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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Student Question

Why wasn't Boo Radley sent to reform school in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In chapter one, Scout gives a brief background on Arthur "Boo" Radley's life story, which she learns from local rumors and neighborhood gossip about his past. Jem received most of his information from Miss Stephanie Crawford, who told him that when Boo Radley was a teenager, he became involved with the Cunninghams and was arrested one night for locking Mr. Conner in the courthouse outhouse. The boys were charged with disorderly conduct and a plethora of other lesser charges for their actions. As punishment for their minor crime, the judge decided to send them to the state industrial school. However, Mr. Radley believed that the state industrial school was a disgrace and promised the judge that if he released Arthur into his custody that he would see to it that his son never caused any more trouble. The judge knew that Mr. Radley's word was his bond and released Arthur, who remained secluded inside his home and was not seen for fifteen years.

Mr. Radley was a strict foot-washing Baptist, who was probably extremely embarrassed about his son's actions and did not want him around the Cunninghams, which more than likely affected his decision to not send him to the state industrial school. However, Scout specifically mentions that Mr. Radley believed that the state industrial school was a disgrace, despite its positive reputation as a clean, organized institution. In addition to believing that the state industrial school was a disgrace, Mr. Radley probably felt like he could do a better job of disciplining his child than the state school. The judge was familiar with Mr. Radley and trusted that he would keep Arthur out of trouble, which is why he released him into his father's custody. Tragically, Mr. Radley's methods for keeping Arthur out of trouble are questionable and negatively impact his son's social development. Mr. Radley effectively keeps Arthur secluded in their home using unknown methods and Boo develops an unflattering reputation throughout the community for his reclusive personality.

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