Study Guide

To Kill a Mockingbird: Fear Quotes

By Harper Lee

Fear

Chapter 1
Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem)

Jem wanted Dill to know once and for all that he wasn't scared of anything: "It's just that I can't think of a way to make him come out without him gettin' us." Besides, Jem had his little sister to think of.

When he said that, I knew he was afraid. (1.72-75)

For Jem, fear is something to be ashamed of. Maybe this is why kids are obsessed with Boo: acting like they're not scared of him is a way for them to show off to each other.

Chapter 4
Jean Louise Finch (Scout)

As the summer progressed, so did our game. We polished and perfected it, added dialogue and plot until we had manufactured a small play upon which we rang changes every day. (4.95)

Play-acting Boo's life might be a way for the kids to deal with their fear; maybe making it a game makes it easier for them to forget about its basis in reality. (We're pretty sure that explains the popularity of zombie video games.)

Chapter 11
Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem)

Jem said quietly, "My sister ain't dirty and I ain't scared of you," although I noticed his knees shaking. (11.78)

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can make you go medieval on a camellia bush and get detention for a month. Despite being a frail old lady in a wheelchair, Mrs. Dubose's tongue-lashings are enough to make even Jem shake in his boots.

Chapter 17
Jean Louise Finch (Scout)

Gone was the terror in my mind of stale whiskey and barnyard smells, of sleepy-eyed sullen men, of a husky voice calling in the night, "Mr. Finch? They gone?" Our nightmare had gone with daylight, everything would come out all right. (17.56)

In the controlled, familiar environment of the courtroom, Scout isn't scared, but Tom is as much in danger of his life there as he was that night in jail. What makes her feelings so different? Why does this space seem safe?

Chapter 18
Mayella Ewell

"I got somethin' to say an' then I ain't gonna say no more. That n***** yonder took advantage of me an' if you fine fancy gentlemen don't wanta do nothin' about it then you're all yellow stinkin' cowards, stinkin' cowards, the lot of you. Your fancy airs don't come to nothin'—your ma'amin' and Miss Mayellerin' don't come to nothin', Mr. Finch-" (18.167)

Why does Mayella choose "cowards" as her threat of choice for the men deciding her case? Especially since it takes more courage to go against the expected outcome and acquit Tom, right? We're guessing Mayella thinks that "coward" is the worst thing you can call a man—and why would she think that? If that's true, then what's the worst thing you can call a woman? Are women supposed to be brave, too?

Chapter 19
Horace Gilmer

"You're very candid about this, why did you run so fast?"

"I says I was scared, suh."

"If you had a clear conscience, why were you scared?"

"Like I says before, it weren't safe for any n***** to be in a—fix like that."

"But you weren't in a fix—you testified that you were resisting Miss Ewell. Were you so scared that she'd hurt you, you ran, a big buck like you?"

"No suh, I's scared I'd be in court, just like I am now."

"Scared of arrest, scared you'd have to face up to what you did?"

"No suh, scared I'd hafta face up to what I didn't do." (19.141-148)

Tom's experience suggests that African-Americans in Maycomb have a whole additional set of fears to those of the white residents. While Mr. Gilmer is trying to suggest that Tom didn't have any reason to be scared if he wasn't doing anything wrong, the fact that Tom is in court on trial for his shows that his fears were very well-founded. Think this never happens today? Unfortunately, someone coined the term "Driving While Black" for a reason.

Chapter 23
Atticus Finch

"In the second place, they're afraid. Then, they're-"

"Afraid, why?" asked Jem.

"Well, what if—say, Mr. Link Deas had to decide the amount of damages to award, say, Miss Maudie, when Miss Rachel ran over her with a car. Link wouldn't like the thought of losing either lady's business at his store, would he? So he tells Judge Taylor that he can't serve on the jury because he doesn't have anybody to keep store for him while he's gone. […]

"Serving on a jury forces a man to make up his mind and declare himself about something. Men don't like to do that. Sometimes it's unpleasant." (23.47-52)

Atticus suggests that it's not just the actual fallout they would have to face from the community that keeps Maycomb's residents with background, as Miss Maudie would say, from serving on juries, but also fear of publicly taking a stand. Maybe this fear also influenced Tom's jury—declaring an opinion that goes against the common view can be pretty scary.

Chapter 27
Robert E. Lee Ewell

Mr. Ewell kept the same distance behind her until she reached Mr. Link Deas's house. All the way to the house, Helen said, she heard a soft voice behind her, crooning foul words. Thoroughly frightened, she telephoned Mr. Link at his store, which was not too far from his house. As Mr. Link came out of his store he saw Mr. Ewell leaning on the fence. Mr. Ewell said, "Don't you look at me, Link Deas, like I was dirt. I ain't jumped your-" […]

"You don't have to touch her, all you have to do is make her afraid, an' if assault ain't enough to keep you locked up awhile, I'll get you in on the Ladies' Law, so get outa my sight! If you don't think I mean it, just bother that girl again!" (27.8, 12)

For Ewell, it's all about power—by scaring Helen he's declaring his power over her, but Deas is even scarier: he's got reputation and power in Maycomb, so he wins this round. Sometimes there are good reasons to be on the right side of the law.

Chapter 28
Jean Louise Finch (Scout)

"It is a scary place though, ain't it?" I said. "Boo doesn't mean anybody any harm, but I'm right glad you're along." […] "Ain't you scared of haints?"

We laughed. Haints, Hot Steams, incantations, secret signs, had vanished with our years as mist with sunrise. (28.3-7)

LOL. Weren't we silly when we were little? You know, all of two or three years ago? Jem and Scout may be chuckling about their childish fears, but there are still real things to be scared of—and now they're not just "haints," but real, murderous adult men. With knives.

Chapter 31
Jean Louise Finch (Scout)

"Read it out loud, please, Atticus. It's real scary."

"No," he said. "You've had enough scaring for a while. This is too-"

"Atticus, I wasn't scared."

He raised his eyebrows, and I protested: "Leastways not till I started telling Mr. Tate about it. Jem wasn't scared. Asked him and he said he wasn't. Besides, nothin's real scary except in books." (31.43-46)

Is Scout telling the truth about not being scared, or is this a white lie for Atticus's benefit, like Mr. Raymond's "drinking"? Scout suggests that telling the story of scary events is more fear-inducing than actually living through them—which fits with her not getting upset about the lynch mob until after she was safe at home in bed and started thinking about what happened. But Atticus himself was scared in the present moment that night. Maybe this is another difference between adults and children, or maybe it's just a quirk of the way Scout herself sees the world. (If you ask us, both are scary. We'll just be over here hiding under the blankets.)