To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
Start Your Free Trial

How do Scout, Jem and Dill characterize Boo Radley at the beginning of  To Kill a Mockingbird?

Scout characterizes Boo as a petty criminal and a "malevolent phantom." Jem describes his neighbor as a monstrous figure, six-and-a-half feet tall with bloodstained hands. Dill must imagine Boo based on the descriptions his friends provide him.

Expert Answers info

Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write10,298 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

In chapter 1, Scout elaborates on Jem's fantastical description of their reclusive neighbor, Arthur "Boo" Radley. Scout refers to Boo as the "malevolent phantom," who Jem believes is six and a half feet tall and dines on squirrels and cats. Jem tells the children that Boo's hands are bloodstained from eating raw animals and mentions that there is a long jagged scar running across his face. Jem also tells Scout and Dill that Boo has yellow, rotten teeth, large eyes, and drools the majority of the time.

Scout mentions that any small crime committed throughout the neighborhood is blamed on Boo and says that Jem gets the majority of his information from the neighborhood scold, Miss Stephanie. Rumors surround Boo that make him out to be a nefarious, enigmatic person, who enjoys causing havoc at night. As the novel progresses, the children mature and learn that Boo is a not a "malevolent phantom" but rather a kind, compassionate, shy man. 

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write7,077 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

It is Dill's fascination with the Radley Place that spurs the children's interest in Boo. Jem and Scout are used to their reclusive neighbors--Mr. Radley never speaks and Boo is never seen--though they normally run past the Radley house when they must pass by. Dill's imagination is fueled by the stories Jem and Scout have told him, mostly gossip originating from Miss Stephanie, who claims that Boo peeks in her bedroom window at night. Scout describes Boo as a "malevolent phantom" who only comes out "when the moon was down... Any stealthy small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work." People still blame Boo for the mutilation of small animals "although the culprit was Crazy Addie." Negroes and children are afraid to pass by the Radley house, and it is rumored that Boo poisoned the pecans that fell into the schoolyard.

     The more we told Dill about the Radleys, the more he wanted to know...  (Chapter 1)

Dill can only wonder what Boo looks like, but Jem has a pretty good idea:

Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall... dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch... his hands were bloodstained... There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.  (Chapter 1)

The children view Boo as a man to be feared, but when Dill dares Jem to run up and touch the house, claiming that he is "too scared to even put your big toe in the front yard," the Radley Place becomes all-consuming, and catching a glimpse of Boo turns into their main priority for the rest of the summer. 

check Approved by eNotes Editorial