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

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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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