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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In chapter seven, Jem and Scout write a note to the anonymous gift-giver who has been leaving small gifts in the knothole of the Radley tree. Although Jem never blatantly states his opinion on the identity of the gift-giver, it is suggested that he believes the person leaving the gifts is Boo Radley. When Jem attempts to place the note inside the knothole, he is shocked to discover that it is filled with cement. The next day, Jem asks Nathan Radley about the cement in the knothole, and Nathan lies to him by claiming the tree is dying, which is why he filled the knothole with cement.

Later that evening, Jem asks his father if the Radley tree looks like it's dying; Atticus tells him the tree looks perfectly healthy. Jem knows Atticus would never lie to him, which confirms his suspicions that Nathan Radley was lying. When Atticus and Scout head inside, Jem remains on the porch and cries to himself.

Jem cries because he recognizes he will never communicate with Boo Radley or develop a lasting friendship with him. He understands that Nathan Radley will continue to prevent Boo from interacting with them and sympathizes with his tragic situation. Jem is maturing and recognizes the reality of Boo's reclusive, lonely life. He knows Boo desires social interaction and wants to develop a friendship with him and Scout but is unable to act independently without his brother's intervention.

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Jem is reduced to tears at the end of chapter 7 due to his discovery that Nathan Radley has cemented up the hole in the tree “down yonder.” When Jem asks him why he did this, he explains that the tree was dying, and that plugging sick trees with cement is standard practice. Doubt, however, is thrown on this explanation later, when Jem asks Atticus if he thinks the tree is dying. Atticus makes the point that the leaves on the tree are “green and full”, which it makes it seem unlikely to Jem that Nathan had told him the truth.

Jem’s tears are not for the tree but for the end of an era that the cement in the tree represents. Now that the hole has been cemented up, there can be no more gifts from the children’s new friend, Boo Radley. Boo has shown kindness to Jem and Scout on a number of occasions, such as sewing up Jem’s pants, which helped him avoid getting into trouble, and leaving various small gifts. It is upsetting to Jem that he and his sister are unable to leave their thank you letter in the tree, as they had planned.

It is clear that this tree, and the children’s growing friendship with Boo, had meant a lot to Jem. The fact that he gives the new cement a “meditative pat” tells us that he is thinking deeply about the tree and everything that it represented. He is crying because he has no power over Nathan’s decision to put a stop to their tentative friendship with Boo.

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He has just discovered that Mr. Nathan Radley filled in the tree with cement, and he is upset at how cruel that was.  Boo had been, for the past several weeks, extending a hand of friendship to the two children by leaving little gifts inside the hole in the tree.  Jem suspected it was Boo, who had, the chapter before, kindly sewed up Jem's pants and left them for him at the fence, which helped Jem to not get into trouble for trespassing on the Radley property.  The gifts that Boo gave were small, but moving; a perfectly whittled figure set of a boy and a girl that looked like them, chewing gum, and a pocket watch.  So, Jem and Scout write a letter of thanks and go to deposit into the tree, only to discover the tree has been filled in.

Jem's crying isn't because he is sad to lose further gifts from the friend.  It is because of the friendship that had been started between the kids and Boo, and Nathan Radley's cruelty in trying to stop it.  And, he outright lied to Jem about it.  He told Jem he filled in the hole because the "tree's dying.  You plug 'em with cement when they're sick."  Atticus confirms later that the tree was not sick, so Jem knows Mr. Radley was not only lying, but cruelly keeping Boo from finding happiness and friendship.  And, just like Atticus, Jem appears to have his father's kind and sympathetic heart; he is upset that Boo has such a cruel father and has to live like that.

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Jem cries because Boo's father, Nathan Radley, had cemented up the hole in the tree. Jem cries not just because there will be no more presents forthcoming but also (and especially) because this cuts off the children's contact with their new "phantom friend," Boo. Mr. Radley had probably observed the Finch children hanging around the tree and figured out what was going on.

The book mentions two other times when Jem cries. Scout heard him crying sometimes for his mother (or either going off by himself to be alone). At the end of the story, Jem cries again when he witnesses Tom Robinson being convicted, knowing good and well that he was an innocent man. Jem feels the injustice of it all and feels betrayed by the people of Maycomb.

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Boo Radley is an important figure in the lives of the children in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.   Jem, Scout, and Dill spend much of the summer time playing games about Boo Radley, the mysterious man who lives next door. The children have never actually seen him. 

The last night of the summer the children decide that they will try to look in the Radley’s window.  Boo’s father hears a noise and shoots his shotgun.  This scares the children, and Jem loses his pants in the barbed wire fence. Later Jem goes back for his pants and discovers that they have been mended and folded neatly waiting for him on the fence.

Scout does not understand the importance of the mended pants.  On the other hand, Jem’s maturity enables him to appreciate this as something that Boo has done to help him.

Another incident connects the children to Boo.  They discover several things left in the old oak tree hole between their properties.  In the hole, there are several interesting and fun items: twine, soap carvings of  Jem and Scout, a medal and a watch.  Again Jem’s sensitivity shines when he understands that someone [Boo] has observed the children in order to carve the images.

Jem decides to write a thank you note to the person who is putting the things in the hole.  When he tries to put it in, Jem discovers that someone has cemented the hole so that nothing can be placed there.  Realizing that Nathan Radley, Boo’s father, has blocked the hole,  Jem bravely asks Mr. Radley if he had cemented the hole. Mr. Radley says “yes,”  but he lies about his reason for doing it.

