Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

What facts are revealed about the history of the Radleys in chapters 1-7 of To Kill a Mockingbird? What gossip and legend about the Radleys is revealed? How do you know the difference between the facts and the gossip?

The rumors surrounding Boo Radley involve him poising pecans, peeping into his neighbors' windows, freezing azaleas by blowing on them, and committing small crimes. The legends surrounding Boo Radley concern various aspects of his criminal past, which are told by the unreliable Miss Stephanie Crawford. The facts surrounding Boo's childhood are told by Miss Maudie in chapter 5.

Expert Answers

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

In the opening chapter of the novel, Scout elaborates on the various legends and rumors surrounding her reclusive neighbor Arthur "Boo" Radley. The children refer to Boo as a "malevolent phantom" and some of the unflattering rumors surrounding Boo include his "stealthy small crimes" throughout the neighborhood. Boo is blamed for nearly every "morbid nocturnal" event and legend has it that people's azaleas freeze whenever Boo breathes on them. The local children also believe that the Radleys poison their pecans, which fall into the schoolyard. Neighborhood legend has it that Boo Radley was arrested alongside the Cunningham boys as a teenager but the judge released him after Mr. Radley promised to keep Boo out of trouble. While this event may be true, it is likely that some parts of the story are exaggerated or made up since the source is Miss Stephanie Crawford, the unreliable neighborhood scold.

Jem also elaborates on Miss Stephanie's rumor that Boo Radley trespasses onto his neighbors' property and peeps into their windows at night. Another legend regarding Boo Radley is that he stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors. While there may be some truth to the legends regarding Boo's run-ins with the law, there is much speculation surrounding these stories and very little context to them.

In chapter 5, Scout speaks to Miss Maudie about Boo Radley and learns the truth about his troubled past. Miss Maudie is a reliable source and tells Scout that Boo was always a respectful, obedient child. She also mentions that Boo's father was a religious fanatic, who was extremely hard on him and is responsible for his reclusive lifestyle. Overall, one can differentiate fact from fiction regarding the Boo Radley's life story by considering the source and using common sense to judge the validity of the rumors.

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

When determining the difference between facts and opinions (or gossip), consider the source and the number of people through which the "facts" are passed before believing anything. For example, Scout receives information abut the Radleys from Jem, who got his information from Stephanie Crawford, who got her information from who knows where from who knows how long ago. When people play "the telephone game," facts are sure to get watered down, lost in translation, and skewed at best. But when a person obtains information from a primary source, such as a witness or participant to an event, the facts are more likely to remain true. One must also decipher the difference between how someone feels about an event or topic, and cold, hard facts.

First of all, as mentioned above, Stephanie Crawford is known to be the community gossip. Gossips pass information around to show that they are important and to get attention. Sometimes they can jazz up a story simply to feel more important and so people will want to listen to them. What Stephanie Crawford can't do is change court documents.  For instance, Scout mentions an episode when Boo Radley was younger and out messing around with some Cunninghams one night. They were driving around the square backwards and an officer, Mr. Connor, stopped them. They locked the officer in the court's outhouse, so charges were brought against them. The boys appeared before a judge and were sentenced to go to an engineering school in Auburn. The Cunninghams went and Boo Radley did not on account of his father thinking it was a disgrace. All of these facts were obtained through Stephanie Crawford, but could also be challenged if anyone asked for copies of the case from the public records department.

However, Stephanie Crawford goes on to say that in an effort to keep Boo Radley out of jail, Mr. Radley claimed he would never let anything like that happen again if the county released his son to him. Scout explains what happened next as follows:

"Nobody knew what form of intimidation Mr. Radley employed to keep Boo out of sight, but Jem figured that Mr. Radley kept him chained to the best most of the time. Atticus said no, it wasn't that sort of thing, that there were other ways of making people into ghosts" (11).

Now within this passage, Jem is making up speculative stories that could be passed around town as fact. Luckily, Atticus jumps in to correct Jem's theory but ends it ambiguously. So the facts seem to state that Boo Radley got into some trouble and had to be on house arrest by his father. The gossip starts when people start to speculate how Mr. Radley has kept Boo in the house for so many years.

A lot of gossip, though, turns into creepy legends over time and some of the people of the community respond superstitiously. For example, when Mr. Radley passed by Scout and Calpurnia one time, Cal said, "There goes the meanest man ever God blew breath into," and then she spits into the yard (12). Scout also explains that no one from the black community will walk past the Radley house in the dark and kids in the school yard won't eat the nuts that fall from the Radley's trees for fear of death. Anything outrageous and unproven by court documents, scientific research or a primary witness should not be taken as truth.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team