without his pants by Atticus.  Dill tells Atticus that Jem lost his pants in a game of strip poker when, in actuality, Jem left his torn pants on the fence at the Radley place.

Dill’s home life in Mississippi is pretty sad.  Dill’s mother has shipped Dill off to Maycomb to stay with relatives because she doesn’t have time for him.  Dill talks about his father to Jem and Scout building him up to be greater than Atticus.  When Dill runs away from home to Maycomb, he admits to Jem and Scout that his father doesn’t care about him and that he is neglected.  Dill tells Jem and Scout that his father chained him up in the basement which is another lie Dill tells to get sympathy.  He wins the respect of Jem and Scout, and they become fast friends.

Dill is somewhat of an outsider looking in at Maycomb, since he is not from the area and doesn’t know anyone.  He feels he has to prove himself to Scout and Jem, and he does that by over exaggerating his life and lying a lot.  He, however, is a unique child who is imaginative, funny, and the perfect friend for Jem and Scout. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question