13 May 2014

Jem, Scout, Dill and Boo Radley Essay: Childhood World in To Kill a Mockingbird English Exam

Analyze the childhood world of Jem, Scout, and Dill and their relationship with Boo Radley in Part One.

Part one of the novel focusses on childhood life, representing the theme of innocence, but also of prejudice. The novel is told from Scout’s point of view, with the limitations of a child she doesn’t understand everything that happens or why. She states quite blankly ‘Radley pecans would kill you’. What’s ironic about this is that what she says is actually this point of view of the Maycomb townspeople: it’s just something she’s repeating without questioning it. Sometimes she makes perceptive interpretations because her innocence is also free of prejudice. She can see through the pretentions of Maycomb: “bought cotton”, she says, is ‘a polite term for doing nothing’. At times she becomes contaminated by others’ prejudices as where she says “he’s just a nigger”. Atticus tries hard to correct her. Lee uses the dynamic between him and his children to show the negative influence of Maycomb society. Though he tries to bring them up well, they’re so immersed in the values typical of 1930s southern America, it sometimes comes out in their language. Lee is using the eyes of a child to question a society she knew intimately from her own childhood.

The first section deals with Boo Radley, who dominates their imagination in the ‘Boo Radley game’, but who we only see vaguely, and then from a distance. Boo Radley is one of the mockingbirds in the book, but at first, we see him (through the eyes of prejudice) as a monster. This brings out the theme of being guilty until proven innocent, a theme brought to deadly effect in the Tom Robinson plot. At first, we scoff at Scout’s childish superstitions and fear of Boo, as where she talks of a ‘malevolent phantom’. She states quite plainly as fact that he ‘dined on raw squirrels’, ‘cats’ and says matter of factly, that’s why his hands were ‘always covered in blood’. The way Lee writes, it’s almost like a fairytale monster made real: it’s a weird mix of plain simple style with outlandish ‘facts’ which we can hardly believe are true. We think at first this is just childish fantasy, then Lee keeps repeating ‘People said...’ and we realise the whole town is full of this gossip: it’s the adults too. Childhood monsters are sinister - to a point. What’s really sinister is the witch-hunt mentality of the town, which comes to a brutal conclusion with the guilty verdict on Tom Robinson.

The name ‘Boo’ suggests childish scaring games and brings in the theme of fear: of the unknown. Boo is described as an ‘unknown entity’: the very unknown-ness is what scares them. Scout focusses heavily on Boo at the start of the novel, giving this concept of childish monsters a lot of emphasis. It’s hard for us to tell what’s real and what’s not, which may echo the fears and prejudice at the later trial as Atticus strives to uncover what really happened (and what didn’t). By making this parallel, Lee shows up how thin the veneer of civilization is in the adult world: laid over fear of monsters. Atticus tells the kids to stop ‘tormenting’ Boo, which we later link to the tormenting of Tom Robinson. The kids are attracted to Boo, ‘fascinated’ by him as much as they’re scared, just as Mayella is fascinated by the strangeness of the black man.

Scout narrates a history of how Boo became a recluse: the punishment of ‘being locked up for fifteen years’ is out of proportion to the crime. We get the feel that his father may have made him this way through a cold brutality, which is somewhat disturbing. Scout says ‘they were all scared of him’. Because of Scout’s earlier lies though, it hard to distinguish fact from fiction, as in the Robinson trial, and we’re left with a unsettling feel, that we can’t get to the bottom of it. We look to Atticus for an objective judgement and he says ‘no’ Boo wasn’t chained to the bed, but “there were other ways of making people into ghosts”. It’s a disturbing image of someone alive but dead at the same time, and taps into the theme of how people can be corrupted and psychologically destroyed. The kids become obsessed with making Boo Radley ‘come out’. This quest symbolises the quest for truth: when he finally does, he speaks ‘in the voice of a child afraid of the dark’. He’s not fearful and not as he’s been described. The kids’ curiosity almost becomes a monster in its own right, dragging into the light something that doesn’t want to be seen. Ultimately, it’s a let-down, and she says “I never saw him again”. This relentless hunt builds tension but ultimately the climax is an utter anti-climax. The hunt for Boo could represent our fears, prejudice, and the hunt for truth, where the real monster is ourselves. The real monster in Maycomb is the people of Maycomb.
The author, , is an Oxford graduate, outstanding-rated English Language and Literature teacher and of ages 10-18 in the British education system. In 2012, she was nominated for Pearson's Teaching Awards. As a private tutor, she raises grades often from C to A. Her writing is also featured in The Huffington Post. She offers private tuition in the Haywards Heath area, West Sussex.