What is the role of Atticus in the children's relationship to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The children are fascinated with Boo Radley, but Atticus tells him to leave them alone.

The entire town of Maycomb seems obsessed with Boo Radley.  He is a recluse who has not left his house since he was a teenager.  He has kind of a checkered past, but he is basically harmless and Atticus knows it.  He tells his children to leave it alone when they ask about Boo.

He said Atticus never talked much about the Radleys: when Jem would question him Atticus’s only answer was for him to mind his own business and let the Radleys mind theirs, they had a right to; but when it happened Jem said Atticus shook his head and said, “Mm, mm, mm.” (Ch. 1)

When Dill comes to Maycomb, he is passionately curious about Boo Radley.  He decides that Boo Radley is just misunderstood, and wants to make him come out.  The children always enjoyed acting out stories in the yard, and Boo Radley becomes a favorite.  Atticus does not approve.  He feels that the Radleys have faced enough trouble, and forbids his children from re-enacting their story on the lawn.

The children do not forget about Boo Radley.  They do not tell Atticus about the gifts he leaves for them in the tree, but they do ask him if Nathan told them the truth about the tree being sick when he cemented the knot hole.  Atticus is again evasive, not wanting his children to be near the Radley place.

Dill gets the idea of leaving a note for Boo, and they try to get it to him. Dill holds a bell to warn them if Atticus comes by, and Jem does not succeed in leaving the note.  He shows it to Atticus, who asks why the children are so intent on getting him to come out.

Dill said, “We thought he might enjoy us…” and dried up when Atticus looked at him.

“Son,” he said to Jem, “I’m going to tell you something and tell you one time: stop tormenting that man. That goes for the other two of you.” (Ch. 5)

Atticus tells them that Boo and the Radleys deserve their privacy.  This does not stop them.  They want to get a peek at Boo.  They try doing it at night when they won’t be seen.  Unfortunately, Jem loses his pants.  He tells Atticus that he was playing strip poker, and sneaks out to get them later.  He finds that Boo sewed them up so he would not get in trouble.

The transition in their relationship with Boo Radley and Atticus’s part in it happens when Scout finds a blanket on her shoulders during the fire at Miss Maudie’s house.  Jem immediately spills everything to Atticus, worried that he will tell Nathan Radley about the blanket and get Boo in trouble.  Atticus understands.

It was obvious that he had not followed a word Jem said, for all Atticus said was, “You’re right.  We’d better keep this and the blanket to ourselves. Someday, maybe, Scout can thank him for covering her up.” (Ch. 8)

Atticus does tell Jem not to let the incident with the blanket inspire him to “further glory.”  He wants the children to leave Boo alone.  In the end, it is Boo who saves them, from Bob Ewell.  Scout is very polite to him.  Atticus responds by thanking Boo for his children.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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