In To Kill a Mockingbird, why are the children so interested in Boo Radley?

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gmuss25 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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At the beginning of the novel, Jem, Scout, and Dill are enthralled and fascinated with their mysterious neighbor Boo Radley. They become curious about him after hearing the various rumors throughout the community. The children attempt to see and make contact with Boo Radley several times throughout the story. Atticus warns the children to leave the Radleys alone and not bother them, but this only fuels their curiosity. As with most children, when an authority figure says to stay away from something, children only become more intrigued by the "forbidden" thing. This concept explains why the children are so interested in Boo Radley. Atticus restricts his children from bothering Boo and entering the Radley's yard, which only increases their desire to see and interact with Boo. Also, when Jem and Scout begin to receive small gifts in the knothole of the Radley tree, Jem has a hunch that Boo Radley may be the one giving them gifts. The idea that Boo is not the "malevolent phantom" peaks his curiosity as he and Scout attempt to leave him a letter.

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tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The children are curious about Boo Radley, but it also seems as if they bring up the story first to win over, scare or compete with the new little friend who appears at the fence line between their house and Miss Rachel's. For example, the first conversation that Jem has with Dill is about reading. Dill tells the kids that he can read and he's seven, but Jem has to one-up him by saying that Scout's been reading since she was born. Dill competes back by telling the kids that he's been to the movies and saw Dracula. Eventually Boo Radley comes up and Scout says that they "warn" Dill about Boo Radley, but maybe, as said above, it is a way to scare him or even initiate him into the neighborhood. Ironically though, it is Dill who uses the Radley house as a way to dare Jem to prove he is brave:

"'Let's try to make him come out,' said Dill. 'I'd like to see what he looks like.'

Jem said if Dill wanted to get himself killed, all he had to do was go up and knock on the front door. . . Dill bet Jem . . . that Jem wouldn't get any farther than the Radley gate. In all his life, Jem had never declined a dare" (13).

The above passage is only the beginning of future dares to come. The house and Boo Radley are like undiscovered country, and once Jem doesn't die from touching the house and running away, other strategies are used to get Boo to come out. The Radley house, therefore, also becomes a source of entertainment for the kids as they play out the Radley history as well as try to get the infamous phantom to come out.

katemschultz's profile pic

katemschultz | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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The children are interested in Boo Radley for the same reason most of us are interested in something we don't know: curiosity.

The gossip that surrounds Boo Radley is that of horror stories: he's over six feet tall, his eye bulge out, he dines on raw cats and squirrels, he breath causes frost on the plants, he drools, he stabbed his father with a pair of scissors.

As young children, Jem, Scout and Dill are fascinated that such a creature could live near them. The next step to having this creature live near them is to make him come out of his house and show himself.

Also, the children take interest in doing what's never been done; as far as they know, no one has seen Boo. They think it would be terrific if they were the ones to get him to come out of his house.


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