Why does Jem say that Boo Radley must not be home?  Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 28 of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," the children depart for the Halloween pageant where Scout is going to perform.  "Thus began our longest journey," Scout narrates.  As they walk along, the street light casts "sharp shadows" on the Radley house and Jem remarks, "Bet nobody bothers them tonight."  The siblings laugh at their former fear of "haints," but Scout tells Jem to "cut it out" as they near the Radley home.

As they stand in front of the Radley house, Jem comments that no one appears to be home.  A mockingbird "poured out his repetoire."  And, as the mockingbird is a symbol of both Tom Robinson and Boo Radley, the significance of the hovering "mocker" cannot be missed after one has finished the narrative.  For, at this point in the story, Lee hints (foreshadows) the hovering of Boo Radley, who comes to Scout's rescue when she is attacked by Bob Ewell. 

Also, before they arrive at the pageant, Cecil Jacobs jumps out before the children, frightening them, thus foreshadowing the attack of Ewell.  The suggestion of danger along with the theme of bravery are in this chapter.  The little mockingbird is not afraid to sing all his songs, be they "shrill," "irascible," or melancholy--all the feelings of the recluse, Boo Radley, who will later emerge brave and heroic.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since Atticus and Aunt Alexandra both beg out of going to the Halloween pageant, Jem is delegated to escort Scout to the school.

    "You know Atticus wouldn't let you go to the schoolhouse by yourself," Jem said.
    "Don't see why, it's just around the corner and across the yard."
    "That yard's a might long place for little girls to cross at night," Jem teased. "Ain't you scared of haints?"

They are, of course, referring to the Radley Place, but author Harper Lee is actually foreshadowing a different threat to the children. Scout acknowledges that she knows Boo is harmless, but adds "It is a scary place though, ain't it?" As they cross in front of the Radley's, Jem reflects, "Boo must not be at home. Listen." Sitting in one of the Radley trees is a mocker as he "poured out his repertoire in blissful unawareness of whose tree he sat in." The mocker imitates the "kee, kee" of the sunflower bird, the "qua-ack" of the bluejay and, finally, the lament of the whippoorwill.

Jem jokes that the bird would have better sense than to make its mocking call in the Radley tree if Boo were actually at home.


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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