In Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the meaning of Jem's statement: "I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley stayed shut up in the house all this time . . . it is because he wants to...

In Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the meaning of Jem's statement: "I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley stayed shut up in the house all this time . . . it is because he wants to stay inside"?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley stayed shut up in the house all this time . . . it is because he wants to stay inside" (227).

Jem says the above quote to his sister Scout in Chapter 23 of To Kill a Mockingbird. He has witnessed the worst case of racism and prejudice in his whole life and he has been trying to come to grips with it. Jem watched the Tom Robinson trial with faith in the judicial system and in the facts of the case. Everything pointed to Tom's innocence, yet he was still convicted. Jem can't understand it at first, but after lengthy discussions with Miss Maudie and his father, he realizes that hundreds of years of prejudice, racism, and tradition were bigger than one attorney with truth on his side could fight. As a result, Jem is disillusioned and disappointed by the sad reality that people can be mean and ugly to each other. In fact, before Jem says the above-mentioned quote, he describes this disillusionment to his sister as follows:

"That's what I thought, too, . . . when I was your age. If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?" (227).

Jem then applies what he's learned about the disappointing facts regarding humanity to Boo Radley. Jem is starting to feel like he doesn't want to be part of a world that is so evil and mean; therefore, he thinks that maybe that might be the reason Boo Radley stays inside his house all of the time. Based on what Jem has learned and experienced during the Tom Robinson trial, he doesn't want to participate in life with prejudiced and racist people; and he suspects that Boo Radley doesn't either. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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