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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Why does Jem believe Boo Radley never leaves his house?

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Jem actually has a couple of theories about exactly why Boo Radley does not come out of the house.  In chapter one he said that he thought Mr. Radley kept him chained to a bed.  Later Scout says Jem told her they had killed him and stuffed him up the chimney.  However, these somewhat melodramatic theories reflect the fact that Jem, as well as most of the town, think that Mr. Radley is somehow keeping Boo from leaving the house, first because of the disturbing the peace incident and then because of the scissors incident.  Thus they are all somewhat surprised when after Mr. Radley's death, Boo still does not leave the house.

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According to Scout, why does Boo Radley never come out of his house?

The author uses Scout to tell the story of Boo Radley to Dill. Scout has gotten her information from a nosy neighbor, Miss Stephanie. Boo was, according to Ms. Stephanie, a rowdy young man who drove backwards around the town and gave the sheriff trouble when he tried to arrest them. Boo's father grounded him severely and would not him leave the house. There is a rumor that Boo stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors, leading to Boo's being locked in the basement of the courthouse. He eventually returned home but is hardly ever seen or heard from.

By using a child to tell this story, and letting the reader know that the information came from a neighborhood gossip, the author is using a literary technique called "the unreliable narrator." The reader is not sure what is true and what is fantasy and rumor. This is a classic way for a writer to create suspense and to foreshadow possible future events.

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In Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Jem think Boo Radley's reason is for never coming out of his house?

At the end of Chapter 23, Jem and Scout are talking about why people are the way they are.  Scout cannot understand why people treat others differently when, as Atticus tells her, "everybody’s family’s just as old as everybody else’s."  Scout concludes that folks are just folks, so why don't they get along?

Jem tells Scout that he believed that same sentiment when he was younger, but now, he connects it to Boo Radley and his odd behavior: "it’s because he wants to stay inside."  Jem understands that sometimes, there are just times when humans are cruel to each other, and people like Boo Radley shy away from that cruelty.  Even though inherently humans are created equal, as the Founding Fathers would put it, humans will still treat others differently because of outside differences.  Maybe Boo Radley is different and will be treated so (as he already is just by being a recluse) or perhaps he does not want to witness humanity's cruelty.

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