How might one discuss tthe circumstances and significance of Scout's meeting with Boo Radley near the end of Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird?
It is significant that Scout meets Boo Radley at the end of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. By then, she has learned enough to see him as he really is.
This is a story of a small southern town—the discrimination, the things that separate and join people together, the need to stand up for what is ethical, and to see the world through "honest" eyes (as told through young Scout's eyes, and through memories by an older Scout).
A central theme in the story is judging based upon appearance. It is in the bigotry exhibited by many in town toward Tom Robinson and the black community. We see it with Dolphus Raymond (a fake drunk), drinking a bottle of Coke in a bag so people will let him quietly live his life with a woman of color—excusing him because they believe he is an alcoholic. Some members of the community thrive on rumor, as is seen with Boo Radley. The children hear stories from Miss Stephanie that he roams the town after dark, and tried to break into her home. They have also heard that Boo has sharp teeth and eats raw squirrels. Because children are easily influenced, people in Maycomb such as Atticus, Miss Maudie, Judge Taylor, and even Sheriff Heck Tate—are reasonable enough to know and explain that appearances can be deceiving.
Boo Radley, as Scout learns, is none of the things people have said he is. It is his voice Scout hears laughing when he sees the kids playing outside of his house. Boo retrieves and sews Jem's pants. Boo also leaves gifts for the children in the tree. And it is Boo's love of the children that saves their lives when Bob Ewell tries to kill them. Scout learns that while Boo may not be "right," he is (paradoxically) perfect: he is gentle, caring (he covers Scout with a blanket at the fire) and self-sacrificing. He risks his own life to save Scout and Jem.
The other important theme (for which the book is named) reflects the need to protect the helpless and innocent. Both Atticus and Miss Maudie explain this in terms of birds.
Atticus said to Jem one day, "I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the blue-jays you want, if you can him 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
"Your father's right," she said. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
This thought is echoed again when Heck Tate refuses to expose who really killed Bob Ewell.
...maybe you'll say it's my duty to tell the town all about [what Boo did] and not hush it up. Know what'd happen then? All the ladies in Maycomb includin' my wife'd be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. 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 a sin.
Mr. Tate was right...it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?
When Scout meets Boo Radley, she shows what she has learned: she is seeing him...not thinking of what people say about him. She has learned that appearances can be deceiving; by the end, she truly understands the concept of protecting the innocent—she points it out to her father, even as he struggles to do the right thing.
During the course of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout is closer to Boo Radley, on a couple of occasions, than she realizes. At one point in Chapter 8, for instance, Boo drapes a blanket over her as she is preoccupied with watching a housefire. She doesn’t even notice the blanket until the excitement later calms down. Then, near the end of the novel, it is Boo, of course, who saves Scout when she is being attacked by Bob Ewell, although again Scout does not realize Boo’s presence.
Only in Chapter 29 does Scout actually meet Boo face-to-face. This encounter is important for a number of reasons, including the following:
- She treats Boo with courtesy, as when she quickly ceases to point at him because she knows that it is “impolite to point.” Early in the book, she had helped mock Boo; now she treats him with dignity and respect.
- Although Boo’s skin is so white that he almost looks like a ghost, Scout has clearly overcome any fear she may have had of him earlier.
- We Scout and Boo make eye contact, each seems to feel an immediate sympathy for the other. Again, Scout’s earlier fear of Boo has vanished.
- It is Scout who takes the initiative to speak to Boo, thus symbolizing her growing maturity. Indeed, this whole encounter suggests how much more mature Scout has become by this point in the book.
- Atticus steps in to formally introduce Boo and Scout to one another, thus symbolizing the good manners and courtesy he has displayed throughout the text. As Scout puts it,
If Atticus could blandly introduce me to Boo Radley at a time like this, well—that was Atticus.
- Ironically, after Atticus formally introduces Scout to Boo, Scout runs and tries to hide herself, in embarrassment, an act that symbolizes that she is still partly a child, despite the maturation she has undergone.
- Later, however, it is Scout who takes Boo by the hand to lead him through the house. As she does so, she speaks to him courteously and respectfully, thus showing that she is indeed her father’s daughter. She treats him with great dignity, showing that she is no longer simply a mischievous little tomboy.
- Later, Scout is able to interpret a mere nod from Boo as a sign that he would like to see Jem. This moment symbolizes Scout’s mature insight and intuition.
- Without ever treating Boo as a mere child, Scout courteously instructs him about how to treat the sleeping Jem. Scout seems very mature and in control in these moments at Jem’s bedside. In fact, it is Scout who now leads Boo (described as speaking in an almost childlike tone) back to his home – a place she had earlier always feared.
In short, Scout’s behavior here shows her growth in maturity and the ways in which she has greatly come to resemble her father.
Something extra: This passage would lend itself well to interpretation by historical critics, who might be able to discuss the ways real persons resembling Boo were treated in the 1930s and hwo such treatment may have differed from treatment before and after that period. New historicist critics, in particular, might explore how Lee’s novel might have helped alter public perceptions of persons such as Boo.