Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Chapter 30 Summary and Analysis

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Hearing Scout use the nickname "Boo," Atticus gently corrects her: "Mr. Arthur, honey." That's his real name: Mr. Arthur Radley. Scout's instinctive fear of Boo makes her run to Jem's side, but she calms down soon enough and leads Boo to the porch, where she offers him the rocking chair, thinking that he'll like the dark. On the porch, Heck and Atticus disagree about who should take the blame for Ewell's murder. Atticus wants to claim Jem did it in self-defense. Heck insists that Boo was the one who did it, but says it would be a "sin" to bring such a shy man into the public eye, suggesting that Ewell simply killed himself. Atticus is morally opposed to this, but Scout is in favor of it. She says it would be like shooting a mockingbird, harkening back to the title of the novel.


Luke 9:60. In the King James Version of the novel, the full verse reads: "Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Heck alludes to this verse when he says "let the dead bury the dead," meaning, let's put the matter to rest and end the cycle of violence.


Mockingbirds. In previous chapters, we've seen how both Tom Robinson and Atticus can be figured as symbolic mockingbirds, persecuted in spite of their innocence. Here, Scout makes it clear that Boo Radley is another mockingbird and that, though he has, in fact, committed a crime (that of killing Ewell), his intentions were so honorable that he remains innocent of any wrongdoing. Heck even says, "I never heard tell that it's against the law for a citizen to do his utmost to prevent a crime." He's the sheriff and thus has the authority to sweep the truth under the rug in this case, but under different circumstances (for instance, if Boo were African American like Tom), that wouldn't have been a possibility. The various symbolic mockingbirds demonstrate how different innocence is to people of different races.


Heroism. From the theme of courage comes the theme of heroism, which we saw in a nascent form back in Chapter 10, when Atticus had to shoot the rabid dog Tim Johnson. Here, Boo becomes a hero by quite literally saving Scout and Jem's lives and protecting them from Ewell. His heroism appears to come out of nowhere, fueled not by a sense of morality (like Atticus's) but by his affection for the Finch children, with whom he has developed a friendship almost without their knowledge. It takes a moment for Scout to understand what happened or why Boo saved her, but in the end she feels an enormous amount of gratitude for him. He's perhaps the greatest hero in the novel.

Innocence. This is the last we see of this theme, which has run its course throughout the novel. Ewell's death raises the question of what to do with Boo, the innocent man who acted like a hero. Like Atticus, Boo's innocence is twofold: he doesn't deserve to be vilified by the public, and his intentions are entirely honorable. Unlike Tom and Atticus, Boo is protected from the public, and he's able to go home without anyone besides Heck Tate and the Finches knowing who he is. In the end, he's the only character whose innocence remains intact after the traumatic events of the novel.

Sin. Many characters have used the word "sin," defining it variously as: killing a mockingbird, killing a disabled person, and bringing a shy man into the public eye. Here, Heck Tate's insistence that it would be a sin to spotlight Boo underscores that when we sin we're making a choice (either to do the right thing or not). However, when we consider the fact that people define "right and wrong" differently, it becomes clear that, like morality, "sin" can be relative. Some people would ardently disapprove of Heck's actions. Others would agree. Scout is one of the latter, and as the reader we are meant to side with her.

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