How does Boo Radley relate to the theme of prejudice in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Prejudice occurs when there is a judgement made about someone based on assumptions rather than logic or personal experiences. A central theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is racial prejudice, as experienced by Tom Robinson when he's accused of raping Mayella Ewell based on the color of his skin. Boo...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Prejudice occurs when there is a judgement made about someone based on assumptions rather than logic or personal experiences. A central theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is racial prejudice, as experienced by Tom Robinson when he's accused of raping Mayella Ewell based on the color of his skin. Boo Radley represents a different kind of prejudice, one based upon acting in a way that is different from the accepted norm.

Boo is a loner who lives with his parents well into adulthood. He rarely leaves the house, and his reclusive nature draws the attention of his neighbors. Most of the people in town tell stories about Boo, and these stories lead the younger generation, including Scout and Jem, to believe him to be a mentally unstable person of whom they should be afraid.

The reality is that Boo is shy and uncomfortable around strangers. He pays a lot of attention, however, and is caring towards Scout and Jem when their lives are at risk at the end of the novel. The lesson to be learned from Scout and Jem's interactions with Boo is that you can't judge a book by its cover. They took a chance on befriending him and were rewarded by receiving his friendship in return.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Boo Radley is a shy, reclusive man who is relatively harmless and rather compassionate. Despite his innocent, friendly nature, Boo Radley becomes a victim of prejudice because of his odd, enigmatic lifestyle. The citizens of Maycomb find it strange and ominous that Boo never leaves his home, and they spread false rumors about him throughout the neighborhood. Scout mentions that nearly every small crime committed in Maycomb is blamed on Boo Radley, and Miss Stephanie insists that Boo peeks in people's windows at night. There are also rumors that Boo is a violent man who stabbed his father in the leg with scissors. The local children also fear Boo and Scout refers to him as a "malevolent phantom." Despite the negative rumors that surround Boo, he is a gentle, caring person, who has an affinity for the Finch children. He repairs Jem's pants following the raid, gives the children numerous small gifts in the knothole of the tree, and even saves their lives when Bob Ewell attacks them. Overall, the prejudiced citizens spread false rumors about Boo that hurt his reputation and make people view him in a negative light. He does not deserve to be labeled as a menacing neighbor and his negative reputation harms his few opportunities to befriend people.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Although racial prejudice is important to the story, Boo Radley represents another type of prejudice.  People fear and do not accept anyone who is different.

The entire neighborhood is judgmental and critical of Boo Radley.  He’s an unusual man, because he has not been seen outside of his house since he was a teenager.  The adults told stories about him, and the children were afraid of him.

The Radley Place was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end … (Ch. 1) 

Arthur Radley was a fairly normal boy, but he had a troubled young adulthood.  He was somewhat of a juvenile delinquent.  His parents were very strict “foot-washing” Baptists.  This might have affected the fact that he turned on them.  The most famous (and perhaps apocryphal) incident was the scissors incident when Boo was thirty-three years old. 

According to Miss Stephanie, Boo was sitting in the livingroom cutting some items from The Maycomb Tribune to paste in his scrapbook. His father entered the room. As Mr. Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors into his parent’s leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants, and resumed his activities. (Ch. 1) 

Boo Radley was kept in the courthouse basement, and then returned to the custody of his family and never seen again.  Since this incident, the adults in the neighborhood gossiped about him.  People like Stephanie Crawford told stories about him, such as that he was peeking into windows at night. 

Actually, Arthur Radley was just quiet and shy and wanted to be left alone.  He did not leave his house because he didn’t want to.  Scout, Jem, and Dill shifted from thinking he was a monster to trying to be friends with him, and it paid off.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team