Why does Jem cry at the end of chapter 7 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Jem cries at the end of chapter 7 of To Kill a Mockingbird because he realizes that Nathan Radley has blocked up the knothole of the tree to stop his brother from communicating with the Finch children.

Expert Answers

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

Jem cries at the end of chapter 7 because he realizes that his chances of communicating with Boo Radley and developing a lasting friendship are gone. Boo Radley has been leaving small gifts in the knothole of the tree as a way to communicate with the Finch children and spark a unique friendship. Initially, Jem and Scout think that the knothole is some child's hiding place, but gradually Jem realizes that Boo is the person leaving the gifts for them.

Although Jem senses that Boo is leaving the gifts, he never verbalizes his suspicions to Scout, who still views Boo as an evil psychopath. After writing a thank you letter, Jem goes to leave it in the knothole, only to find the hole filled with cement. Nathan Radley informs Jem that the tree is dying and had to be filled in, but Atticus tells his son otherwise. Once Jem speaks to Atticus, he recognizes that Nathan lied to him and purposefully filled the knothole with cement to prevent Boo from communicating with Jem and Scout.

Jem cries on the front porch when he realizes that his chances of developing a lasting friendship with Boo Radley are ruined. This is also the first time Jem has realized that adults lie to children. Nathan's blatant lie is one of the first times Jem loses his childhood innocence. Jem's loss of innocence coupled with the harsh reality that he will never fulfill his dream of becoming friends with Boo Radley makes him cry.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Boo Radley has been communicating with the Finch children by leaving them little keepsakes in the knothole of the tree on his family's property. Each of the items means something, and collectively, they represent an attempt by the notoriously reclusive Boo to establish contact with the outside world. As one of life's mockingbirds, Boo senses that Jem and Scout have the same status, and so he reaches out to them, leaving them little items in the tree.

But Boo's connection to the outside world is suddenly cut off when his brother, Nathan, fills up the knothole of the tree with cement. Nathan claims that the tree's dying and that it's therefore necessary to plug it up. But after Atticus tells him that the tree's as healthy as he is, Jem realizes that Nathan was lying; the tree's not sick at all, and Boo's brother is simply preventing his brother from having any contact with the outside world.

Jem is very upset at being lied to like this. He's also upset at the closing down of a connection that was just starting to pay dividends. Previously, Jem and Scout had seen Boo as nothing more than a boogie-man figure. But when they started seeing the strange keepsakes left for them in the tree, they realized that there was a whole different side to Boo—one that most people had never had the chance to see.

But having been given a rare insight into the real Boo, the opportunity to establish an even deeper connection with him has been lost thanks to Nathan Radley. It's all terribly upsetting and is enough to make Jem cry.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 7, Jem and Scout decide to write a letter to the anonymous person leaving them gifts in the knothole of the Radley tree. However, when Jem goes to put the letter in the knothole, he discovers that it is filled in with cement. Confused and heartbroken, Jem waits to speak to Nathan Radley and finally gets his chance to talk to him the next day. When Jem asks Nathan why he put the cement in the knothole, Nathan tells him,

"Tree’s dying. You plug ‘em with cement when they’re sick. You ought to know that, Jem" (Lee, 64).

After hearing Nathan's response, Jem becomes suspicious of his explanation and decides to ask his father if the tree looks sick. After looking at the tree, Atticus tells his son, "That tree’s as healthy as you are, Jem" (Lee, 64). Scout then mentions that Jem stood on the porch and didn't come into the house until later that night. Interestingly, Scout notices from the streaks on Jem's face that he has been crying to himself.

The reason that Jem cries is because he realizes that Nathan lied to him. It seems he has begun to suspect that Boo Radley is the gift giver—and that Nathan is putting a stop to Boo's attempt to reach out. Nathan Radley's dishonesty and cruelty to Boo, as well as Jem's lost chance of communicating with Boo, are the reasons he cries by himself on the front porch.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jem cries because Nathan Radley cements in the hole in the tree, eliminating their connection to Boo Radley.

At the beginning of the book, Jem and Scout just see Boo Radley as a curiosity and form of amusement.  They can act out his life story, or be afraid to pass his house.  Yet they soon come to understand that Boo is lonely, and try to make him come out.  This results in a slow connection growing between them that develops in the form of presents left in the tree hollow on the edge of the Radley lawn.

Scout finds the first gift as she is walking by.

Some tinfoil was sticking in a knot-hole just above my eye level, winking at me in the afternoon sun. I stood on tiptoe, hastily looked around once more, reached into the hole, and withdrew two pieces of chewing gum minus their outer wrappers. (ch 4)

The gum is the first overture of friendship from Boo, even if Scout does not know it.  When she doesn’t die, she enjoys the gum.  The children find many other gifts there, including twine, a watch and a chain, a spelling medal, a rare penny, and soap dolls carved to look like them.

When the tree is cemented, Jem asks Mr. Nathan why.  He says it was sick.  Jem is aware of what really happened though.  Nathan has closed Boo’s only connection to the outside world and friendship.  That is why Jem cries.  He pities Boo, and has come to think of him as a friend.  Later, Boo makes other connections with them, but they always remember the little gifts.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

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