Boo Radley is a neighbor who lives on the same street as the Finch family. Boo’s defining characteristic is his literal and symbolic invisibility. A recluse who only comes out at night, Boo becomes a receptacle for the town’s fears and superstitions. The Finch children make up strange and horrific stories about Boo, informed by the gossip of the adults. The reader understands that Boo has been mistreated by his father, who locked him up for a minor infraction when he was a young man, but Jem and Scout believe wild tales about Boo, such as the rumor that he kills the neighbors’ pets. As such, within the context of the novel Boo functions more like a ghost than an actual character. He only appears in the final chapters of the book, and even then, only speaks once, but his presence is felt throughout. In fact, Scout begins her narration saying that in order to understand the events of Halloween night it’s not enough for the reader to know the background of Tom Robinson’s trial. The reader must also know the history between Scout, Jem, and Boo Radley.

Background[edit | edit source]

Arthur "Boo" Radley is Scout's mysterious neighbor who keeps to himself, never bothering anyone, and never sets foot outside his house, which makes him the target of cruel gossip. Boo dominates the imaginations of Jem, Scout, and Dill, despite them being warned to keep away since his father and brother would like to keep him from accessing the outside world. However, he does what he can to make sure Jem and Scout are safe throughout the book, and leaves presents for them. At the beginning of the story, rumors are spread, and he is depicted as a frightening man who is completely insane. Scout and Jem begin to fear him, but a strange longing for connection shows through in the kids' obsession with him. Acting out of the life and times of Boo Radley could be a way of trying to understand him by "trying on his skin", as Atticus always says. Of course, this is not meant to be taken in a literal sense. Instead, what Atticus means is more akin to understanding the point of view of another. Throughout the book Boo Radley is a mysterious character. The kids are scared of him, spread rumors about him, try to break into his house among other things so when Atticus says this to Scout it’s him desperately trying to get Scout to understand that Boo Radley is not a monster. Of course, Scout doesn’t understand this at the time. But as we see near the end of To Kill A Mockingbird, she no longer sees Boo as this monster but instead sees a scared child who simply didn’t have the resources to learn how to function normally in a world that doesn’t accept difference or change. Scout begins understands not only the sadness in Boo’s life but also the circumstances that cause him to act the way, he does. The short interaction between Scout and Boo also solidifies Atticus’s words Scout near the end of the book when he tells her that most people are nice when you finally see them. In the end, however, you find that he has connected with them indirectly, which leads him to save Jem and Scout's lives in the children's time of need.

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • His real name is Arthur Radley, but the name 'Boo' is used by the children of Maycomb because he is very ghost-like, in the manner that he's never seen.
  • In the film, Radley (Arthur Radley) does not speak, this could be symbolism for his ghost-like manners.
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