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To Kill a Mockingbird - Extract 2

This GCSE English Literature quiz is the second of two extract questions for Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. It takes place during the first part of the novel, when Scout and Jem are still interested in their game of trying to draw Boo Radley out of his house. The Finch children have become aware that the mysterious items left in the knot-hole are intended for them and have begun to feel friendship for their secret benefactor. Interestingly, although their escapades in trying to catch a glimpse of Boo Radley are initially unsuccessful and even cause Atticus to reprimand them for their behaviour, Jem and Scout do ultimately gain the friendly notice of the reclusive man. Scout hears distinct laughter coming from within the Radley household after her wild tyre ride down the street lands her in the yard. She does not, however, make the connection between the laughter and how misplaced her fear of Boo is.

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How to answer an extract question in an exam:

Before attempting to answer an extract question for an exam, always be sure to read the passage through carefully at least twice. Re-reading is never a waste of time. The first time you read the passage, aim for a broad understanding of the extract and consider how you might answer the question. You can begin to make detailed notes and annotations as you gather your thoughts during a second reading. Consider why the specific passage has been chosen. How does it fit with the rest of the text? Does it introduce any significant characters or themes? Which events follow? Does the passage foreshadow later events? Does it represent a turning point? Think about the ending of the extract: why does it end where it does instead of somewhere else? Is there anything of significance in the final line?

Be sure that you pay close attention to the question you have chosen to answer. Perhaps you have been asked to write about mood and atmosphere, or a particular character. Maybe the question asks for your personal response to the passage or to a character. You might be asked to discuss dialogue, behaviour or feelings. Remember to explain the passage’s immediate context: acknowledge the events which precede the extract. Consider detail, setting and characterisation. In your response, you should analyse and discuss the relationship between the excerpt and the themes of the text. Structure your writing by grouping related ideas together. Ensure that you leave enough time to discuss the entire passage rather than covering one section in detail before running out of time to do justice to the rest of the extract!

Read the extract below carefully before answering the questions.

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“Dear sir,” said Jem. “We appreciate the — no, we appreciate everything which you have put into the tree for us. Yours very truly, Jeremy Atticus Finch.”

“He won’t know who you are if you sign it like that, Jem.”

Jem erased his name and wrote, “Jem Finch.” I signed, “Jean Louise Finch (Scout),” beneath it. Jem put the note in an envelope.

Next morning on the way to school he ran ahead of me and stopped at the tree. Jem was facing me when he looked up, and I saw him go stark white.

Scout!”

I ran to him.

Someone had filled our knot-hole with cement. “Don’t you cry, now, Scout…don’t cry now, don’t you worry” he muttered at me all the way to school.

When we went home for dinner Jem bolted his food, ran to the porch and stood on the steps. I followed him. “Hasn’t passed by yet,” he said.

Next day Jem repeated his vigil and was rewarded.

“Hidy do, Mr Nathan,” he said.

“Morning Jem, Scout,” said Mr Radley, as he went by.

“Mr Radley, ah — did you put cement in that hole in that tree down yonder?”

“Yes,” he said, “I filled it up.”

“Why’d you do it, sir?”

“Tree’s dying. You plug ‘em with cement when they’re sick. You ought to know that, Jem.”

Jem said nothing more about it until late afternoon. When we passed our tree he gave it a meditative pat on its cement, and remained deep in thought. He seemed to be working himself into a bad humour, so I kept my distance.

As usual, we met Atticus coming home from work that evening. When we were at our steps, Jem said, “Atticus, look down yonder at that tree, please sir.”

“What tree, son?”

“That one on the corner of the Radley lot comin’ from school.”

“Yes?”

“Is that tree dyin’?”

“Why no, son, I don’t think so. Look at the leaves, they’re all green and full, no brown patches anywhere — "

"It ain't even sick?"

"That tree's as healthy as you are, Jem. Why?"

"Mr Nathan Radley said it was dyin'."

"Well maybe it is. I'm sure Mr Radley knows more about his trees than we do."

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (Mandarin, 1989)
  1. What is the immediate context for this passage?
    Jem begins to suspect that Boo Radley is the secret leaver of chewing gum, trinkets and gifts
  2. What immediately follows this passage?
    Boo Radley does a secret kindness for Scout when he wraps a blanket over her shoulders while she watches the fire being put out. Jem is provoked into confessing everything they know about Boo Radley to Atticus
  3. What does this passage bring to an end?
    Mr Radley's cementing of the hole brings the children's plan to an end, although it does not stop Boo Radley from leaving the house later
  4. What is the significance of the word "our" in the phrase "When we passed our tree"?
    The knot-hole in the tree has become a familiar part of Jem and Scout's daily routine. They feel possessive towards it because they pass it daily and because of the little gifts left there for them
  5. Scout is the narrator of the novel. She recounts events she remembers as well as her thoughts and feelings at the time the events took place. This passage displays another aspect of her narration. Which?
    Scout is not very active in this passage. Instead she observes Jem's actions and reports the dialogue in detail. Later she observes the signs that Jem has been crying, even though she had been unable to hear any sound from him
  6. Jem tells Atticus that Mr Radley said the tree was dying. What does Atticus's response tell the reader about his character?
    The evidence tells Atticus that the tree is healthy, but his instinct is to believe that Mr Radley is telling the truth. Unlike Jem, he is not aware that Mr Radley might have a motive for lying
  7. Which of the following best describes Mr Radley's manner of speech?
    Mr Radley does not waste words when speaking to Jem and Scout. His father, the former Mr Radley, did not even speak to the Finch children
  8. Why does Jem sign his letter with his full name?
    The custom, in Scout's and Jem's environment, is to begin with formality. Only friends and family would use someone's nickname. Scout points out that the anonymous gift-giver won't know their nicknames
  9. Scout is portrayed in this passage as following Jem's lead. In which of these phrases is she shown differently?
    Jem is very much Scout's hero, yet when she signs the letter with both her full name and her nickname, she is using her own judgement about the best course of action
  10. What does this passage show us of Jem's character?
    Jem, who is old enough to remember his dead mother, mourns at the enforced loss of their secret friend

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