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Who Is Boo Radley?

Boo Radley is a reclusive and mysterious character from Harper Lee's classic novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." Shrouded in rumors and rarely seen, Boo represents the unknown and the prejudged in the small town of Maycomb. His true nature, however, is a poignant reminder of the compassion that lies beneath the surface. What might we discover if we look beyond the myths?
Christina Edwards
Christina Edwards

Arthur Radley, nicknamed Boo Radley, is a main character in the 1960 Harper Lee book To Kill a Mockingbird. There are several rumors about Radley in the book, especially since he is a recluse. In fact, he is not actually seen until the end of the book. A young sister and brother, along with their friend, become fascinated with Radley, especially after they begin to realize that he has left them a series of small gifts in a tree. At the end of the book, Boo Radley ends up saving the brother and sister from a deranged man, who is after revenge on their father, a lawyer.

During his childhood, after a prank that went awry, Boo Radley was locked up by his family. When he was an adult, he attacked his father and his family continued his imprisonment. He was forbidden to leave his home, and this prompted him to become a recluse. The adults in this book all believe that he is somewhat of a monster, and many avoid discussing him.

Harper Lee wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird" in 1960.
Harper Lee wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird" in 1960.

The Maycomb children, on the other hand, find Boo Radley fascinating and fantasize about his wretched appearance. Some insist that he has a horrid scar on his face and that he is frighteningly tall. Scout Finch, the narrator of the book, along with her brother Jem and their friend Dill, become fascinated with this neighbor and try to think of ways to lure him out of his home. This scary image of Boo Radley is slowly proven false throughout the book, as it becomes apparent that he has a certain affection for the children.

For example, Jem and Scout begin to find small presents in a tree growing at the edge of the Radley property. They find gum, a broken pocket watch, an old spelling medal, and two shiny Indian-head pennies. Additionally, they find soap carvings that represent the children. It slowly becomes apparent that Boo Radley is leaving these gifts.

Also, when the children are chased from Radley's house after attempting to spy on him, Jem catches his pants on a wire fence surrounding the property. In doing so, he rips his pants and ends up leaving them behind. Later when he returns, he finds that Boo Radley has mended and folded them.

Later in the book, a neighbor's house catches fire. As Scout stands watching the flames in the cold night air, a blanket is placed over her shoulders. It isn't until later that Scout realizes Radley had covered her up.

A final act of kindness by Boo Radley happens at the end of the book, when he saves the lives of Scout and Jem. As they are walking home from a Halloween pageant, the children are attacked by a man seeking revenge against their father, Atticus Finch. The man tries to hurt the children, and Radley steps in to save them. Since Jem's arm ends up broken, Radley carries him home.

Later, when the sheriff arrives, it is discovered that the attacker was stabbed to death during the fight. The final conclusion was that the man simply fell on the knife and died. At Boo Radley's request, Scout walks him home later, and stands on his porch after he goes inside. At this point, she decides that he is essentially a good man, although quiet and reserved.

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Discussion Comments


@TalkingByte - You're right, it's great how Boo's story is told through the eyes of the children, who saw him as only children truly could.

Imagine how ostracized Boo Radley would be by adults in his neighborhood if he were a real person alive today.

Sadly, we live in a society that assumes that everyone who has mental issues or is different than everybody else is bad.


Harper Lee did a great job of telling the story of Boo Radley's misunderstood, urban legend-like persona in the book.

By the end, when you see the true Boo, you're definitely expecting to see the horrible monster the children believed, through rumors, that Boo must surely be.

Still, it seems like Jem and Scout were never really afraid of Boo, but of the fact that he was different than anyone they'd ever known. They weren't really surprised at all that he ended up helping them.

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    • Harper Lee wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird" in 1960.
      Harper Lee wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird" in 1960.