To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
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How does Boo Radley develop theme in To Kill A Mockingbird? There is always this kind of character in books who appears rarely but is referred to often by other characters and who helps develop theme.

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One of the main themes throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird concerns the protection of innocent beings. In chapter 10, Atticus allows his children to shoot their air rifles and tells them that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Miss Maudie elaborates by explaining to the children why it is considered a sin: mockingbirds do not harm anyone and simply bring joy to the world. Throughout the novel, mockingbirds symbolize defenseless, innocent beings, who deserve protection.

Throughout the novel, Boo is portrayed as a reclusive neighbor, who seems to suffer at the hands of his strict father and brother. There is evidence to suggest that Boo is a kind person, who simply wishes to befriend Jem and Scout but is prevented from doing so by his older brother. The reader sympathizes with Boo's situation and realizes that he is defenseless against his brother's strict control. Boo Radley is considered a symbolic mockingbird because he is a compassionate, shy individual. At the end of the novel, Boo saves the children from Bob Ewell's attack and Sheriff Tate decides not to inform the community about Boo's heroics. Sheriff Tate tells Atticus,

"I never heard tell that it’s against the law for a citizen to do his utmost to prevent a crime from being committed, which is exactly what he did, but maybe you’ll say it’s my duty to tell the town all about it 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’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head." (Lee, 280)

When Atticus asks Scout if she understands Sheriff Tate's logic, Scout responds by applying her father's earlier lesson. Scout tells her father,

"Well, it’d be sort of like shootin‘ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?" (280)

Boo Radley's shy, compassionate nature is symbolized by the mockingbird, and his character helps develop the theme of the necessity to protect innocent beings.

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Boo Radley is used to explore many themes, including the theme that you should treat people with respect rather than intolerance or prejudice.

Boo Radley is an important character in the book, although it is true that he does not appear often.  From the beginning of the book, the child characters are focused on Boo.  This is to frame the story, and let the reader know that the story of Boo Radley is important.  In the beginning, we are introduced to prejudice and intolerance in the town of Maycomb through the rumors about the Radleys.  Boo is regarded as a monster, and the children act out his story in the yard.  Atticus tries to encourage his children to be respectful to the Radley family and Boo in particular.

The prejudice and discrimination faced by Boo foreshadows the larger societal problem of racial prejudice that we see in Tom Robinson.  With Tom's case, the story moves beyond the childlike innocence of the theme we saw in Boo and moves to the deeper, darker realm of the deep-set societal prejudice that Tom faces.  As with Boo, the children learn that someone is not less than a person just because he is a member of the "other" and a victim of society.

At the end of the story, the two plot lines converge.  This is where the theme is solidified.  Ewell, the person who truly is bad, tries to attack Scout and Boo saves her, killing Ewell.  We learn that Boo is kind, gentle and shy but also brave enough to leave his isolation to reach out and help Scout.

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