On the night before Dill returns home at the end of summer, he and Jem plan to peek into the windows of the Radley house. Scout tries to stop them, but when Jem tells her she is acting more like a girl every day she ends up going with them. As they try unsuccessfully to peer into the windows, they see the shadow of a man approaching. They start running as a shotgun is fired, narrowly escaping through the fence at the back of the property. Unfortunately Jem gets caught in the wire and is forced to leave his pants behind.
When they get home the whole neighborhood is abuzz with excitement, so the children slip quietly into the crowd. The adults believe Nathan Radley scared off a black man who had come to steal collard greens from his garden.
Standing in the crowd, Stephanie Crawford points out that Jem isn't wearing any pants. Dill quickly comes up with a story that he had won Jem's pants playing strip poker by the fishpond.
Later that night and against his better judgment, Jem decides that he must go back to recover his pants before morning to protect their secret. Scout tries to persuade him otherwise, but he is determined and quickly returns with his pants.
The action in Chapter 6 keeps the Boo Radley subplot alive even as the author builds the foundation for what will become the central plot: Atticus's participation in the Tom Robinson case. It is also revealed that Dill and Jem's attempts to lure Boo Radley outside have become more daring.
The theme of race—and racism—is central to this chapter. Nathan Radley makes a hasty assumption that the intruder is black. He doesn't even consider the possibility that the intruder might be white—or just kids having a little fun.
Another significant aspect of the chapter is Jem's determination to retrieve his pants rather than have Atticus know he lied. Jem takes pride in the fact that Atticus and Calpurnia trust him with caring for Scout. He is already a thoughtful boy developing his moral code.
Summary: Chapter 4
The rest of the school year passes grimly for Scout, who endures a curriculum that moves too slowly and leaves her constantly frustrated in class. After school one day, she passes the Radley Place and sees some tinfoil sticking out of a knothole in one of the Radleys’ oak trees. Scout reaches into the knothole and discovers two pieces of chewing gum. She chews both pieces and tells Jem about it. He panics and makes her spit it out. On the last day of school, however, they find two old “Indian-head” pennies hidden in the same knothole where Scout found the gum and decide to keep them.
Summer comes at last, school ends, and Dill returns to Maycomb. He, Scout, and Jem begin their games again. One of the first things they do is roll one another inside an old tire. On Scout’s turn, she rolls in front of the Radley steps, and Jem and Scout panic. However, this incident gives Jem the idea for their next game: they will play “Boo Radley.” As the summer passes, their game becomes more complicated, until they are acting out an entire Radley family melodrama. Eventually, however, Atticus catches them and asks if their game has anything to do with the Radleys. Jem lies, and Atticus goes back into the house. The kids wonder if it’s safe to play their game anymore.
Summary: Chapter 5
Jem and Dill grow closer, and Scout begins to feel left out of their friendship. As a result, she starts spending much of her time with one of their neighbors: Miss Maudie Atkinson, a widow with a talent for gardening and cake baking who was a childhood friend of Atticus’s brother, Jack. She tells Scout that Boo Radley is still alive and it is her theory Boo is the victim of a harsh father (now deceased), a “foot-washing” Baptist who believed that most people are going to hell. Miss Maudie adds that Boo was always polite and friendly as a child. She says that most of the rumors about him are false, but that if he wasn’t crazy as a boy, he probably is by now.
Meanwhile, Jem and Dill plan to give a note to Boo inviting him out to get ice cream with them. They try to stick the note in a window of the Radley Place with a fishing pole, but Atticus catches them and orders them to “stop tormenting that man” with either notes or the “Boo Radley” game.
Summary: Chapter 6
Jem and Dill obey Atticus until Dill’s last day in Maycomb, when he and Jem plan to sneak over to the Radley Place and peek in through a loose shutter. Scout accompanies them, and they creep around the house, peering in through various windows. Suddenly, they see the shadow of a man with a hat on and flee, hearing a shotgun go off behind them. They escape under the fence by the schoolyard, but Jem’s pants get caught on the fence, and he has to kick them off in order to free himself.
The children return home, where they encounter a collection of neighborhood adults, including Atticus, Miss Maudie, and Miss Stephanie Crawford, the neighborhood gossip. Miss Maudie informs them that Mr. Nathan Radley shot at “a Negro” in his yard. Miss Stephanie adds that Mr. Radley is waiting outside with his gun so he can shoot at the next sound he hears. When Atticus asks Jem where his pants are, Dill interjects that he won Jem’s pants in a game of strip poker. Alarmed, Atticus asks them if they were playing cards. Jem responds that they were just playing with matches. Late that night, Jem sneaks out to the Radley Place, and retrieves his pants.