Why are the children fascinated with the Radley house?
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To me, the kids (Jem, Scout, and Dill) are fascinated with the house because kids are, by nature, fascinated with the unknown and potentially dangerous.
Boo Radley is this thing that is just a legend in Maycomb. The kids have never seen him so they can only imagine him. Kids have really fertile imaginations so they make up all sorts of stories about him. Because they have these images in their mind about how dangerous he is, they are fascinated by the house. They feel that being interested in it and being willing to touch it and such show that they are brave kids.
When I was a kid, there was one paved road that ran past one edge of our village. We called it the "bad road" and were forbidden to play on it because cars might be going fast on it. We were fascinated with it and would do things like putting one foot on it and then running away. I think it's the same psychology going on with the kids in the book.
Because of the many fantastic stories that they have heard about Boo, Jem and Scout--and especially Dill--are naturally curious about what's inside the Radley house. The fact that Boo has never been seen is enough of a reason for them to keep a continual watchful eye for his presence. The house itself is imposing: Overgrown with weeds, in need of a painting and with "oak trees (that) kept the sun away," the Radley place is the creepiest house in an otherwise unassuming neighborhood. The "rain-rotted shingles drooped" and "the shutters and doors... were closed on Sundays"--Maycomb's most social day of the week. But it was the unknown nature of the "phantom" that lived inside that most intrigued the children.
The first dare concerning the Radley house came when Dill bet his book (The Gray Ghost) that Jem wouldn't "just go up and touch the house." Jem won that bet.
The first dare was simply to run up and actually touch the house. All the kids were so frightened of the house because of the stories about Boo being a psycho maniac killer and they feared that he would kill them if they approached the house.
Like anything unknown, particularly anything that isn't well known and has tons of rumors spread around town about it, the kids are fascinated by the house. It appears to be empty but they know Boo is in it, and they hear pretty good stories from Calpurnia and Atticus and others about the family, but then they can blow them out of proportion and change them and rumors serve to heighten their fascination with the place.
The children are fascinated with the Radley house because of the mysterious tenants it has. They like letting their imaginations come up stories about the Radleys, and they let the rumors around town influence their thinking as well. As it relates to theme, the Radleys represent those who recognize the corruption of the world around them, and therefore withdraw from it to avoid either adding to the problem or being a victim of the corruption.
The first dare associated with the house is to retrieve the tire from the yard, which Scout mocks Jem about until he caves. This starts a series of dares about touching the house, leaving notes in the shutters, and trying to get Boo Radley to come outside.
- The main reason the kids are fascinated with the Radley house is because Atticus told them not to be. The house is taboo, other, haunted, Gothic. In it resides a freak, a murderer who killed his parents with scissors.
- Flannery O'Connor once said:
“Whenever I am asked why Southern writers particularly have this penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one."
In other words, Southerners are obsessed with freaks because the South is so full of them.
- The kids are obsessed with Gothic literature: The Gray Ghost, Ivanhoe. They are attracted to those who are injured, outcast, and morbid. Just look at all the freaks in the novel: Boo, Dolphus, Bob, Tom, Burris, Mrs. Dubose, and Mayella.
- Why wait for Halloween or pay a penny at the circus sideshow if you can peek into a neighbor's house to see a freak?
The Radley house (and its inhabitant, Boo) are subject to a great deal of gossip and urban legend in Maycomb. The children have heard all of the stories about Boo, particularly the fact that he is supposed to have stabbed his mother with a pair of scissors. The house is representative of these stories because Boo, or the "monster" that they imagine when the think of Boo, is locked inside its walls.
For the same reason that children have dared one another to go inside "haunted" houses, made up tales about old abandoned buildings, told stories of ghosts and villains around campfires, gone to fun houses and watched horror movies, Scout, Jem and Dill are drawn to the house. It represents the unknown and the fears and possible dangers that go along with it. Also, as Dill's dare to Jem shows, the house presents an opportunity to prove manhood. Touching th house represents conquering a fear of the unknown.
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