Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

In To Kill a Mockingbird, what were the symbols and deeper meaning of the items in the tree?

Expert Answers

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

When confronted with symbolism, consider the source of the object, its history, and its function. The objects that the kids find in the tree are as follows: "Wrigley's Double-Mint gum" (33); "two scrubbed and polished pennies" from "Nineteen-six" and "nineteen-hundred" (34); "two small images carved in soap. One was the figure of a boy, the other wore a crude dress" (59); "a tarnished medal"; "a pocket watch that wouldn't run, on a chain with an aluminum knife" (60). The kids also receive a whole pack of gum, not just a couple of pieces like the first time.

Take each item and consider that the source is Boo Radley. What would he be communicating with the children by giving them each item?

1. Gum - It's a treat and Boo is making friends with the children.

2. Indian-head Pennies - Boo might have a coin collection and he wants to share a couple of pennies he has from it with the kids. They are very old, which may signify the time period that he was born, too (1900 and 1906). Jem also says that they represent good luck, a long life, and good health.

3. Carved soaps of a boy and a girl - Boo is sharing his talent and interest in carving; but also, he is letting Jem and Scout know that he knows who they are and he likes them. He probably wishes he could go outside and play with them.

4. Tarnished medal - Atticus says it's a spelling award so Boo is sharing his childhood with the kids. With each object, Boo is sharing his life and talents with the children he watches play each day.

5. Old pocket-watch, chain, knife - The watch is probably an object that Boo had when he was a child and he's sharing it again. The broken watch might also symbolize the long time Boo has been behind closed doors. His life has stopped and it stopped a long time ago. The knife might be one of his first, which he used to carve things when he was young.

Many of these objects have to do with time and talents. What would it be like to be a shut-in for most of your life? What does a shut-in do? He watches the time go by. It's as if time stopped for Boo the day he became a shut-in and he wants to go back to his childhood and play like he sees Jem and Scout playing in their yard. Boo identifies with the childlike qualities that he sees in the children and wants to share the sense of innocence he feels.

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