Boo stands and coughs. Scout leads him to Jem’s room so he can say goodnight. Scout takes Boo’s hand, leads him to Jem’s bed, and encourages him to stroke Jem’s hair. When he’s ready to leave, Scout leads him to the porch. There, Boo whispers and asks Scout to lead him home. Scout knows she can’t be seen leading him, so she asks him to bend his arm, so it looks like he’s escorting her. She leads him right to his front door and never sees him again. Scout thinks that neighbors give, and Boo gave them gifts and their lives—but they never returned the favor, which makes Scout feels sad.
Scout’s understanding that she can’t just lead Boo home by the hand speaks to how much she’s grown since the start of the novel. Now, she recognizes the power of at least creating the appearance that she’s a lady and that her companion, whomever that might be, is a gentleman. She also understands that even if Boo is different, he’s their neighbor through and through—and that she’s been cruel by not being more neighborly in return.
Scout stands on the front porch and looks out. She stands in front of the window and in her mind, watches Miss Stephanie gossip with Miss Rachel while Miss Maudie gardens and children scamper around. She can see children playing in the yard and in the fall, she sees them find gifts in the tree. She sees the fire, a man shooting a dog, and the children’s hearts break. Scout sees that tonight, Boo’s children needed him. She thinks that Atticus was right—it’s impossible to know a person until one stands in their shoes, but she thinks that standing on the Radley porch is enough.
Even though Scout isn’t entirely capable of understanding Boo’s life, what she sees when she stands on the Radley porch is a good start as she goes on to grow up and at some point in the future, understand that all people, no matter how different they may seem, are all the same on the inside. The fact that she was terrified the last time she was near the porch also adds perspective, as it shows how much she’s grown since then.
Scout feels old on her walk home. She knows that Jem will be furious he missed seeing Boo Radley and thinks that there’s nothing more for them to learn except algebra. She runs upstairs and finds Atticus in Jem’s room. He tries to send her to bed but then allows her to stay. Sleepily, Scout asks what Atticus is reading, and Atticus shows her The Gray Ghost. He says it’s one of the few things he hasn’t read. When Scout asks Atticus to read it aloud, Atticus insists it’s too scary and she’s had enough fright for one night, but Scout insists that she and Jem weren’t scared. She declares that nothing’s scary, except in books. Atticus begins to read out loud.
The aside that there’s nothing more to learn but algebra is a final instance of comic relief at the expense of Scout’s innocence—there is, of course, much more for her to learn besides math. However, she now truly understands the power of interrogating her prejudice and recognizing the dignity of others, even if those other people might not always make perfect sense to her.
Scout falls asleep and wakes when Atticus nudges her with his toe. She mutters the gist of the story as Atticus leads her to bed, puts on her pajamas, and tucks her in. Scout says that the story is about kids who thought someone was messing up their clubhouse, but when they finally saw the culprit, he was innocent and very nice. Atticus says that most people are nice when you get to know them. He spends the rest of the night in Jem’s room.
Atticus’s final words of advice as he tucks Scout in remind her and the reader that it’s important (as he’s told Scout before) to put oneself in another’s skin before jumping to conclusions. Seeing another person as they are, he suggests, is one of the most powerful ways to promote compassion and make the world a better and more welcoming place for everyone.