How does Jem’s perception of Boo Radley change over the first seven chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers

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

In chapter 1, Jem has a fantastical perception of Boo Radley that isn't even human:

Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that's why his hands were bloodstained... There was a long jagged scar that...

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

In chapter 1, Jem has a fantastical perception of Boo Radley that isn't even human:

Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that's why 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.

This description is a cross between some feral animal and a character resembling Frankenstein's monster. The kids develop a morbid fascination with the legend of Boo, and it is easy to invent games with him as a central character because they don't view him as a real human being—he is more myth than reality. Thus, they sneak around his house at night and play in the yard, pretending to be Boo stabbing his father with a pair of scissors.

Yet this idea of Boo changes with time. Gifts begin appearing for the kids in the old tree, and at first they cannot determine where the trinkets could be coming from. One day, it strikes Jem that Boo could be leaving he gifts, as he pauses to look at the Radley house with great consideration.

After Jem and Scout find soap carvings that appear to be replicas of themselves in the hole and then discover a pocket watch with a knife, Jem realizes that Boo Radley is leaving the gifts. He cannot figure out why Boo would do such a thing, but he wants to thank him.

These offers of kindness, presented without any need of acknowledgement or recognition, transform Jem's perception of Boo Radley. He no longer sees Boo as a semi-human of morbid fascination but as a real person with real needs for human connections, just like anyone else.

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

In the first few chapters of the novel, Jem believes the negative rumors surrounding Boo Radley and views him as a grotesque, threatening, violent beast. Despite being afraid of Boo Radley, Jem becomes fascinated with him, and his curiosity begins to grow.

In chapter four, Jem and Scout begin to receive gifts in the knothole of the Radley tree, which enhances Jem's curiosity and influences him to daydream about seeing and interacting with Boo. Jem and the children proceed to play a game named One Man's Family, in which they reenact Boo's life story based on neighborhood gossip and legend.

In chapter five, Jem attempts to slip Boo Radley a note encouraging him to come outside, and in chapter six, they participate in a nighttime raid, where they trespass into the Radley yard and attempt to look through Boo's window. After Jem returns later that night to retrieve his pants, he finds them mended and folded over the fence. Jem's perception of Boo Radley dramatically begins to change as he wonders if he is a magnanimous, sensitive man and not the reclusive, violent phantom.

Overall, Jem goes from fearing Boo to dreaming about interacting with him before finally questioning his true nature in the first seven chapters of the novel.

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

By chapter 7 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem's perception of Boo Radley has changed dramatically. At first, Jem's childish fear of Boo Radley manifests in a kind of fascination and a need to see how close he can get to the object of his fear without getting too terrified by the proximity; in chapter 6, for example, Jem trespasses and enters the Radley garden just to test his own mettle. By the end of chapter 7, however, Jem's fear has morphed into a feeling of connection to Boo, thanks to the trinkets left in the knothole of the tree for Scout and him to find. These objects left for the children, presumably by Boo Radley, have a significant effect on Jem's perception of Boo. Boo's gestures of friendship make Boo a real human person to Jem; no longer is Boo a mythical figure to fear. When Mr. Radley fills the knothole with cement, Jem is upset because he can no longer receive messages from Boo. At this point, Boo is someone Jem may be getting to know in a mature and legitimate way.

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

Jem's curiosity regarding Boo Radley increases and leads to increasingly bold actions. As you may remember, Jem and Scout are initially quite frightened of Boo Radley and the Radley house. They make sure they walk extra fast when passing the house. However, especially from chapter 4 onward you start to see a change in Jem's behavior, which is spurred on in part by Dill's enthusiasm and by the fact that Jem is getting older and thinks he must be braver in his behavior. Instead of being frightened of Boo, he decides he wants to meet him. In chapter 4 the kids start playing a game called Boo Radley, which shows their increasing fascination with the mystery surrounding the Radleys. In chapter 5 Jem and Dill try to leave a note for Boo, inviting him out for ice cream. Atticus accuses the boys of tormenting Boo and tells them to leave Boo alone. Jem disobeys, however, and in chapter 6 he sneaks towards the Radley house to peek through the shutters, but gets scared when a shotgun is fired. What these actions show is that for Jem, Boo Radley is changing from a frightful monster into a fascinating person who Jem wants to meet. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team