MOCKINGBIRD MONDAYS – Part #5
DILL, THE BOY NEXT DOOR
The character from To Kill a Mockingbird I would like to focus on today is Dill, the rascally boy who lives next door to Scout and Jem, but only during the summers. His parents drop him off at his Aunt Rachel’s to stay for the summer every year.
In an earlier post I quoted Harper Lee from one of the few interviews she did after her book came out saying that none of her characters were based on real people even though some people she knew thought they were. Dill is the character whom her friend in real life, Truman Capote, claimed he was.
I have to say after the biographical reading I have done about Truman Capote, I do see many similarities myself! He was left at a relative’s home who really did live next door to Harper Lee when they were children. They did play together, wrote and shared stories together, and became lifelong friends. Truman Capote was known as a sissy boy when he was young, he was beat up at school, and Harper Lee even defended him at times.
Very early in the novel, Harper Lee tells us about the “summertime boundaries (within calling distance of Calpurnia)” (1) that Scout and Jem have for playing outside. She mentions Mrs. Dubose, who was “plain hell,” (2) and the Radley Place which “was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end.” (3) I find it incredible the way Harper Lee could choose just the right few words to punch us in the face with such vivid images! She sets up the mystery of Boo Radley this early and carries him through the whole novel until who he is finally gets revealed.
What I love the most, though, is how she introduces Dill. After she tells us that “Mrs. Dubose was plain hell,” she makes this simple statement.
“That was the summer Dill came to us.” (4)
I think this statement is filled with so much tenderness. It seems to put forth one of Scout’s fondest memories of making a new friend. This is how she and Jem find him.
They are playing in the back yard when they hear what Scout thinks is a puppy. However, when she and Jem go to the wire fence to investigate, they find something they are not expecting. This is what she tells us: “instead we found someone sitting looking at us. Sitting down, he wasn’t much higher than the collards. We stared at him until he spoke:
Dill boldly informs them that he is Charles Baker Harris, he’s almost seven, he can read, and he says, “I’m little, but I’m old.” (6)
Then Scout informs us that she is much bigger than he is and describes him as a tow-headed, blue-eyed boy who “wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt,” (7) and “habitually pulled at the cowlick in the center of his forehead.”(8) Now if you have ever seen any pictures of Truman Capote when he was about that age, this description of Dill is a strong resemblance to him. So perhaps, as people have believed for years, Harper Lee did put a little Truman into her Dill character.
After Dill introduces himself, Jem says his name, Charles Baker Harris, is “longer ‘n you are. Bet it’s a foot longer.” (9). Dill comes back at Jem with “ ’s not any funnier ‘n yours. Aunt Rachel says your name’s Jeremy Atticus Finch.” (10) Jem just retaliates by telling Dill that at least his name fits him which is an obvious dig on Dill’s lack of height.
What I love is how Harper Lee shows why Dill is so proud and bold. He knows he’s small, so he feels like he has to be outspoken and smarter than everyone else to make up for it.
So the three kids become friends quickly. However, this contest of names between the boys indicates how this newfound friendship is going to go. Jem is bigger and older; he is going to be the boss.
During the second summer Dill comes to them, Jem catches him in a lie about his Daddy. Scout tells us:
“Dill Harris could tell the biggest ones I ever heard. Among other things he had been up in a mail plane seventeen times, he had been to Nova Scotia, he had seen an elephant, and his granddaddy was Brigadier General Joe Wheeler and left him his sword.” (11)
By this time Scout and Jem know he is full of tall tales, but they accept him for who he is. Dill is the only friend that is ever mentioned who they play with in the summers.
I like Scout’s ambivalent feelings towards him. She is torn over how she feels about him following Jem everywhere. She refers to him as “a trial.” Scout doesn’t like the fact that someone else is getting some of the attention she is used to getting from her big brother. She loves Jem, but of course they still fight like most brothers and sisters do at times. So she doesn’t like the way Dill begins to try and boss her around with Jem either. I think it makes her feel more defensive.
On the other hand, she likes Dill and the attention he pays to her as well since she’s a girl. He tells her she’s the only girl he’ll ever love, makes her feel wanted when he tells her he wants to marry her someday, but then he neglects her. She says, “I beat him up twice but it did no good, he only grew closer to Jem.” (12)
One morning she catches the boys conspiring together without her about something, and Dill gets really bossy with her. She fires back at him, “You act like you grew ten inches in the night! All right, what is it?” (13)
Giving in easily, Scout decides she doesn’t want to miss out on anything fun they are cooking up. When she learns that they are plotting about how to give Boo Radley a note asking him what he does in his house and to come out sometimes, Scout yells at them, “You all’ve gone crazy, he’ll kill us!” (14)
Finally, the scene I love with Dill most is when he is found underneath Scout’s bed one night after she and Jem have had a knock-down-drag-out fight. They each go to their rooms to go to bed when Scout realizes something is under her bed. She asks Jem what a snake feels like. He grabs a broom and swipes it under the bed when he realizes someone not something is under there. Jem barely misses Dill’s head with the broom when he comes out. Scout and Jem are shocked. They inquire about how he arrived there, and he tells them he ran away, but he doesn’t want to go to his Aunt’s house next door. He has run away from his parents in Meridian where, going into another tall tale, he says they have had him chained up in the basement.
After Jem tells Atticus about discovering Dill, Atticus feeds him, and Jem tells Dill he needs to let his parents know where he is which is a very grown-up and responsible way for Jem to react to the situation. So Atticus lets his Aunt Rachel know where Dill is, and after a scolding from her, he is allowed to spend the night at the Finch’s.
Then comes my favorite insight into why Dill is the way he is. A while after all the kids are in bed, Scout is woken up by Dill who wants to sleep with her instead of in Jem’s room. He gets in bed beside her and they start talking.
Scout inquires as to why he ran away and learns that his new father promised to do things with him and spend time with him, but then never did. Dill concludes that his parents just aren’t interested in him. They buy him whatever he wants, but then they tell him to go off and play. He feels unwanted and ignored.
Scout tries to comfort Dill by telling him that she had been thinking about running off that night, too. She tells him that he doesn’t really want the adults in his life around all the time. Then she realizes as she’s listening to him that his parents and Atticus couldn’t do without either of them. They are needed. Dill doesn’t believe it, though, because he goes on to tell Scout how his parents tell him he’s not a boy. He needs to be outside playing games with other boys, not hanging around the house with them.
Dill switches gears in the conversation, though, and tells Scout they should get a baby. He is indicating that he still loves her and wants to marry her. As they are drifting off to sleep, however, Scout asks a poignant question:
“Why do you reckon Boo Radley’s never run off?”
Dill sighed a long sigh and turned away from me.
“Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere to run off to…” (15)
Dill, the sad summer boy next door that Scout grows to love is welcomed into the Finch family, loved, and accepted. No wonder he never wants to go home.
Until next Monday, have a wonderful week, and give someone you love a big hug.
Y’all come back now, ya hear?
1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition, Harper Collins Publishers, 2002, pg. 7
2. ibid., pg. 7
3. ibid., pg. 7
4. ibid., pg. 7
5. ibid., pg. 7
6. ibid., pg. 7
7. ibid., pg. 8
8. ibid., pg. 8
9. ibid., pg. 7
10. ibid., pg. 7
11. ibid., pg.53
12. ibid., pg.46
13. ibid., pg.51
14. ibid., pg. 52
15. ibid., pg. 163
Posted on February 16, 2015, in Writing and tagged Atticus, Harper Lee, Mockingbird Mondays, Part #1, Part #2, part #3, part #4, reading, Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.