What do we learn about Boo Radley’s universe of obligation in Chapter 8 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? Do his actions in Chapter 8 reveal him to be similar to or different from the person...

What do we learn about Boo Radley’s universe of obligation in Chapter 8 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? Do his actions in Chapter 8 reveal him to be similar to or different from the person Scout and Jem think he is? How does this refute the gossip and legend about the Radleys that the children spread?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 8 of To Kill a Mockingbird, we learn that Arthur (Boo) Radley has fulfilled yet another act of benevolence.

In Chapter 8, Maycomb is facing the coldest winter it has had since 1885. After a day of Jem and Scout playing in the light dusting of snow, Calpurnia must set every fireplace in the house ablaze to warm up the house even a tiny bit. That night, the neighborhood wakes to discover Miss Maudie's house has caught on fire. Atticus instructs his children to stand in front of the Radleys' gate, far away from the fire, while the fire is being put out.

After the emergency, while back safely in the Finches' kitchen drinking hot cocoa, Atticus, Scout, and Jem are all three surprised to discover Scout is wearing a "brown woolen blanket" around her shoulders. Jem recalls seeing Mr. Nathan Radley, Arthur's brother, down at the fire helping out, which means that Arthur was left alone in the Radleys' house unsupervised. Upon remembering seeing Mr. Nathan down at the fire, Jem is the first to deduce that Arthur must have sneaked up behind Scout and draped the blanket around her shoulders, and, as Atticus explains, Scout was "so busy looking at the fire" she didn't even realize Arthur had put a blanket around her. Yet, when Atticus suggests they wrap up the blanket and return it to Arthur, Jem becomes upset, fearing Arthur will get into trouble with Mr. Nathan, and Atticus agrees they should keep the blanket a secret.

The incident in this chapter shows us a couple of things about Arthur's universe of obligation. First, it shows that Arthur is obliged to yield to the authority of his other family members. If his family members, like his father and now his older brother, feel that Arthur should never leave the house and never be in contact with the world around him, then Arthur is obligated to adhere to their decisions. At the same time, we learn that Arthur objects to his confinement and, therefore, attempts to make contact with the outside world in any secretive way he can, just as he did when he left Scout and Jem gifts in the knothole of the oak tree. More importantly, we learn that Arthur is reaching out to the children in his own secret way because he genuinely cares about them. In caring for the children and reaching out to them, he is fulfilling his own obligation to himself, not just to his brother. We can sense he genuinely cares because, like a father, he saw the two Finch children standing out in the freezing cold night and did his best to take care of the smallest child. Hence, caring for the children is the second aspect of Arthur's universe of obligation.

In addition, Arthur's action in Chapter 8 completely dispels all rumors that Arthur is an insane murderer and a threat to all who come near him. In reality, he is a very kind and caring person.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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