What does Boo Radley's house represent in To Kill a Mockingbird?
Boo Radley's house is depicted as a weathered, dilapidated home, which has an ominous, melancholy atmosphere surrounding it. The doors and shutters are always closed, and Scout mentions that its exterior has darkened to a slate-gray color. The shingles of the home are rain-rotted and there is an extensive amount of johnsongrass and rabbit-tobacco growing around the outside of the home. Inside of the house lives Boo Radley and his older brother Nathan. Boo Radley is the most reclusive citizen in Maycomb and rarely leaves his home. In chapter 5, Miss Maudie tells Scout that she isn't exactly sure what keeps Boo from leaving his home and says,
"The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets—" (46)
Miss Maudie's disquieting statement suggests that Boo Radley could be forced to remain indoors through some form of intimidation.
Symbolically, the Radley house represents the misery associated with Boo's unfortunate situation. The audience learns that Boo's father was a strict religious fanatic, who kept Boo from socializing in the community in order to prevent him from causing trouble. The Radley house also symbolically represents isolation and sorrow. Similar to the unwelcoming nature of the home, Boo is isolated indoors, where he is prevented from socializing with other members of the community. Like his neglected home, Boo Radley is subjected to a sad existence and is viewed with suspicion by the majority of the community.
Boo Radley's house has several features that could be considered symbolic or representative of something else.
First, Boo's house is described in shades of gray. The house used to be white, but with time and age, the color has faded. Gray can often represent confusion, which fits in the case of Boo Radley. The kids have no idea who he really is until the end of the book. Furthermore, the color gray can represent a fall from white. White represents purity and innocence. In the eyes of the community and in the eyes of Boo's own father, Boo failed to do what was right. He has forever been in the shadow of the community as a result of his adventures as a teenager.
Boo is considered a ghost in many ways. The house of a ghost is considered haunted, and the children treat the Radley home as such. This house is where the kids find much trouble: the dog dies right there, Jem loses his pants, Radley pecans can kill you, and Scout falls out of the tire in the front yard there.
However, it is also the place where the tree with the knothole provides children with gifts from an unknown giver. Scout receives a blanket from an unknown care-taker during the night of Maudie's fire. Finally, it is in the shadows near this that Jem is rescued by an unknown hero, who is later revealed to be Boo Radley.
This house represents many ideas: confusion, ghosts, the unknown, and a hero in disguise. It also helps develop the theme that things aren't always what they seem.