What are the characteristics of Mr. and Mrs. Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird"? (Physical and mental traits.)

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We don't get a physical description of Mrs. Radley, except to learn she would come out to the edge of the porch and "pour water on her cannas." Interestingly, the text doesn't say she waters her flowers, but pours water on them, a more distant and less loving act, as if she does it indifferently.

We do get more description of Mr. Radley, who Scout sees walking to and from work each day before he eventually dies, and she describes him in unpleasant terms, especially his colorless eyes:

He was a thin leathery man with colorless eyes, so colorless they did not reflect light. His cheekbones were sharp and his mouth was wide, with a thin upper lip and a full lower lip. Miss Stephanie Crawford said he was so upright he took the word of God as his only law, and we believed her, because Mr. Radley’s posture was ramrod straight.

The most notable characteristic of the Radleys in the eyes of the town is their lack of sociality. They keep strictly to themselves, an unforgivable sin. They don't go to church like the others and deliberately don't have screen doors, so that their doors can't be kept open on Sunday for people to stop in and say hello. They don't mix with the local community. After Boo gets into trouble, the Radleys take him home and make him equally reclusive. We learn, too, that Mr. Radley's word is respected: he does what he says he will. When Jem speculates that the Radleys keep Boo chained in the basement, Atticus responds that there are other ways to make a person "a ghost," suggesting that the Radleys' hold over their son is psychological rather than physical. The Radleys come across as cold, rigid, and reclusive people willing to sacrifice their son's happiness.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Radleys are reculsive and rarely socialize with any of their neighbors, which makes it difficult to accurately characterize them. However, we are aware that Mr. Radley is a strictly religious man who is a "Foot-washing Baptist." Essentially, Mr. Radley considers anything that causes pleasure to be a sin and prefers to spend most of his waking hours worshiping from home. Scout mentions that the only time Mr. Radley is spotted is when he walks to town to purchase groceries. Jem also tells his sister that Mr. Radley does not have a job, which is one reason he rarely leaves his home. When Mr. Radley finally passes away, Calpurnia mentions that he was the meanest man that ever lived. We also know that Mr. Radley forced his son Arthur to stay inside after having several run-ins with the police. It is suggested that Mr. Radley intimidated and mentally abused Boo to keep him inside the home. Overall, the Radleys are reclusive, callous individuals with a relatively negative reputation throughout the community.

troutmiller eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since none of the characters ever speak with the Radley's directly, it's only assumption that we can go on.  Since the Radley's are "Foot Washin' Baptists" that means that "anything pleasurable is a sin."  They do not go out much, they forbid their son to go out because of his mistakes in his youth, and the only person ever seen out is Mr. Radley.  He is only seen coming back with a bag of groceries once in a while.  After that, the only time they were seen leaving was when they were taken away in death.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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