How does Scout's and Jem's understanding of Boo Radley develop?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the novel, Jem and Scout fear Boo Radley and believe the negative rumors surrounding their reclusive neighbor. Jem believes that Boo resembles a monster and Scout refers to him as a "malevolent phantom." As the novel progresses, Jem and Dill make several attempts to communicate and view Boo Radley. Following the children's raid, Jem returns to the Radley yard to retrieve his pants and discovers them repaired and folded over the fence. Jem takes note of this mysterious event and begins to suspect that Boo may not be the "malevolent phantom" they once thought. The Finch children then begin receiving gifts in the knothole of the Radley tree from an anonymous source. At this point in the novel, Jem realizes that Boo is a compassionate man and not the insensitive creature they imagined. Being that Scout is four years younger than Jem, she is still naive and does not perceive Boo as a regular neighbor.

Scout continues to fear Boo even after he gives her his blanket during Maudie's house fire. Following the Tom Robinson trial, Scout matures and begins to perceive Boo differently. Instead of fearing Boo, Scout sympathizes with him and wishes to have a conversation with Boo. She wonders what keeps him inside his home and dreams about meeting him one day. After Boo saves Jem and Scout's life, Scout finally gets her chance to interact with Boo. She learns that Boo is an extremely sensitive, quiet individual, and metaphorically compares him to a mockingbird. By the end of the novel, Scout finally perceives Boo as her harmless, compassionate neighbor, who is extremely shy and reclusive.

cldbentley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the beginning of the novel, Scout and Jem are fearful of Arthur "Boo" Radley.  This is due to the fact that they do not have any true understanding of Boo and, because their knowledge of Boo Radley is not based on any personal relationship with him, they fail to recognize his humanity.  By the end of the novel, Jem and Scout have come to appreciate and care for Boo as a person.

As the Finch children begin to interact with Boo on a personal level, they lose their fear of him and see his kindness.  By the time Boo saves Scout and Jem from Bob Ewell's attack, Scout has become comfortable enough with the idea of Boo's existence as a person to be able to feel comfortable, and even safe, interacting with him face to face. 

Scout and Jem feared Boo Radley because he was, in actuality, unknown to them.  Once they began to know him and lose their fear of him, they were able to gain some understanding of him.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scout and Jem are young when the book begins.  At first, they just see Boo Radley's story as an exciting neighborhood legend.  He is the scary monster and mysterious figure.  When Dill comes, they act out Boo's story as if it were a movie.

As the children get older, they start to see a different side of Boo.  They learn that his is actually a sad story.  They also start finding mysterious presents obviously left by Boo, and realize he put a blanket on Scout's shoulders at the fire.  When Jem finds his pants mended and left for him, it is another hint that there is more to Boo.

After Boo kills Bob Ewell to save Scout, his true character is finally revealed and Scout gets to meet him and talk to him.  She learns that he is kind, gentle and shy. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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