Boo Radley Prejudice

In To Kill a Mockingbird, how is Boo Radley discriminated against?

Boo Radley is discriminated against in Maycomb through the exaggerated stories told about him. He is painted as bogeyman responsible for all that goes wrong in the town. Rather than try to get to know him, the townspeople cling to their myths. This provides a parallel plot to the Tom Robinson story. As with Robinson, prejudice rather than reason turns people against Boo.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Boo Radley story provides a parallel plot to the Tom Robinson story. Both are examples of prejudice. In the Robinson story, the white population of Maycomb automatically assumes that a white person must be believed over a black person. Therefore, when Mayella Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of rape, the white citizens in town don't feel they need a trial; they know who is in the wrong and what should be done. They resent Atticus for mounting an honest defense of Robinson, especially when he shows that Tom could not possibly have raped Mayella as described. They would rather condone the lie that Tom raped Mayella than have their prejudices challenged.

Likewise, Maycomb residents discriminate against Boo for his reclusive life in a rundown home. They don't need to actually have met him or know anything concrete about him: the rumor mill supplies the information that he is the root of all evil. If something goes wrong in the town, it must be the fault of Boo Radley.

Scout buys into theses exaggerated and false stories of Radley's otherness. Just as the townspeople assume Robinson is guilty of rape, Scout believes Boo's intentions are malevolent. Even when he performs such kind acts as sewing up Jem's pants, putting a blanket around Scouts shoulders on a cold night, or leaving gifts for Jem and Scout in the hollow of the tree, Scout persists in an irrational prejudice against him. This only ends when he saves Jem and her from Bob Ewell.

The point of the Radley story is that prejudice comes in many forms, but whatever the case, it is better to get to know a person before we judge them by an arbitrary standard.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Boo Radley's public identity has been created by the people of Maycomb. However, it is a false identity and by no means an accurate expression of who he really is. He is a local legend, a bogeyman, a shadowy figure constructed out of scraps of gossip and hearsay. Inevitably, then, he is subjected to prejudice and general incomprehension. Because people do not know the real Boo, all they have is the Boo of legend, the scary, weird guy who needs to be hidden away from "respectable" society.

The children also initially participate in the general prejudice toward Boo. They act out what they imagine to be scenes from his life; they creep up to the door of the Radley residence to try to get a glimpse of him. Children can be very cruel, particularly to those who are different in any way, so Boo is an ideal figure for sport. Yet, it is the children who eventually come to see a side of Boo that the adults never get to see. It is instructive that he tries to reach out to Scout and Jem by placing objects for them in a knothole in a tree. This is the point in the story when we can begin to cut through all the prejudice and gain a glimpse of the real Boo. The children, though initially prejudiced towards Boo, are young enough to be able to change their perceptions. In his own way, Boo seems to realize this, which is why he makes the effort to reach out to Scout and Jem.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Community rumors about Boo's reputation serve as the act of discrimination in question. He is thought to be a violent criminal, despite the fact he is a quiet, softspoken harmless character who loves children.

The town blames him for any misdeed that occurs, and people largely see him as a reclusive reject. This reputation is only enhanced by the fact that his father keeps him away from outside influences.

The stigma that has been attached to Boo's persona is the act of discrimination that sets him apart from the "normal" townspeople.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

He is discriminated against by the entire town as they make him out to be the boogey-man who is responsible for every evil or criminal deed that occurs in the town.  He becomes the "malevolent phantom" to all of the townspeople and they judge him for it, even though all he has done is stay in his house. bothering no one for years on end.  They do this because he is different; and people who are different are often ostracized by society, and held accountable for an entire slew of perceptions and judgments that are unfairly tacked onto them.  In the middle of chapter one, Scout describes how

"People said [Boo] went out at night...and peeped in windows.  When people's azaleas froze...it was because he had breathed on them.  Any stealthy small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work."

So, all of Maycomb's ills were tied to Boo Radley, and he becomes a legend that small children are afraid of, whose parents have passed their prejudices down to.

In addition to the town disriminating against him, his own father is the one that has kept him locked in the house nearly his entire life.  Mr. Radley is a mean, cruel man whose stern way of raising children allowed Boo no leniency the one time he got into trouble with the law. That kind of discrimination can quickly teach a child to not believe in himself, and it can destroy one's self-esteem.

Jem, Scout and Dill practice a form of discrimination as they accept the town's presumptions about Boo, and as a result, make him the center fascination for many of their challenges and games in the summers.  Atticus tells them to stop, and that Boo had the right "to stay inside free from the attentions of inquisitive children".  He feels that they are bothering Boo, being rude, and imposing the town's perceptions of who he is on him.

I hope that these examples help; good luck!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team