“LORELAI: But he’s our Boo Radley, and we don’t have a Boo Radley, unless you count the troubadour or Pete the pizza guy or the guy who talks to mailboxes.
RORY: Well, I think the point is that every town needs as many Boo Radley’s as they can get.” Gilmore Girls Season 3 Episode 6 – Take the Deviled Eggs.
The only thing I knew about To Kill a Mockingbird before reading the novel was that it involved a recluse named Boo Radley. To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930s and the story is told by 6-year-old Scout Finch. Scout’s father Atticus Finch is defending Tom Robinson, a black man, accused of raping a young white woman in Maycomb County, Alabama. But the story is about so much more than that.
The novel begins when Scout recalls the events that led up to her brother’s arm being broken. From the narrative one gathers that Scout is now much older and looking back on the events of her childhood. Scout tells us that the story begins when Charles Baker Harris, better known as Dill, arrives in Maycomb to spend the summer. Scout and her brother Jem soon befriend Dill and the three of them have various adventures. Most of them involve the house across the street where the Radley family lives. Scout, Jem and Dill are fascinated by the youngest son of the Radley family. His name is Arthur Radley but the children refer to him as Boo as he has not been seen outside for many years. The three of them play games in which they try to get the enigmatic Boo to come outside but they have no luck.
Scout, Jem and Dill’s childhood games later become a thing of the past as the narrative focuses on the trial of Tom Robinson. At Christmas, Scout and Jem receive air rifles as presents from Atticus but he warns them:
“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Finch’s neighbour Miss Maudie Atkinson later explains that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird as they do no harm to anyone and that all they do is sing for the delight of those who hear them.
Figuratively in the novel Tom Robinson, Boo Radley, and Scout and Jem can all be seen as mockingbirds. Robinson is seen as a mockingbird as he is wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit. Scout and Jem’s surname, Finch (which refers to a small, seed-eating songbird), alludes to the idea that they are also mockingbirds as their childhood innocence is lost during the course of the novel. Boo Radley is a mockingbird as the town has made up many stories about him which in the end turn out not to be true. Boo is wronged by the stereotypical views of society without having done anything to deserve it.
Throughout the novel Atticus tries to teach his children to put themselves in other people’s shoes in order to see their point of view. Toward the end of the novel Scout and Jem are attacked by Bob Ewell the father of the young woman who accused Robinson of raping her. Jem’s arm is broken in the attack but the children are saved by Boo Radley. Scout later walks Boo home and as she leaves his porch she stops to look at Maycomb from Radley’s point of view.
The novel ends on a hopeful note with Atticus telling Scout that most people are nice when you finally see them. In the case of Boo Radley it meant when Scout literally saw him but figuratively Atticus was saying that most people are nice when you see things from their perspective. Even though Scout experiences many injustices during her childhood it has not diminished her believe in goodness.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I was captivated by the naïve account of events as Scout explains the events she experienced as she understood them at the time. The southern accent took some getting used to but once you’re accustomed to it, it’s easy enough. In the end I have to agree with Rory that every town needs as many Boo Radley’s as they can get.