How does Harper Lee create a sense of mystery about Boo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird"?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee creates a sense of mystery surrounding Boo Radley by elaborating on the ominous atmosphere around his home, describing the rumors concerning Boo Radley, and never physically depicting Boo until the end of the novel. Much of the information regarding Boo comes from secondhand sources, which distances his character and adds to the mystery surrounding him. Towards the beginning of the novel, Scout describes the dilapidated Radley home, which has a foreboding atmosphere. It is described as a slate-gray decaying home, and its doors are never opened. The Radley family is also portrayed as abnormal and enigmatic. They rarely interact with their neighbors and hardly leave their home. Much of the information the reader receives about Boo towards the beginning of the novel comes from the rumors Jem hears. Jem believes that Boo is a malevolent creature and the members of the community blame every small crime on Boo. Every neighborhood child fears Boo, and Miss Stephanie tells Jem that Boo once stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors.

The fact that Boo is a reclusive individual further emphasizes the sense of mystery surrounding his character. In chapter 5, Miss Maudie admits to Scout that she is unaware of what goes on behind the Radley doors. Despite the evidence that suggests Boo is a compassionate, kind neighbor, Scout's naive perception of Boo and lack of physical interactions with him add to the sense of mystery surrounding his character. Overall, Harper Lee creates a sense of mystery about Boo's character by describing the rumors surrounding him and his family while never fully presenting a detailed description of Boo Radley. The majority of information regarding Boo comes from secondhand sources, which adds to his enigmatic nature.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mystery is created about Boo Radley in the expostion of "To Kill a Mockingbird" first by the description of the house.  Much like a haunted one, it is dilapidated, and "Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom."  This word choice creates doubt as to whether Boo is truly alive since Scout and Jem have not seen him.  Also, there are superstitions attached to Boo by the townspeople:  whenever the azalea bushes freeze, it is because Boo has breathed upon them; small crimes are attributed to him; inexplicable occurrence are his doings.  Fearful of his malevolence, children do not eat pecans that have fallen from his tree, and if a ball goes past the schoolyard into the Radley yard, no child fetches it.

Years before, the Radley family was under suspicion because they did not socialize or go to church, the typical activities of a small town Southern family.  Later, after the "criminal" incident of Boo, even more mystery was attached to the family after Boo committed a crime.  It was suggested that he be committed to the Brice mental asylum, but Boo was locked in the basement of the jail; upon the insistence of the town council he was returned to his family and did not come out of the house henceforth.  While the children believe that Boo was chained, their father says, "There are other ways to make someone a ghost."  

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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