The Personality of Boo Radley in Quotes
The image of Boo Radley can at first seem strange and even disturbing, according to the overall tone of the story. The mysterious man – or even creature – who never leaves the Radleys” house is an embodiment of all the childish horrors about the haunted houses and their inhabitants.
The early Jem quotes about Boo Radley exploit this image to its fullest. He tells to Scout what he heard from other kids. Just read that description Jem gives to his sister and you will understand how much courage the kids need to overcome the superstitions and try to befriend Boo Radley.
“Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time” (Chapter 1)
The event that follow are the major plot points. They show that Jem and Scout have some quantities that distinguish them from the rest of the children. While the rest of the kids show some sympathy to Boo Radley and even try to lure him out, they still don’t make any attempts to understand who Arthur really is, they prefer playing make-believe games instead.
“Dill said, “We’re askin’ him real politely to come out sometimes, and tell us what he does in there—we said we wouldn’t hurt him and we’d buy him an ice cream.”
“You all’ve gone crazy, he’ll kill us!”
Dill said, “It’s my idea. I figure if he’d come out and sit a spell with us he might feel better.”
“How do you know he don’t feel good?”
“Well how’d you feel if you’d been shut up for a hundred years with nothin’ but cats to eat?” (Chapter 5)
But what is different in Jem and Scout is the desire to know the truth they inherited from their father. Despite being afraid, they both are also very curious: why does Boo Radley not come out? Jem and scout are not satisfied with the amount of information that others have: most of the kids don’t even know that the real name of Boo Radley is Arthur.
The kids try to lure the mysterious man out at first. They found a hole in the high fence and leave some treats near it, treating Boo Radley more like a wild creature that needs time to get used to human presence. Their innocence protects Jem and Scout from thoughts about Boo Radley”s loneliness and strange behaviour in his family house.
Later, when the whole story starts unraveling and the kids start to ask adults about Arthur”s story (especially after Mr. Radley angrily closes the hole in the fence), they understand that Arthur Radley isn”t a character of a horror story for kids. He is the victim of social inequality and pressure, a fragile “mockingbird” who couldn’t stand the injustice and hypocrisy of the world around him.
Boo Radley”s loneliness isn’t a symptom of the mental disorder or social awkwardness. Nor he is a prisoner of his family (at least at first – then the Radleys, ashamed of his behaviour, tried their best to keep Arthur locked). His solitude is voluntarily: unable to stand against the society he chose another way of opposing it, by rejecting the society entirely.
Looking through “To Kill a Mockingbird” quotes we can see how the character is developing and expanding, despite the fact that we never see Boo Radley until the very end of the book. After the whole trial, when kids see how strong are injustice and social inequality around them, the Jem quotes about Boo Radley change from childish fascination to solemn adult understanding:
“Scout, I think I’m beginning to understand something. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside.” (Chapter 23)
When the kids understand the nature of Arthur’s voluntarily exile from the world, they also learn something more. When Arthur saves their lives from Ewell (who was considered irredeemably evil by all the inhabitants of the town at that moment), the people finally paid attention to him. Their childish nature of the kids would demand that Boo Radley was praised as a hero for what he did, but when it happened for real, Scout is the first to agree with Tate about the dread consequences it might have.
“Know what’d happen then? All the ladies in Maycomb includin’ my wife’d be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man, it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch.” (Chapter 30)
This words of Tate are, unfortunately, true. Too many attention after the years of solitude can ruin the very life of Boo Radley, who still doesn’t identify himself with the rest of the world. For Scout doing it to him is just another kind of “killing the mockingbird”.
Being praised for killing a man – maybe for the first serious act in Arthur’s life that resulted into a death of the person – isn’t the right thing for his worldview and his fragile understanding of how the world should operate. Despite the book itself is a manifest against social inequality, it also states that there are some cases when inequality is what is really needed just to preserve the person, who is not prepared to the most notorious aspects of the world around. Like Boo Radley.
After all, Scout goes with Arthur to his home – to that very haunted home the kids told the stories about. It is the first time she sees the environment from Arthur’s perspective: from the inside of the fence. She just stays there for a while, imagining how Boo Radley felt during all that year, watching them, waiting them to come and leave the treats and getting attached to them.
She imagined herself as Arthur looking as “his children” are in danger and finally understood that he was never the horrible monster. Arthur also was their guarding angel, though a little bit suspicious at the beginning.
“To the left of the brown door was a long shuttered window. I walked to it, stood in front of it, and turned around. In daylight, I thought, you could see to the postoffice corner. […]
Fall, and his children trotted to and fro around the corner, the day’s woes and triumphs on their faces. They stopped at an oak tree, delighted, puzzled, apprehensive.
Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house. […]
Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break. Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him.
Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” (Chapter 31)
This is the happy ending they all deserve. Though it doesn’t look like the one in fairy tales – Arthur didn’t become “normal” at once and Ewell still managed to kill Tom, this is the best way reality can offer them. Boo Radley is no more a monster, now everyone know that, despite his disturbing childhood, Arthur grown up a kind and brave man, who deserves a way better fate than being a laughingstock and the character of the kids’ horror stories. Several times Atticus and scout compare him to a mockingbird, too innocent for anyone to harm it.
Even despite Arthur killed a man, even the judge admits that he can’t be condemned for it, for it will be a sin to apply the human law to such a person. The “mockingbird” of his naivete and clear view of this world survived horrible mistreatment and exposing to the injustice and social inequality, so no one feels they have the right to kill the mockingbird again.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; 23rd 2006 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published July 11th 1960)