Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

How does Lee use language to convey the children’s opinion of the Radleys from pages 9-14? Discuss Harper Lee’s description of the Radley family and their house.

Expert Answers

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

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee describes the Radley house as a place to be feared and a source of punishment, and, together with the Dubose place, it is much like a hell where naughty children go:

The Radley Place was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end; Mrs. Dubose was plain hell.

The place is characterized as a haunted house, where a ghost is thought to enact cruel deeds at night:

Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was down, and peeped in windows. When people's azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them. Any stealthy small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work. Once the town was terrorized by a series of morbid nocturnal events: people's chickens and household pets were found mutilated;

The house is also anti-family and anti-community.  The Radleys keep to themselves and do not go to church.  They sound like some kind of cult.  Mr. Radley carries strange, secretive things, all of which ironically foreshadows what will happen later in the novel:

The misery of that house began many years before Jem and I were born. The Radleys, welcome anywhere in town, kept to themselves, a predilection unforgivable in Maycomb. They did not go to church, Maycomb's principal recreation, but worshiped at home; Mrs. Radley seldom if ever crossed the street for a mid-morning coffee break with her neighbors, and certainly never joined a missionary circle. Mr. Radley walked to town at eleven- thirty every morning and came back promptly at twelve, is sometimes carrying a brown paper bag that the neighborhood assumed contained the family groceries. I never knew how old Mr. Radley made his living-Jem said he "bought cotton," a polite term for doing nothing-but Mr. Radley and his wife had lived there with their two sons as long as anybody could remember.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team