Harper Lee uses a child as a narrator to her novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, where Scout’s role presents the forms of prejudice in Maycomb in an unexaggerated tone. Harper Lee centralizes the novel around children, depicting their own maturity process in accordance with the novel’s development.
Scout and Jem are first introduced with Dill in the beginning of the novel, and with a tale of him watching a picture-show, a subject that deeply fascinated Jem and Scout, they initiated a mutual acceptance of Dill. Being an outsider, Dill was the complete opposite of the Finch children. Jem and Scout grew in a steady and stable society, where they had the idea of discipline instilled in them through Atticus. Scout claims Maycomb to be a ‘tired old town’, where everything was routine. This impacted the children as their lives, before they met Dill, were absolutely routine and comprised of no excitement. They accepted things as they were, and no further. Dill, however, had the childish lust for adventure, and through his curiosity built up the mystery of Arthur Radley, whose description as a ‘malevolent phantom’ wasn’t enough to satisfy Dill, who wanted to see what he really looks like for himself. Dill develops the childish wonderment that the Finch children weren’t exposed to, having grown up around adults mostly with a father who encouraged moral growth and treated them as his equals, rather than his children. However, despite all the fascinating senses in Dill, we find him a lonely child desperate for parental attention. Scout and Jem have a close bond with their father, who has a primary role in their growth – guiding them and teaching them about life and all it’s adversities, while also teaching them the ideas of compromise, compassion and courage. This personal bonding was missing in Dill’s life. When Scout first asks him about his father, Dill says he has one but doesn’t know him, and after constant questions, he gets embarrassed when Jem, with the gradual sense of maturity growing in him, asks Scout to stop. Later, Dill builds up exotic stories of his adventures with his new father (presuming that his parents were divorced), however we find these as a desperate compensation for the reality when Dill reveals to Scout that his parents gave him everything but the warmth of parents that children crave for, “…they just wasn’t interested in me…They ain’t mean. They buy me everything I want, but it’s now-you’ve-got-it-go-play-with-it.” Yet this lonely factor develops Dill’s creative skills, and allows him to expand his imagination. He empathizes with Arthur, sharing the same concept of loneliness. After Dill runs away from home and spends a night at the Finch house, Scout asks Dill why Arthur just didn’t run away, to which Dill presents his understanding and connection to Arthur’s isolation, “Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere to run off to…” The Finch children couldn’t empathize with Arthur in the way Dill did, yet they accepted Arthur as a human being, a ‘mockingbird’, when they start communicating with Arthur in different ways, and eventually is saved by Arthur from the hands of Bob.
Dill was in between Scout and Jem in terms of age. In the beginning of the novel, when only Jem was gradually coming of age, all the children played together. Dill activates imagination within the children, creating games where they take up roles of Arthur and his family, and impersonate what happened at the Radley place. The children lacked creativity, which Dill introduced to them. Dill had a beautiful mind, where strange things happen. He tries to turn his dull life to an exciting one through this mind of his, seeing things that the Finch children didn’t. When Jem was old enough, he became more reclusive, which lead to a new intimacy between Dill and Scout. Dill helps Scout initiate her femininity by sharing dreams of them getting married and having babies, “He (Dill) had asked me earlier in the summer to marry him… He staked me out, marked me as his property, said I was the only girl he would ever love…” Dill creates another world in which things happen according to his imagination. When revealing the reality about his parents, Dill asks Scout to get themselves a baby, and when Scout asks where they would get one, Dill creates a tale, “There was a man Dill heard of who had a boat that he rowed across to a foggy island where all these babies were; you could order one.” Scout, on the other hand, depended on others to expand her imagination and believed Dill’s tale to be false because her Aunt told her another tale, “That’s a lie. Aunty said God drops ‘em down the chimney.” Scout later acknowledges Dill’s sense of creativity, stating that “Beautiful things floated around his dreamy head… He could add and subtract faster than lightning, but preferred his own twilight world, a world where babies slept, waiting to be gathered like morning lilies.” When Dill grows older and finds himself more acquainted with Jem, Scout is left behind and would only be asked to play with them when they needed a ‘third party’. This leads to Scout spending more time with Calpurnia and other female characters, which allows Scout to acknowledge her feminine identity.
The scene at the court established the controversial themes of innocence and prejudice through the reactions of the three children. Jem with his sense of maturity knew what happened wasn’t right, and mentions it repeatedly, ‘It was Jem’s turn to cry. His face streaked with angry tears…’ Scout was in a state of shock and couldn’t truly asses what was happening after the verdict had been declared. However, before Scout and Jem could recognize the unlawfulness of the judicial system, Dill had already realized it and couldn’t stop crying when Mr. Gilmer was cross-examining Tom. Dill couldn’t understand why Mr.Gilmer was being so harsh with Tom, when Atticus was much more sensitive and empathizing with Mayella in his session. Dolphus Raymond later explains that Dill was still immune from all the adversities of life, “Things haven’t caught up with that one’s (Dill’s) instinct yet. Let him get a little older and he won’t get sick and cry.” Growing up in a prejudiced county, Scout and Jem were much more familiar with a harsh reality than Dill, and even though they could comprehend the injustice done during Mr. Gilmer’s cross-examination, they didn’t find it as powerful as Dill did.
Dill was an outsider. Through his sense of curiosity, adventure and innocence, he brought forth the childish identity that Atticus couldn’t give to his children, while propelling the story further as the children are made to venture outside social borders through Dill’s take on Arthur, and how he wasn’t a monster, but a lonely ‘gentleman’. The children differed by the standard in which they were raised – Scout and Jem in a stable and tedious society- while Dill in a modern society. Although Scout and Jem were motherless, it was only Jem who felt the loss of their mother, while Scout was entirely satisfied with her father. However, Dill did not have a satisfactory parental relationship. Despite all the differences, the children stand as a symbolism of innocence in the novel. They present childish wonderment which leads to breaking social barriers and the representing a social recluse as a ‘mockingbird’ – a symbol of harmless helpers. Each of the children embody a certain aspect that stands out within them – Jem symbolizes bravery in which he fights off a drunk man to protect his sister; Dill symbolizes imagination which leads him to empathy a socially turned monster; Scout represents feminine behavior while stay true to oneself by allowing a ‘malevolent phantom’ to take the form of a ‘gentleman’. The children, with their individual characteristics, play a significant role in bringing out some of the novel’s prominent themes by influencing society in a way adults weren’t able to.