How did Scout's opinion of Boo Radley change during To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scout's opinion of Arthur Radley moves from believing that he is a malicious ghost to finding him to be a hero, a kind man, and a friend.

As narrator, Scout introduces the reader to the neighborhood and describes the Radley house as being "inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end." She adds that inside the house there lives "a malevolent phantom." Supposedly he sneaks around at night when there is no moon and peeps into windows. He has not been out of the house for fifteen years since he got into trouble, and his father did not want his son to go to the state industrial school—instead, he imprisoned Boo in their own home.

Despite all the frightening details about Boo Radley, Jem and Scout, accompanied by Charles Baker Harris, who is known as Dill, make several efforts to see this ghost who haunts a dilapidated house. One day the boys try to lure Boo out by tapping on the house, but they see only the slightest stirring. With the beginning of school, their interest in Boo wanes. But when summer comes, Dill arrives again from Mississippi to devise more schemes to see Boo. One day after they play a scene that mimics a story told about Boo, they hear someone inside the house laughing, and this frightens Scout.

Scout begins to wonder about Boo, so she asks Miss Maudie, her neighbor, about the Radleys. This friendly neighbor tells Scout that the Radley home is "a sad house." But, she recalls that Boo always "spoke nicely" to her before he was kept inside. Soon after Scout's visit with Miss Maudie, Jem and Dill decide to "peep in a window." However, their plan fails because Nathan Radley comes outside and fires his rifle. When they try to flee in their fright, Jem has to remove his pants which have been caught in the wire fence. Later, as he sneaks back to retrieve his pants, Jem finds them folded and laid over the fence for him. 

Soon after this incident, Jem and Scout find little gifts for themselves in the tree knothole on the Radley property that they pass on the way home. Jem is especially touched when they discover two carved soap figures that resemble them. More evidence that Boo is a caring person comes on the night of the fire that breaks out in Miss Maudie's house. Because Atticus has told the children to stand away from the burning building, they are near the Radley house at the end of the neighborhood. As they stand outside on a winter night in fear, they become mesmerized by the fire. In such a state, Scout does not notice that Boo has thrown a blanket over her shoulders. It is not until they return home, and Atticus sees this blanket that Scout even realizes she has anything on her.

With the upcoming trial of Tom Robinson and the children's maturation, interest in Boo Radley wanes again. However, it is obvious that he has not forgotten them because he intervenes in Bob Ewell's evil act of attacking the Finch children on their way home from the Halloween festival. This brave recluse has saved their lives by pulling their attacker off them and killing Bob Ewell. When Sheriff Tate asks Scout what has happened, she relates the facts and says, 

" . . . somebody yanked Mr. Ewell down. Jem must have got up, I guess. That's all I know . . . "
"And then?" Mr. Tate was looking at me sharply.
"Somebody was staggerin' around and pantin' and—coughing fit to die. . . . "
"Who was it?"
"Why, there he is, Mr. Tate, he can tell you his name." (Ch.30)

As Scout looks at this timid, pale man, she begins to realize who he is:

"Our neighbor's image blurred with my sudden tears. Hey, Boo," I said. (Ch.30)

After the arrival of Dr. Reynolds, who tends to Jem, Atticus, Sheriff Tate, Arthur, and Scout go out on the porch: "My small fantasy about him was alive again: he would be sitting on the porch." (Ch.31)

When Boo is ready to go home, he shyly asks Scout, "Will you take me home?" He has "the voice of a child afraid of the dark." (Ch.31) Scout slips her hand into the bend of his arm, and they walk toward the Radley house in friendship.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scout's perception of Boo certainly changes over the two-plus years that passes during the course of the novel. Prior to her first year in school, Scout learns about Boo through the gossip passed on by neighbors such as Miss Stephanie Crawford. The stories are scary, and Scout views Boo as some kind of terrible nocturnal monster. But when the gifts begin to appear in the secret knothole of the Radley oak, Jem and Scout soon come to realize that they could have only come from Boo. Monsters aren't usually friendly, Scout knows, and it soon becomes clear that Boo's intentions have been misinterpreted by everyone--from the neighbors and townspeople to the children themselves. Atticus's message to "stop tormenting that man" is taken to heart, and Jem and Scout gradually take less interest in Boo. When the blanket mysteriously appears upon Scout's shoulders on the night of Miss Maudie's house fire--and Atticus suggests that it could only have come from Boo--the children recognize once and for all that Boo is only trying to be a friendly and caring neighbor. As Scout gets older, she still fantasizes about meeting Boo: She is old enough to know that it is a fantasy that will probably never materialize, but she gets a great surprise on Halloween when her dream comes true and Boo comes to her rescue. It is a defining moment in Scout's life, and after walking Boo home and staring out over the neighborhood as if seeing things through Boo's eyes, she feels she has seen it all:

As I made my way home, I thought Jem and I would get grown but there wasn't much else for us to learn...  (Chapter 31)

msmegan | Student

At the beginning of the book, it is clear Scout is fearful of Boo Radley.  She and her friends participate in games tormenting Boo.  She even tries to prove her bravery by trying to touch his house. 

Eventually, however, her fear begins to fade.  As she grows up and becomes more mature, she notes that Boo Radley is just another person, just like her.  This is proven when she says, "The Radley Place had ceased to terrify me."  Eventually, Scout even starts calling him by his real name, Arthur. 

When she witnesses Boo sasve the children's lives the night they were attacked by Bob Ewell is symbolic of her entrance to maturity: she has finally let go of her childhood fears because she has finally seen the truth of this neighborhood legend.

 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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