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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

THE STORY

PART ONE

CHAPTER 4

Scout's year in first grade soon settles into a boring routine. Nothing really interesting happens until the spring, when Scout and Jem discover that someone is leaving small objects in a knothole in an old oak tree on the corner of the Radley property. At first, when Scout finds two sticks of chewing gum wrapped in shiny silver foil, Jem warns her not to chew them- anything found on the Radley property might be poison! But when he finds two old Indianhead pennies in the knothole, Jem takes a different attitude. Indianhead pennies are good luck charms that he has always wanted to own.

When summer begins and Dill comes back to town the children's games become more exciting. One day they decide to take turns rolling down the street inside an old car tire they have found. On her first ride, Scout gets pushed too fast and ends up careening into the forbidden territory of the Radleys' front yard. She doesn't tell the boys, but she is sure that she heard someone laughing at them from inside the Radley house.

Dill's other idea for a game is that the three of them should act out scenes from the stories they have heard about the Radleys. The scene that the children enjoy play-acting the most concerns the rumor that Boo Radley once stabbed his father with a pair of scissors.


In this chapter it almost seems as if Atticus' advice about trying to understand other people's ways has been totally forgotten. The games of Jem, Scout, and Dill have a childish innocence, but they can be cruel. It never occurs to the children that the Radleys might not appreciate having their private problems dramatized for the whole neighborhood to hear. Also, when Jem and Dill start to talk about ghosts and superstitions, Scout dismisses their stories as "nigger talk." She has no idea that "nigger" is not a nice word, or that there is anything prejudiced about her remark.

NOTE:

Were you shocked to find Scout, the heroine of the story, using the word "nigger"? Notice that the word makes its first appearance in the novel in a very casual, offhand way. The author never tells us in so many words that there is anything wrong with Scout's attitude. (In the 1930s, when the story takes place, "nigger" was a common word in the South.) But there is a hint that the subject of racial prejudice may become more important later on in the story. You know that Atticus is a good man, and that he disapproves of the children's "Radley family" game. Scout's comment about "nigger talk" has been put in the same category as the children's tormenting of the Radleys- another instance of unthinking and unintentional cruelty.  

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