in English Literature, Essay Technique, Novels

Below, you’ll find a ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Extract – The Radley’s Place, along with some comprehension tasks, essay questions, and close reading tasks.

The Radley Place – Extract from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ 

The Radley Place fascinated Dill. In spite of our warnings and explanations, it drew him as the moon draws water, but drew him no nearer than the light-pole on the corner, a safe distance from the Radley gate. There he would stand, his arm around the fat pole, staring and wondering.
The Radley place jutted into a sharp curve beyond our house. Walking south, one faced its porch; the sidewalk turned and ran beside the lot. The house was low, was once white with a deep front porch and green shutters, but had long ago darkened to the colour of the slate grey yard around it. Rain rotted shingles drooped over the eaves of the veranda; oak trees kept the sun away. The remains of a picket drunkenly guarded the front yard-a a “swept” yard that was never swept-where Johnson grass and rabbit tobacco grew in abundance.
Inside that house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was down and peeped in windows. When people’s azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them. Any stealthy small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work. Once the town was terrorized by a series of morbid nocturnal events: people’s chickens and household pets were found mutilated; although the culprit was Crazy Addie, who eventually drowned himself in Barker’s Eddy, people still looked at the Radley place, unwilling to discard their initial suspicions. A negro would not pass the Radley Place at night, he would cut across to the sidewalk opposite and whistle as he walked. The Maycomb school grounds adjoined the back of the Radley lot; from the Radley chickenyard tall pecan trees shook their fruit into the schoolyard, but the nuts lay untouched by the children: Radley pecans would kill you. A baseball hit into the Radley yard was a lost ball and no questions asked.
The misery of that house began many years before Jem and I were born. The Radleys, welcome anywhere in town kept to themselves, a predilection unforgivable in Maycomb. They did not go to church, Maycomb’s principal recreation, but worshipped at home; Mrs Radley seldom if ever crossed the street for a mid-morning coffee break with her neighbours, and certainly never joined a missionary circle. Mr Radley walked to town at eleven-thirty every morning and came back promptly at twelve, sometimes carrying a brown paper bag that the neighbourhood assumed contained the family groceries. I never knew how old Mr Radley made his living-Jem said he “bought cotton,” a polite term for doing nothing-but Mr Radley and his wife had lived there with their two sons as long as anybody could remember.
The shutters and doors of the Radley house were closed on Sundays, another thing alien to Maycomb’s ways: closed doors meant illness and cold weather only. Of all days Sundays were the day for formal afternoon visiting: ladies wore corsets, men wore coats, children wore shoes. But to climb the Radley front steps and call, “Hey,” of a Sunday afternoon was something their neighbours never did. The Radley house had no screen doors. I once asked Atticus if it ever had any. Atticus said yes, but before I was born.

According to neighbourhood legend, when the younger Radley boy was in his teens he became acquainted with some of the Cunninghams from Old Sarum, an enormous and confusing tribe domiciled in the northing part of the county, and they formed the nearest thing to a gang ever seen in Maycomb. They did little, but enough to be discussed by the town and publicly warned from three pulpits: they hung around the barbershop; they rode the bus to Abbottsville on Sundays and went to the picture show; they attended dances at the county’s riverside gambling hell, the Dew- Drop Inn & Fishing Camp; they experimented with stumphole whiskey. Nobody in Maycomb had the nerve to tell Mr Radley that his boy was in with the wrong crowd.
But there came a day, barely within Jem’s memory, when Boo Radley was heard from and was seen by several people, but not by Jem. He said Atticus never talked much about the Radleys: when Jem would question him Atticus’s only answer was for him to mind his own business and let the Radley’s mind theirs, they had a right to; but when it happened Jem said Atticus shook his head and said, “Mm, mm, mm.”
So Jem received most of his information from Miss Stephanie Crawford, a neighbourhood scold, who said she knew the whole thing. According to Miss Stephanie, Boo was sitting in the living room cutting some items from The Maycomb Tribune to paste in his scrapbook. His father entered the room. As Mr Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors into his parent’s leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants, and resumed his activities.
Mrs Radley ran screaming into the street that Arthur was killing them all, but when the sheriff arrived he found Boo still sitting in the living room, cutting up the Tribune. He was thirty-three years old then.
Miss Stephanie said old Mr Radley said no Radley was going to any asylum when it was suggested that a season in Tuscaloosa might be helpful to Boo. Boo wasn’t crazy, he was high-strung at times. It was all right to shut him up, Mr Radley conceded, but insisted that Boo not be charged with anything: he was not a criminal. The sheriff hadn’t the heart to put him in jail alongside Negroes, so Boo was locked in the courthouse basement.
My memory came alive to see Mrs Radley occasionally open the front door, walk to the edge of the porch, and pour water on her cannas. But every day Jem and I would see Mr Radley walking to and from town. He was a thin, leathery man with colourless eyes, so colourless they did not reflect light. His cheekbones were sharp and his mouth was wide, with a thick upper lip and a full lower lip. Miss Stephanie Crawford said he was so upright he took the word of God as his only law, and we believed her because Mr Radley’s posture was ramrod straight.
He never spoke to us. When we passed we would look at the ground and say, “Good morning, sir,” and he would cough in reply. Mr Radley’s elder son lived in Pensacola; he came home at Christmas time, and he was one of the few persons we ever saw enter or leave the place. From the day Mr Radley took Arthur home, people said the house died.
The more we told Dill about the Radleys, the more he wanted to know, the longer he would stand hugging the light-pole on the corner, the more he would wonder.
“Wonder what he does in there,” he would murmur. “Looks like he’d just stick his head out the door.”

TASK 1: COMPREHENSION

  1. What reaction does Dill have to The Radley Place? Why do you think this is?
  2. How is the house described? What atmosphere does this create?
  3. Find two examples of superstitions that the children have about the house.
  4. What kind of person is Mr Radley? Use evidence from the extract in your answer.

TASK 2: CLOSE READING 

Annotate the extract, paying close attention to Harper Lee’s creation of setting and characterisation. Use form, structure and language techniques to enhance your analysis of the story

TASK 3: SETTING 

How does Harper Lee use setting in her novel? Use The Radley Place as a starting point, but consider several other settings to develop your answer. You should use PEE paragraphs to write about each setting. You may include discussions of the following: 

  • The town of Maycomb in general 
  • The school environment at the beginning of the novel 
  • The courthouse 
  • Atticus’ home environment 
  • The Ewell’s residence 

TASK 4: CHARACTERISATION 

Examine the ways in which Harper Lee presents the character of Boo Radley in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’ 

You may include: 

  • How Boo is portrayed at the beginning of the novel 
  • How our opinion of Boo changes by the end of the novel 
  • What Boo represents symbolically as a character 

Thanks for reading! If you find this useful, check out our full ‘Mockingbird’ course, or our other English Language and Literature courses.

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