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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What are five myths about the Radleys' house and their family in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the Radleys live a few doors down from the Finch children. The house is across the street from Miss Maudie's and behind the elementary school. The Radleys' property also has a few oak and nut trees, whose nuts fall into the schoolyard. In chapter 1, Scout tells about how people believe anything associated with the Radleys' house is evil. As a result, school children won't even touch the pecans that fall into the school yard, let alone eat any. Children believe that if they eat the nuts from the Radleys' property, they'll die. Additionally, children won't go after any baseballs that might go into the Radleys' backyard. Scout says, "A baseball hit into the Radley yard was a lost ball and no questions asked" (9). It's as though someone might spontaneously combust from stepping foot into the yard. If that's the case, then no one would even think of knocking on the door to ask permission to retrieve a ball!

Another myth about the house is that it is bad luck. For example, most of those from the black community won't walk on the sidewalk in front of it. Scout explains this myth by saying the following: "A Negro would not pass the Radley Place at night, he would cut across to the sidewalk opposite and whistle as he walked" (9). That superstitious feeling even carries over to Calpurnia who spits when Mr. Radley's body is taken out of the house. The whistling and spitting practices are used to ward off evil spirits or bad luck, apparently. 

Finally, other myths are based on Boo Radley and his activity in and out of the house. First, Stephanie Crawford claims that he lurks through neighborhoods during the night and looks in at windows. Then, Jem perpetuates more myths when he describes Boo as though he is a monster as follows:

"Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that's why his hands were bloodstained . . . There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time" (13).

Not only is Boo believed to be a monster who peeks into windows at night, but he also has a couple of stories (myths) about him misbehaving that circulate through town. The first story involves him joyriding with some Cunningham boys in high school, which lands him in jail; then, the second one has to do with him stabbing his father in the leg with scissors while living at home as an adult. Both stories are used to support superstitious and prejudiced attitudes towards the Radleys and their home. As with all myths, the person hearing the stories must determine which part is real and which part is fabricated.  

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