To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The rest of Scout’s school year proceeds much like her first day. She can’t help but think she’s missing something, since Atticus was educated at home, not with the Dewey Decimal System, and he’s been elected to the state legislature unopposed for years. Scout gets out of school 30 minutes before Jem, so she races past the Radley Place. One afternoon, something catches her eye and she returns to one of the big oak trees in the Radley yard. In a knothole, she finds two pieces of chewing gum in tinfoil, which, after checking to make sure they’re not poisonous, she shoves in her mouth. Jem is aghast when he finds her and makes Scout gargle.
Again, the fact that Scout can identify that her formal education seems less useful in light of what Atticus has been able to accomplish through a home education speaks to both her precocious nature and the uselessness of the school system as she experiences it. Choosing to chew this gum despite the rumor that everything on the Radley property is poison suggests that a small kindness like leaving the gum can be enough to help a person like Scout overcome their prejudices and fears.
Themes
Prejudice Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Small Town Southern Life Theme Icon
On the last day of school, Jem and Scout get out early. They discuss Dill’s impending arrival and as they pass the Radley Place, Scout points to the knothole. There’s more tinfoil in it, and this time, Jem pulls out a shiny package. At home, Jem finds a ring box containing two polished Indian head pennies. They deliberate over whether to keep them and wonder if Cecil Jacobs might be hiding things in the knothole, but they reason that Cecil goes an extra mile per day to avoid the Radley Place and mean Mrs. Dubose. They decide to keep them until school starts again in case they belong to a classmate. Scout points out that nobody would want to save chewing gum, but Jem insists that the pennies are important to someone since Indian head pennies are magic.
Jem and Scout’s genuine attempts to ensure that they’re not stealing from one of their classmates illustrates how kind they are and how important it is to them to do the right thing, even if they might lose out on something exciting like pennies or gum. Their aside about Cecil Jacobs’s long walk to school, meanwhile, indicates that the fear of the Radleys extends throughout the community and suggests that the “evil” in Maycomb is easy to identify and avoid, if one is willing to literally go the extra mile.
Themes
Good, Evil, and Human Dignity Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Courage Theme Icon
Dill arrives two days later on the train. He announces that he rode the train, helped the engineer, and that he met his father over the school year. The children squabble over what to play and Dill sniffs, declaring he can smell death at the Radley Place. They argue over whether Hot Steams are real and Scout insults Jem’s courage. Scout suggests they roll in the tire, which Jem and Dill agree to. Scout goes first and folds herself into the tire. She only realizes once Jem pushes her with all his might that Jem was offended by her insult. As the tire rolls, Scout feels like she’s suffocating. She crashes and finds herself on her back in the Radley front yard. Jem screams at her to run.
“Hot Steams” are ghosts or spirits with unfinished business on Earth, which makes it clear that the children’s superstitious beliefs don’t just involve their reclusive neighbors: they’re part of a much larger belief system. Because of this, however, note that the Radley Place becomes not just another house on the street, but something fundamentally different in the children’s eyes—and because of this, it’s terrifying. 
Themes
Prejudice Theme Icon
Scout runs on wobbly legs back to Jem and Dill and then argues with Jem about who should get the tire. Jem is furious, but he dashes in to get the tire and insults Scout for acting too much like a girl. Calpurnia calls them in for lemonade and as they sit on the porch, Jem announces expansively that they can play Boo Radley. Scout knows this is supposed to make him look fearless and her look scared. He doles out parts (Scout is Mrs. Radley, Dill is old Mr. Radley, and Jem is Boo) and chastises Scout for being scared of Boo, whom he insists is dead. Their game evolves over the summer and though Jem and Dill love it, Scout plays anxiously.
Insulting Scout about being too girly shows that in addition to the class warfare at work in Maycomb, Scout also experiences sexism, even from those closest to her. This betrays Jem’s prejudice, as he’s clearly suggesting that feminine attributes—or in this case, fear, which everyone, regardless of gender, experiences—are less desirable than those he believes come along with masculinity. This is another attempt to get Scout to conform as well.
Themes
Prejudice Theme Icon
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The play draws from neighborhood gossip. Dill plays villains, and for once Scout gets a good part when she plays the judge. Jem steals Calpurnia’s scissors daily so he can mime stabbing Dill in the leg, and the children stand silent when Nathan Radley passes or when they catch neighbors watching. One day, they don’t notice Atticus watching. Jem evasively insists that they’re not playing anything. Atticus shrewdly takes the scissors and asks if their game has to do with the Radleys. Jem insists it doesn’t, and Atticus tells them it shouldn’t as he enters the house. Scout hisses that Atticus knows, but Jem accuses her of being a girl and imagining things. She doesn’t tell him that she’s anxious because on the day she rolled into the Radley yard, she heard someone laughing.
As far as Atticus is concerned, the children are being extremely rude to their neighbors by acting out this family drama on the lawn. This suggests that in Atticus’s mind, the Radleys aren’t scary or untouchable. Rather, they’re neighbors who deserve respect and kindness, even if they’re different and don’t interact with the Finches the same way other people do. While it’s likely that Scout interpreted the laughter she heard in the Radley house as sinister, a more generous reading suggests that whoever laughed simply found the children’s antics funny and means them no harm.
Themes
Good, Evil, and Human Dignity Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Small Town Southern Life Theme Icon