If To Kill a Mockingbird were set in the 21st century, would Boo Radley have a diagnosis such as autism?   

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because very little is disclosed about the interior life of the Radley household, it is difficult to determine whether Boo's problems are genetic or simply environmental.  However, judging from Scout's narrative about Boo's youth, the oddities of the Radley family may stem from the behavior of the parents rather than from Boo himself. For, indications are that Boo was an intelligent child who became emotionally damaged by his parents.  In Chapter Five, for instance, Miss Maudie tells Scout that Boo has been victimized by a "foot-washing" Baptist, a radical fundamentalist who believes that most people are going to hell. In addition, Miss Maudie describes Boo as having been a very polite child, and most of the stories about him are simply rumors.  It has most likely been Mr. Radley's restrictive control of Boo that precipitated Boo's rebellion in which he acted in such a way as to be arrested with other juveniles. After being made a prisoner in his own home, where there are suggestions of abuse by his father, the thirty-three year old Boo stabbed Mr. Radley in the leg with a scissors. Of course, this incident is mere speculation.

In his sanctimonious and rigid religious mind, Mr. Radley may believe that Boo is malevolent and must be controlled. After having been removed from any opportunities for socialization, Boo has apparently become emotionally damaged as almost all people who are isolated do. Certainly, it is evident that Boo craves contact with others. At the same time, however, he knows that the world lies in wait for sensitive people, as Jem comprehends in Chapter 23:

"Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time... it's because he wants to stay inside."

Clearly, it is no mentally diminished man who would come to such a conclusion about society. Boo Radley's oddities of character exemplify instead the tremendous influence that other people's perceptions of a person can have upon that innocent person, as well as the impact that socialization or lack of can produce.




etotheeyepi | Student

Autism and Intelligence:

My school hs autistic studentsl. Some, maybe about half, don't speak; or if they do speak, they speak in two word sentences.  Some of these boys have unusual talents.  For example, one can take a clock apart and put it back together.

An autistic student, who graduated from my school about ten years ago, went to college. I don't know if he graduated, but he attended the college to at least the junior year.

I can see how people might associate autism with lack of intelligence, but some autistic people have gifts.

So, Boo could have intelligent and autism.

Autism and odd behavior

I know an autistic boy who likes to sharpen pencils.  He also steels pencils maybe because he wants to sharpen them.  This boy is verbal.  He reads and writes as well as other students in his classes.

Some autistic boys sleep in class.  Sometimes they appear to be awake, but they write gibberish like maybe they are unconscious.

In my math class, I sit behind a boy who has an autism diagnosis. When the teacher collects homework, sometimes this boy puts the homework in his backpack rather than passing them foreword.  The boy has a teacher's assistant who warned my to be vigilant.  


Autistic boys are shy.

This is the one thing that I know that links all the autistic boys I know.  They are shy, or at least they are reluctant to speak. Well, maybe not all of them.  The boy, who sharpens pencils, sometimes he is really loud, but other than that he is very shy.

Boo is shy.  That is one thing we know for sure about Boo.  To me that suggests that he might be autistic.

Boo's isolation

The autistic boys, which I know, don't interact with other people unless other people interact with them. So, if as Scout says, Boo wants to stay inside, maybe he has autism.

Autism and unspoken language.

At my school, the autistic students have speech therapy, where they learn the unspoken language.  For example, they learn that they should not pick their nose when other people are looking.  They learn the meaning of metaphors and puns.  They learn why the rest of us laugh at puns, and why they don't.

Seems to me, that if Boo is autistic; his behavior (which people called rebellion) might have been his lack of understanding to the unspoken language.

So, in conclusion (Miss H, my seventh grade teacher said I must always say, “In conclusion”) if Boo were here today, his school would have him evaluated for autism.



madimint | Student

Boo only after having his supposed wild child days becomes secluded in his house. Before hand he is just an average boy hanging with trouble makers.I do not believe he would be considered autistic in the 21st century.Why? consider this, if you all of a sudden went into seclusion in your most important times of developing and all of a sudden came outside one day would you be considered autistic? No, sure you would have a lack of social skills which could hinder you in other areas but you don't wake up and all of a sudden have autism. it's genetic and would've appeared much earlier. Boo may have a lack of social skills ,but I wouldn't attribute that to the fact he might have Aspergers.

etotheeyepi | Student

Hey Miss Awesome,

When I read Lee's book in high school, I had not had as much experience with autistic boys, and I did not connect what I knew about autism with Boo's behavior.

Now, after four years of helping some of them as a tutor, sometimes being tutored by them myself in math, working as a studen aide with them in Adaptive PE and art class; I think that Boo must have (have had?) undiagnosed autism.

I had not considered the possibility that Boo’s behavior is related in anyway with his religion.

In that way, Boo reminds me of Joe Christmas in The Light in August.  Boo’s father might be to Boo as Doc Hines is to Joe Christmas.


chloeharwood | Student

I think that unless you are a trained psychiatrist/psychologist, you really cannot assess whether or not a literary character has autism.

awesome30 | Student

I'm sorry I just didn't understand why you asked the question if you already knew the answer but I understand now. And I think in present day people would say he is autistic. I've only met one person who is (my friend's little brother) and i relate him to a younger Boo Radley.

awesome30 | Student

seems like you already knew the answer...

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