When Mr. Radley ends the communication between Boo and the children, Jem knows that he did it to hurt Boo.  Mr. Radley did not want Boo to have outside communication.  Jem tells Scout not to cry about the incident indicating his growing concern for his sister. 

After talking to Atticus about the tree, Jem sadly realizes that his friendship with Boo has been ended. 

“Come on in, Jem,” I said.

“After while.”

He stood there until nightfall, and I waited for him.  When we went in the house, I saw he had been crying; his face was dirty in the right places, but I thought it odd that I had not heard him.

Jem was unable to thank Boo for the gifts that he left them in the tree.  The meanness of Nathan Radley angers and yet deeply affects Jem.  He is maturing; however,  on this night,  Jem will be the one who cries for the sad life of Boo.

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In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem and Scout have spend countless hours imagining what Boo Radley is like. The gifts in the tree at the Radley place seem at first to be no big deal: simply a curiosity. However, as they continue to "arrive," especially with the carved soap figurines of Jem and Scout, they children are captured by the intent of the items—gifts left for them to find. This is not an understanding they have come to casually. First they believed the items were in someone's hiding place. When they tested out this theory and the items never left, they decided they might keep them for the person who left them until later. However, by the end of this "adventure," Jem and Scout feel they objects are gifts to them: and, it's "finders-keepers" as far as they are concerned.

Jem and Scout are children who are still young enough to have a sense of wonder about the world. They have delightful (and wild) imaginations, as we see even before Dill arrives, as they act out books Jem has read. The world is a place of possibilities. However, when Mr. Radley cements the hole closed in the tree, we have a clear sense that he is not trying to save the tree, he is lying, and somehow it is connected to Boo. Although the children have never seen him and may even be a little frightened of him, the three of them are all connected, even so early in the novel.

On some level, I believe that Jem understands this. It is one of the first experiences with adults that he will have over the course of the story that will open his eyes to many truths about the world; and with each incident, there is a loss of innocence for Jem, who is several years older than Scout. We learn after Chapter Six and the near miss the kids experience at the Radley house, that Jem is maturing, and very much wants his father's respect: he doesn't want to get in trouble with Atticus because they snuck onto the Radley's property. However, with every brush a youngster of Jem's age has with the "real world," there is a price to pay: sometimes something positive comes of it, but not this time. Here, Jem is forced to see Mr. Radley's inhumanity to Boo, suspecting that he is somehow trying to cut Boo off from them. This is not to say Jem understands the reasons, but the result is clear enough.

Scout notices the impact the event has on Jem, who ironically reacts as he had tried to keep her from doing: he cries.

"Come on in, Jem" I said.

"After while."

He stood there until nightfall, and I waited for him. When we went in the house I saw he had been crying; his face was dirty in the right places, but I thought it odd that I had not heard him.

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Jem makes several discoveries in this chapter. First, he and Scout come to understand that the gifts that they have found in the knothole have come from Boo. They realize that he is not a crazed animal killer, but a friendly--if secretive--neighbor. But what causes him to cry is the actions of Nathan Radley, Boo's older brother. Radley cements the knothole, preventing Boo and the children from any further way of communicating and exchanging gifts. When Jem asks him why, Radley tells him that the tree is diseased.

"You plug 'em with cement when they're sick. You ought to know that, Jem."

But when Jem asks Atticus, Atticus assures him that the tree is quite healthy. Jem then understands that he has been lied to by Nathan Radley, and the only reason for cementing the knothole was out of pure meanness.

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At the very least, Jem suspected that Arthur "Boo" Radley was the one leaving gifts in the hole in the knot hole in the tree.  In fact, considering that he seemed convinced that the gift giver was a "mister" or "sir," which was obvious when he and Scout wrote their letter of thanks to him, Jem was probably confident of his identity. 

Not only was the anticipation of discovering new gifts exciting, but it also revealed a kind, childlike nature found in Boo Radley, who was the giver.  Jem, who was sensitive to the feelings of others, found it heartbreaking that someone would have filled in the hole and taken that link to the outside world away from Boo; it was especially disheartening and upsetting to know that his own brother treated him so.  Jem must have felt that Boo had been treated cruelly enough by society, and specifically his own family, to have deserved the happiness of sharing things via the knot hole. The pain and frustration that Jem felt was compounded exponentially by the inability to thank the giver (Boo) for his kindness and generosity; Jem and Scout were unable to leave their letter for Boo, since the knot hole had already been filled with cement by the time they arrived with their envelope.

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Jem and Scout decide to leave a note for Boo Radley thanking him for the objects he has been leaving them. When Jem finds that the knothole in the tree has been filled with cement, he confronts Mr. Radley. Mr. Radley tells Jem that the tree is dying, but Jem doesn't believe him. He begins to suspect that Mr. Radley wants to keep the kids from communicating with Boo. When Jem asks Atticus if the tree is dying and Atticus tells him no, Jem realizes that his suspicions are true.

Jem's crying is significant because it is a defining moment when he begins to mature and not think of only himself. He cries for Boo Radley. Jem feels sorry for him because he understands how lonely Boo must feel. He also finally realizes that Boo’s seclusion is enforced by his family and that Boo’s family must be embarrassed or ashamed of him, something that Jem is unfamiliar with because Atticus is a supportive and caring father.

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