Why did the author chose to have Miss Maudie's house catch fire?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 8 of To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee uses the device of a fire to bring certain realizations to the fore. When Miss Maudie’s house catches fire, the neighbors swarm outside and help Miss Maudie to recover some of her valuables while firefighters arrive and stop the fire from spreading to surrounding houses. Scout feels someone drape a blanket over her for warmth against the cold winter weather. When Scout’s father, Atticus, asks his daughter about the origin of this blanket, Scout is not aware which of the adults placed the blanket on her during the hubbub. Scout’s older brother, Jem, reveals that Boo Radley placed the blanket across Scout’s shoulders, and Jem also reveals Boo’s earlier act of kindness in repairing Jem’s pants, which Jem ripped when sneaking onto the Radley property. When Miss Maudie hears that Boo Radley is the source of the blanket gifted to Scout, Miss Maudie remarks that she would like to have seen Boo give this blanket to Scout.

Author Harper Lee uses this particular event in the narrative to mark a turning point in the depiction of Boo Radley. Before this point, readers would likely have viewed Boo as mentally unstable in a terrifying way. After gaining more insight into Boo’s character, readers can recognize that Boo means well, and while he is prone to shyness and hiding away from society, Boo engages in acts of kindness where possible.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial