The Importance of Boo Radley in the Novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
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Arthur Radley, nicknamed Boo Radley by the children of Maycomb plays a very important role in the first ten chapters of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee.
Boo Radley is a recluse. He and his family are regarded as outsiders and are shunned by the majority of the towns inhabitants because they deviate from what is socially acceptable in Maycomb, this is seen in the line “The Radleys, welcome anywhere in town, kept to themselves, a predilectation unforgivable in Maycomb.” This is very effective at showing how the townspeople alienate citizens who don’t conform to the ways of Maycomb. Boo Radley is a victim of this alienation. Rather than let his son be taken to an industrial school after causing trouble in Maycomb, Mr. Radley (Boo’s father) took him home. Mr. Radley regarded this as a disgrace and Boo wasn’t seen again for fifteen years. During that time many rumours spread around Maycomb, many of which were fabricated by Miss Stephanie Crawford and the rest by the black people of Maycomb .These rumours are what compelled Boo to stay in his house. The prejudice and xenophobia of Maycomb’s citizens prepares the reader for the injustice in Tom Robinsons trial.
Boo Radley is also used as an example of how religion can be used as a weapon, this is shown in the line “but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of oh, your father.” In saying this, Miss Maudie implies that Mr. Radley’s treatment of Boo is equal to, if not worse than Bob Ewells neglect of his children. Boo is also used to display the results of such treatment. This is indicated in the line “and you can look down the street and see the results.” The children then speculate on how Mr. Radley kept Boo out of sight, in the line “Jem figured that Mr. Radley kept him chained to the bed most of the time.” This shows how the hearsay and gossip of society has become ingrained in the minds of the children despite Atticus’ efforts.
The community’s fear of outsiders causes the children to create ridiculous rumours about Boo such as in the line “Almost died first year I come to school and et them pecans-folks say he pizened ’em and put ’em over on the school side of the fence.” This again shows how intolerance of Maycomb’s adults has turned the children against Boo. Boo and the Radley house then becomes subject to the suspicions of Maycomb whenever any mysterious event takes place, this is shown in the line “Any stealthy small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work.” This again shows the prejudiced nature of the townspeople.
Boo Radley is also key in developing tolerance in the children. Jem becomes tolerant towards Boo Radley after the fire at Miss Maudie’s house. This is when Jem realizes that it was Boo who’d been trying to communicate with them. He also realizes the. This it is Boo Radley who’d stitched up his torn trousers. This is portrayed in the line “He coulda cut my throat from ear to ear that night but he tried to mend my pants instead… he ain’t never hurt us.” This contradicts his initial suspicions about Boo. Scout on the other hand, is reluctant to discard her beliefs. Harper Lee uses a metaphor to portray her shock “My stomach turned to water and I nearly threw up.” This tells us that she is still afraid and wary of Boo Radley, even though he tried to help her despite his qualms about leaving his house. This proves that the superstitions and suspicions of Maycomb were askew from the beginning.
Although Boo Radley remains unseen throughout the first ten chapters his role is central to the novel. Harper Lee makes Boo Radley one of the most important characters in the novel without him actually being seen until the very end. The presence of Boo Radley represents the oppression and exclusion facing those who conflict society’s expectations. In this novel Boo Radley is made into a monster, but the citizens of Maycomb are the true villains.