Seth Cassel
March 2005


The Real Boo Radley

At the beginning of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Arthur "Boo" Radley is described by Jem and Scout as a "malevolent phantom" (8). However, at the end of the book, Boo Radley does something that is contrary to the general belief that people in Maycomb County have about him; he saves Jem and Scout. Scout finally meets Boo Radley at the close of the book, and she finds that he is soft-spoken and compassionate. He sees Jem and Scout being attacked by Mr. Ewell and has the motivation to stop Mr. Ewell from harming two young, defenseless children. Jem and Scout do not think of Boo Radley as an ethical person until the end of the book when they find that he is a well-intentioned young man.

As Jem and Scout mature, it becomes evident that they also become better able to understand Boo Radley. As the book progresses, the two children realize that although the fact that Boo Radley stays in his house is strange, it does not have a major affect on his attitude and acts of kindness. From the presents in the tree onward, Boo Radley is always leaving hints for the children about his existence. This includes his sewing of Jem's pants and the draping of blankets on them while Miss Maudie's house is burning down. Jem and Scout do not immediately realize that Boo Radley performs all of these acts; however, eventually Jem comes to a conclusion that begins to unravel the mystery of Boo Radley for them. He believes that "Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this timeā€¦ because he wants to stay inside" (227). Boo Radley chooses to stay in his house because he is scared to come out of it. An evolution occurs in Boo Radley from the presents in the tree to his first encounter with Scout and Jem at the end of the book. It takes the desperate situation of Mr. Ewell attacking Jem and Scout for Boo Radley to emerge. He finally comes out, but even then Scout has trouble seeing him when he saves them and when he is in their house as Jem is being cared for. Scout notices "The man [Boo Radley] was walking with the staccato steps of someone carrying a load to heavy for him," (263) but only after does she observe, "He was carrying Jem" (263). Not only does he save the children by killing Mr.Ewell, but also by carrying Jem back to Atticus. When Boo Radley emerges and saves Jem and Scout, the reality of his character is fully revealed to the children. Boo Radley is a discreet and quiet person who displays good moral values and knows when to stand up for what is right.

Boo Radley is viewed by Maycomb County as a mysterious and hateful creature. The people make up fictitious stories about him, which further hurts his image. Jem and Scout absorb these tales and hunt for Boo Radley to make him come out to see if they are true. After their plans to make him emerge fail, they start getting gifts from Boo Radley. They slowly begin to realize that none of Maycomb's vicious tales can accurately describe a nice, lonely, law abiding young man, who is silently begging for a friend. Scout and Jem grow from being young children, whose dream it is to see the dreadful Boo Radley, to thoughtful young adults who understand who Boo Radley is as a person. By doing this, they set themselves apart from the Maycomb townspeople with a mature outlook on Boo Radley. Boo Radley is portrayed as a spiteful maniac, an idea that almost embeds itself in Jem and Scout's minds until Boo Radley shows them who he actually is, a quiet and reserved young man who knows right from wrong.