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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

THE NOVEL

THE CHARACTERS

  • ARTHUR RADLEY
    Even though you do not see Arthur Radley, called Boo Radley by the children, until the final chapters of the book, he is important throughout the story. You know very little for certain about Boo's life. The one reliable story you are told is that he was a normal teenager who then made friends with a wild crowd. When he got into a minor scrape and was threatened with being sent away to a state school, Arthur's father promised that he would keep him out of trouble from then on. Mr. Radley kept his word all too well, and from that day Boo was never seen outside the house. And when Mr. Radley died, Boo's elder brother Nathan moved into the house and continued to rule Boo with an iron hand.

    Aside from this brief family history, you don't learn much about Boo Radley. In fact, the theories that various people in the neighborhood put forth to explain Boo tell you more about the theorizers than about Boo himself. Miss Crawford, who loves gossip, spreads the tale that Boo Radley roams the neighborhood at night peeping into people's windows- especially hers. Scout and Jem, early on in the story, imagine Boo as over six feet tall and horrendously ugly, a monster who strangles cats with his bare hands and then eats them. Miss Maudie, an optimistic woman who believes in enjoying nature and the good things in life, is sure that Boo is the victim of his father's overstrict and gloomy moral code.

    One story about Boo that you hear early in the novel is the rumor that he once stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors. At first this sounds like nothing more than another of the children's wild ideas. Yet, late in the novel Boo stabs Bob Ewell to death. So it turns out that Boo is capable of violence after all.

    Oddly enough, even as you learn that Boo actually is the killer of Bob Ewell, he seems less frightening now than he did before. Face to face with the neighborhood hermit for the first time, Scout sees that he is really a shy, pale, harmless man- a middle-aged child. You are meant to see that Boo struck out against Bob Ewell in the innocent unthinking way that a child might strike out against an act of cruelty. Thus, by the final scene of the novel the roles of Boo and Scout are reversed- he is the childlike innocent and Scout, though still a child in years, is already playing the part of the adult, protecting Boo from a world too complex for him to understand.

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    © Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
    Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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