To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

Harper Lee

Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

Unsurprisingly, Scout finds the Dewey Decimal System boring and finds school to be a waste of time. One day, while running past the Radley house on her way home, she spots a bit of tinfoil in the knothole of an oak tree on the Radley lot. Inside, Scout finds two pieces of chewing gum. It’s unclear at first who leaves her this gift. Jem doesn’t believe she found it and makes her spit it out when he gets home from school, but later, when they find more tinfoil with a pair of Indian head pennies, he becomes curious. He knows there aren’t many people who go by there (Cecil Jacobs walks a mile out of his way to avoid the Radley house), which makes it especially strange.

Two days after Jem and Scout find the Indian heads, Dill arrives from Meridian. He tells them a bunch of tall tales about seeing conjoined twins and riding with the train engineer, then pretends to predict the future. Jem scorns these superstitions, explaining to Dill about Hot Steams, which are spirits that can’t get to Heaven and hang around on Earth, trying to suck the life out of people who pass through them. Tired of talking and playacting, they decide to roll around in a spare tire, which leads to Scout accidentally rolling too fast onto the Radley property. When Scout recovers she runs out of the yard, leaving the tire for Jem to retrieve.

After this, the children act out a play, One Man’s Family, based on the rumors about the Radleys (in particular, Boo’s attack on Mr. Radley). Whenever Nathan Radley walks by, they pause in the middle of a scene so he won’t know what they’re doing. Atticus figures it out, though, and this is Scout’s second reason for wanting to quit the game—the first, she says, is the fact that when she rolled onto the Radley property, she heard someone inside the house laughing. She assumes this is Boo.

Alliteration

One example of this would be "we polished and perfected it" (referring to the Boo Radley play).

Allusions

Time Magazine. A popular magazine first published in March, 1923. It’s among the most influential magazines in the United States, and the fact that Scout reads it is further proof of her intelligence and her very advanced reading level.

Metaphor. A good example of this would be Scout inching "sluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system," where school is compared to a treadmill that runs endlessly and gets you nowhere. This is very telling and reveals Scout's true feelings about school.

Simile. One example of this would be Scout popping out of the tire "like a cork onto the pavement."

Themes

Games. “Summer was Dill,” Scout says, meaning that when he arrives, their lives are enriched, and they play bigger, more elaborate games, like the play they act out in this chapter. This play marks the beginning of a major shift in the character of their games, which become less innocent and more dangerous in the proceeding chapters.

Lies. Characteristically, Dill’s first words in this chapter are lies, which he insists on telling despite the fact that nobody believes them. Dill’s lies are, however, innocuous, and cover up his insecurities, so that one can hardly fault him for having a little fun. Other characters don’t have such innocent intentions, though, and we’ll see the damage that lies can do during Tom Robinson’s trial.

Superstition. Like a hain’t, a Hot Steam is a spirit, like a ghost, who can’t get to Heaven. A Hot Steam is more malevolent than a regular hain’t, however, and hangs around Earth, trying to squeeze the life out of people who walk through their namesake hot places. That most of the biggest superstitions in this novel have to do in some way with death represents the fear that an untimely death produces in the main characters.