What Did Boo Radley Do

Why did Boo Radley's father keep him in the house as a teenager in To Kill a Mockingbird?


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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arthur Radley has been a prisoner in his home for years because he was once associated with"the nearest thing to a gang," the Cunninghams from Old Sarum, an area that lies in the county outside Maycomb. One night the young men were arrested on several charges by the town constable. Arthur was with them. When Mr. Radley went to the jail, he promised that there would be no further incidents such as this one, and obtained the release of Boo to his custody.

For Mr. Radley, his son's arrest was a terrible disgrace. According to Maycomb's beadle, Mr. Conner, the boys had been involved in "disorderly conduct, assault and battery, and the use of profane and abusive language in the presence of a female." (Ch.1) When the boys went before the judge on these charges, the judge ordered them sent to the state industrial school. This school provided boys a better secondary education than did most of the schools in the state, and there was no shame connected to going there, although Mr. Radley considered it to be a terrible disgrace. 

If the judge released Arthur, Mr. Radley would see to it Arthur gave no further trouble. Knowing that Mr. Radley's word was his bond, the judge was glad to do so. (Ch.1)

So, while the other boys attended the industrial school, receiving the state's best education—one went on to the state college of Auburn University and became an engineer—the doors of the Radley house were closed every day of the week. Arthur Radley was seen by no one for fifteen years, imprisoned by what Miss Maudie calls his inflexible "foot-washing" Baptist father. After some years, something occurred, but Atticus would not tell Scout and Jem. The town gossip, Miss Stephanie Crawford, contended that she knew what happened. According to her, Arthur was sitting on the floor, cutting out newspaper articles, when his father walked past him. Without warning, Boo drove the scissors into his parent's leg and then calmly pulled it out. Mrs. Radley fled the house, screaming that "Arthur was killing them all." By the time the sheriff arrived, Boo had resumed his previous position and was calmly cutting up the Maycomb Tribune. At that time, he was thirty-three years old, and since then, he has not been seen by anyone outside of the family.

The authorities suggested that Arthur should be sent to Bryce Mental Hospital in Tuscaloosa. But Arthur was not really "crazy, he was high-strung at times," Mr. Radley insisted. It was all right "to shut him up," but Arthur was not a criminal. Since the sheriff could not bring himself to put him in with "Negroes," Arthur was placed in the courthouse basement. After a while, he went back home because the town council declared that Arthur Radley would die of the mold in that damp basement and ordered Mr. Radley to take back his boy.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Boo Radley was locked in the house as a teenager because he was unstable and involved with a group of troublemakers and the family did not want him to go to jail.

The Radley House is “three doors to the south” to the Finches and the children avoid it because it is “inhabited by an unknown entity,” the mysterious “malevolent phantom” Boo Radley (ch 1).  When Scout and Jem were children, the Radleys kept to themselves and rarely left the house.

According to neighborhood legend, when the younger Radley boy was in his teens he became acquainted with [a group of boys that] formed the nearest thing to a gang ever seen in Maycomb. (ch 1)

The boys did not do much more than hang out, but they were the talk of the town.  One night they harassed a beadle and were arrested and sent to “state industrial school.”  Mr. Radley thought it was a disgrace and asked that Arthur be released to his custody, and “Mr. Radley's boy was not seen again for fifteen years.”

Then when day when he was 33 years old, Boo Radley stabbed his father in the leg with scissors.  He was arrested, sent to jail, and once again released to the Radley’s custody—and never seen again.

Boo Radley’s story is a tragic one.  By all accounts, he was not a bad kid.  He simply was bored.  His mental problems were more likely to result of his shamed and reclusive religious zealot father.  By the time he gets to know Scout and Jem, he is just a shy, timid, shell of a man who is terribly lonely but has a good heart.


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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