In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, how is prejudice shown when it comes to the character Boo Radley? 

Expert Answers
tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The word "prejudice" can be defined as any preconceived notion about someone or something, and can be either positive or negative. Generally, when people hear the word they apply a negative connotation. In To Kill a Mockingbird, however, Boo Radley is the subject of both positive and negative prejudices. In the beginning of the book, Scout describes her first recollections of Boo Radley as neighborhood boogieman or ghost. She hears stories about him from Jem, who received most of his information from the town gossip, Stephanie Crawford. The following is a story that causes quite an alarm for years:

"According to Miss Stephanie, Boo was sitting in the living room cutting some items from the Maycomb Tribune to paste in his scrapbook. His father entered the room. As Mr. Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors into his parent's leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants, and resumed his activities" (11).

Stories like this one make the neighbors and the whole community afraid to walk past the house or ever make contact with the Radleys. Scout catalogues some other prejudice behavior on account of fear from rumors:

". . . people still looked at the Radley Place, unwilling to discard their initial suspicions. A Negro would not pass the Radley Place at night, he would cut across to the sidewalk opposite and whistle as he walked" (9).

Other prejudice behavior includes school children not eating any nuts that fall from the Radley trees into the school yard. When there is a crime in town, the people first think of the Radleys (9). Many of these prejudice behaviors stemmed from fear, rumors, and superstition as the years went on.

Fortunately, there were some people who pitied the Radleys, or at least respected their right to live as they pleased. For example, Atticus told Jem to mind his own business and let the Radleys mind theirs when Jem asked about them (11). Miss Maudie tells Scout that she grew up with Arthur Radley and remembers him to have been a nice, well-spoken boy . But the best is when Heck Tate favors Boo Radley with a positive prejudice by protecting him after he saves Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell's knife:

"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.. . . 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" (276).

Thus, Sheriff Tate shows favor, or positive prejudice, on behalf of Boo Radley by keeping his name safe from the people of Maycomb. A person who is shy or suffering from a mental illness should be allowed to live in peace. Maybe the negative prejudices actually allowed Boo Radley to be left alone in a good way; but people will always be prejudiced when faced with people or situations that they don't understand.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question