Mockingbird Mondays – Part 8
ARTHUR “BOO” RADLEY
Hello and welcome back to Mockingbird Mondays. Today I want to conclude my writings about the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. I want to end the writing today, however, I MAY be doing a few portraits of the actors who portrayed the characters in the movie, such as Robert Duvall who played Arthur “Boo” Radley. I don’t want to promise that this is what I’m going to do, though, because after the week I have had, I don’t know if I am going to have the energy for i! We’ll see.
So…moving on. I love this last character of the book that I am going to write about today so much – Arthur “Boo” Radley, the mysterious neighbor that the kids practically obsess over. Do you remember ever having a neighbor who was a recluse or perhaps strange, someone you may have even been afraid of when you were a child? I remember having some strange neighbors in all of the neighborhoods I grew up in, but not any that were quite this elusive.
I enjoy the way Harper Lee slowly introduces us to the character of Boo. All throughout the novel we hear about him through the imaginations of Scout, Jem and Dill. Very early in the novel Dill wonders what Boo looks like. Scout narrates to us,
“Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: 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.” (1) – (pg. 14)
This so characterizes how wild the imaginations of children can be! I remember being a kid and thinking this way. She captures the nature of childhood so well here.
Then Dill says, “Let’s try to make him come out,”…”I’d like to see what he looks like.” (2) – (pg. 14)
So this is how Harper Lee sets up part of the plot in the novel – the kids trying to get Boo to “come out.” It creates a great deal of mystery and humor all the way to the end of the book. It gives the kids something to focus on while they are having to deal with the trial of Tom Robinson and all of the stress it brings to the town.
When the kids are bored one day trying to think of something to play, Jem announces that they are going to play something new and different: Boo Radley. Scout objects to having to play Mrs. Radley, and Dill thinks she is too scared to play. We see what Scout has come to believe in her short life:
“‘He can get out at night when we’re all asleep…’ I said.” (3) – (pg. 43) She perceives that Jem thought the game up to prove he is brave and she is a coward. She thinks to herself, “I was fairly sure Boo Radley was inside that house, but I couldn’t prove it,…” (4) – (pg. 43)
In contrast, “Jem hissed, ‘Scout, how’s he gonna know what we’re doin’? Besides, I don’t think he’s still there. He died years ago and they stuffed him up the chimney.”(5) – (pg. 43)
I like the way Harper Lee uses the word hissed to describe how Jem talks to Scout. This conveys his ongoing frustration he seems to feel whenever she is hesitant to do anything he wants her to do.
As Scout goes on narrating about how the game will be played, she says, “Jem, naturally, was Boo: he went under the front steps and shrieked and howled from time to time.” (6) – (pg. 43)
This tells us how the kids imagined Arthur Radley – like a wild animal who only comes out at night. They believed he walked the streets and looked into people’s windows while they were sleeping. After watching the movie a while back the scene in the novel and the movie, when Boo has rescued the kids and brought them home, struck me differently. Boo is sitting on the porch with Scout in the swing. After the conversation where Mr. Tate and Atticus decide not to charge him with the murder of Bob Ewell, Arthur gets up and looks in the window at Jem sleeping in his bed. Personally, I think this may have been a humorous play by Harper Lee on how the kids have already been imagining what Boo does while he’s out at night. It is adorable the way that Scout is so sensitive to Arthur, perceiving that he wants to go see Jem. I especially like that they included this scene in the movie.
This brings me to another point. Boo only comes out at night, so that is why the kids never see him. Miss Maudie’s house caught on fire during the night, and it was Boo who put a blanket around Scout while she stood in front of his house, but she never saw him. Arthur’s choice to only walk the streets at night seems to be because this is when he is most comfortable outside – when everyone else is inside. One thing I learned is that Robert Duvall purposely stayed out of the sun for many weeks in order to become very pale, and even dyed his hair very light to play Boo. He wanted the first time we actually SEE Boo to be sort of shocking. In the movie he has dark circles under his eyes, and looks scary, but he is hiding behind Jem’s bedroom door. He appears terrified when Scout discovers him. And the line that always makes me cry at this point in the book and the movie is when Scout simply says, Hey, Boo even though she has never seen him. In the novel she describes him as thin-framed, his hands and face as white, his cheeks as hollow, his mouth wide, and his gray eyes so colorless that she thought he was blind. I think as Scout stands and really looks at Arthur, she takes all of his appearance in. She is not afraid, but curious. She feels his fear. Yet she sees that he is truly harmless. So she tells us,
“His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor’s image blurred with my sudden tears. ‘Hey, Boo,’ I said.” – (7) – pg. 310. I believe this is the climax of the novel and the movie. Harper Lee spends the next two chapters in the novel telling us about the time that Arthur spends on Scout’s front porch while Heck Tate and Atticus decide his fate. Mr. Tate thinks it is best to let things be and tell everyone that Bob Ewell fell on his on knife and died. He is adamant about it and says he can even prove it. After more conversation, we see the reason that Heck Tate fights Atticus so hard on this issue. Mr. Tate says,
“To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight – to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch.” (8) – (pg. 317)
Even Scout understands what Mr. Tate means. She tells Atticus that Mr. Tate is right and says,
“Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?” (9) – (pg. 317)
Atticus finally hears through Scout what Mr. Tate has been trying to tell him. So he thanks Arthur for his children.
Then Arthur asks Scout to walk him home. I love this so very much – a child and an adult whose roles are swapped – the child taking care of the adult. When Boo goes in the house, Scout tells us that she never saw him again. She says:
“Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.” (10) – (pg. 320)
So, Arthur “Boo” Radley turns out to be the opposite of what Scout and the boys had been imagining. Instead of frightening, he is afraid. Instead of a giant, he is an average-sized, timid man. Scout sees that he is shy, nervous, uncomfortable in the light of her house, and just needs a lot of understanding. He is comfortable being alone at night; it causes him to be watchful. He is a man who courageously steps forward to help those who have been afraid of him, because he knows they cannot help themselves.
Footnotes 1-10 from: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition, Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.
Posted on March 9, 2015, in Writing and tagged Atticus, Harper Lee, Mockingbird Mondays, Part #1, Part #2, part #3, part #4, Part 6, Part 7, Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.