Who follows the letter of the law and who follows the spirit of the law in chapter 5 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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There are a couple of instances of this distinction and contrast in chapter five. The first is Jem's developing sense of manipulating semantics. Jem and Dill want to continue playing their "Boo Radley game" even though Atticus told them to stop for the sake of their neighbor's peace...

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There are a couple of instances of this distinction and contrast in chapter five. The first is Jem's developing sense of manipulating semantics. Jem and Dill want to continue playing their "Boo Radley game" even though Atticus told them to stop for the sake of their neighbor's peace of mind. Jem insists that if any trouble comes of the children continuing to play the game, they will simply change the names of the characters within the game and then will be doing "nothing wrong." This follows the letter of the law, as it is true that they would no longer be playing the exact game, but it still violates the spirit of the law, which is what Atticus certainly had in mind.

Another example of this contrast is Miss Maudie making the distinction between herself and "foot washing baptists." She blames a great deal of Boo Radley's circumstance on the fundamentalist, fire-and-brimstone beliefs of the Radley family. She says that Christians who follow the bible to the exact letter are often very detrimental to communities and families, as they spend so much time "worrying about the next world that they never learned to live in this one." Maudie is told by these types of Christians that she's going to hell for enjoying the outdoors and her flowers freely and living in the pleasure of nature. She, however, follows the spirit of the bible rather than the exact letter, as she knows that being social and enjoying nature are part of the spirit of Christianity.

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The letter of the law concerns adhering to the strict, inflexible moral codes which govern society and help cultivate a civil community. The letter of the law is a significantly narrower, literal interpretation of what the law states.

In contrast, the spirit of the law acknowledges the same moral codes but allows for a more nuanced, flexible interpretation. The spirit of the law embodies what the law is meant to convey.

One of the most prominent examples of the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law takes place following Bob Ewell's death. The letter of the law requires Sheriff Tate to inform the community of Boo's heroics by telling them that Boo killed Bob Ewell in self-defense. However, Sheriff Tate obeys the spirit of the law by telling the community that Bob fell on his own knife, rescuing Boo from the community’s limelight.

In regards to chapter five, one could argue that Jem follows the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law by continuing to play the Boo Radley game at the beginning of the chapter. In chapter four, Atticus instructed the children to stop playing the Boo Radley game because he sympathizes with their reclusive neighbor and understands that the game is embarrassing to Boo. In doing so, Atticus is following the spirit of the law by attempting to prevent Boo from experiencing further embarrassment and ridicule. In order to bypass his father's instructions, Jem follows the letter of the law, according to Atticus's rules, by simply changing the names of the characters and continuing to play a different version of the same game. Scout says,

He still maintained, however, that Atticus hadn’t said we couldn’t, therefore we could; and if Atticus ever said we couldn’t, Jem had thought of a way around it: he would simply change the names of the characters and then we couldn’t be accused of playing anything. (22)

Although Jem literally interprets Atticus's words and does not technically play the original Boo Radley game, he does not follow the spirit of the law, which was meant to protect Boo’s reputation. Essentially, Jem changes the names of the characters but continues to play the game, which is rude and inconsiderate.

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There is no overt legal implication concerning the events in chapter 5. The only thing somewhat related to a legal issue is, perhaps, the right to privacy. When Jem, Dill, and Scout try to get a note to Arthur Radley, they are hardly being a nuisance, but I suppose one could argue that they are invading the Radleys' privacy.

Atticus recognizes the possibility that Arthur and/or Arthur's father might interpret the children's games as harassment or some kind of invasion of privacy. Given that these are kids playing fairly innocuous games with a recluse, I wouldn't think that the "letter of the law" really applies here. However, for argument's sake, if anyone is following the letter of the law and the spirit of the law (in chapter 5), it is Atticus. It seems pretty clear that Atticus is just trying to save Arthur any further ridicule. (At this point, Atticus has no idea that Arthur finds some of the children's antics amusing: Arthur is heard laughing at the end of chapter 4.)

The letter and spirit of the law become very significant in later chapters. Does the jury follow the letter of the law with regard to their verdict? Do they follow the spirit of the law, for that matter? In the novel, who breaks the law and gets away with it, and why? There are plenty of interesting events that concern the law later in the novel.

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Atticus follows the letter of the law throughout the book. Only at the very end, when Bob Ewell is killed, Atticus insists that the law must be followed. It is the sheriff Heck Tate who convinces him that in this case the spirit of the law is more important than the letter. Scout understands and tells him essentially that forcing Boo Radley into the open after he saved their lives would be like shooting a mockingbird.

Miss Maudie is a character who rarely follows the letter of the law but follows rather the spirit. This is particularly true of her in regards to the rules of her religion. She is Baptist, and when others complain that she doesn’t go to church enough and spends too much time gardening, she basically responds that she is in God’s outdoors, implying that she is following the spirit of her religion, not following the Bible literally.

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