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Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird: Character, Analysis & Quotes

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  • 0:01 Boo! Boo Who?
  • 0:38 Boo's Backstory: The Myth
  • 1:40 Boo's Backstory: The Man
  • 2:56 Boo & His Children
  • 5:06 Boo the Bird
  • 6:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Who is Boo Radley? Is he a man or a monster? Why does he stay inside all day? These are just a few of the questions that Scout and Jem Finch ask in To Kill a Mockingbird. This lesson explores and analyzes the mysterious Boo Radley.

Boo! Boo Who?

Few characters have inspired the fascination and adoration like that of Harper Lee's Arthur ''Boo'' Radley. Just as Boo inspires the imaginations of the three main child characters: Scout and Jem Finch and Dill Harris, he equally delights the minds of readers. This lesson explores and analyzes Boo Radley's role in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Boo's Backstory

Like people living in the real world, fictional characters are multidimensional, or have many different sides. What you see, hear, or think about someone based on surface appearance isn't always accurate. Such is the case with Boo Radley.

Boo Radley: The Myth

For people living in Maycomb, Alabama, Boo Radley is something of a local legend. In the eyes of Jem Finch, Boo was half man, half monster, all terror: ''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.''

Boo sounds pretty horrifying, right? This description is from the mind of an imaginative child, which explains the fairly outrageous rendering of Boo. The imagination of many adults in Maycomb, however, is not much better. According to Miss Stephanie Crawford, the neighborhood busybody, she has caught Boo peeping into her window late at night. Black citizens of Maycomb actively avoid the Radley property for fear of Boo.

Boo Radley: The Man

So how exactly did Arthur Radley turn into Boo Radley? Surely he wasn't born a squirrel-eating neighborhood haunt! Through the course of To Kill a Mockingbird, readers gradually learn how and why Boo lives as a recluse, a person who lives alone and away from society.

Atticus Finch, the patriarch of the Finch family, explains to his children that Arthur Radley was a bit of a wild child growing up. He fell in with the wrong crowd, got in trouble with the law, and was forced to face the consequences. Arthur Radley's parents were given two options by a judge: send their son away to a state-run juvenile detention center or keep him at home under constant observation. The Radley family took the second option, marking the beginning of Arthur's life apart from the outside world.

The longer Arthur Radley was away from the rest of Maycomb, the larger his air of mysticism grew. Locals like Atticus Finch and Maudie Atkinson (a neighbor and friend of Atticus') knew the truth about Arthur Radley's solitude, while other members of the small town began to spread rumors. Rumors grew and transformed into fantastical stories. The man who never left his home was no longer Arthur Radley. He was Boo.

Boo and His Children

Boo's role in To Kill a Mockingbird evolves through the course of the novel. At first, Boo is the inspiration behind numerous games played by Scout, Jem, and Dill. They reenact his life's story on a daily basis, recreating every fabricated detail of his existence. They challenge each other to step foot on the Radley property or even touch the house. Dill's fascination starts to transcend just fascination, he develops a degree of sympathy for the man,

The children's relationship with Boo changes through the course of the novel. The children are so obsessed with catching a glimpse of Boo or persuading him to leave the house that they do not realize that he's watching them as well. The kids eventually come to this realization when Scout spots a small treasure in one of the knotholes found on a tree in the Radley's yard. Scout and Jem are initially very weary, after all, anything from the Radley property is clearly a danger! Ultimately, they accept the gifts they find including two sticks of gum, a set of soap dolls resembling both Scout and Jem, two old pennies, and a pocket watch.

Even though the knothole is eventually filled in by Boo's brother, Mr. Nathan, Boo continues to watch and care for the Finch children. When Miss Maudie's home goes up in flames, the children sit on the sidewalk and watch the firefighters and without her knowing it, Boo covers Scout up with a blanket to keep her from being cold.

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