It’s Sunday, which means it’s discussion time. This is when I write to think more deeply about books, why we read, and why literature is so important in our lives. Today is the last essay installment in the Stories collection, which aims to explore four of my favourite books, discussing characters and their relationships with each other, and how they are affected by predominant symbols in the story. I will have a final post to wrap the collection up next week, but for now, here is the final essay in the Stories series…
To Kill a Mockingbird
In which we explore Scout and Boo’s relationship with regards to The Radley House
Scout and Boo’s relationship differs slightly from others in this collection, because Boo doesn’t make a physical appearance until the end of the book. However, there are ways we can see their relationship developing without being fully introduced to Boo. Scout Finch is our narrator throughout the story. She lives with her brother, Jem, her father, Atticus, and their nurse and cook, Calpurnia. She is a young girl, the story beginning aged 6, and ending aged 9, and she is very independent in how she thinks and feels about certain things, such as racism and gender tradition. Boo Radley is a neighbour of the Finches and is known for never leaving his house, and is often described as a hermit. He is assumed to be mentally unstable, and goes out only at nights to hunt and eat squirrels and cats. Most blame him for unexplainable happenings in the county of Maycomb, where the novel is set. Boo and Scout are neighbours. Scout develops, to some extent, an obsession with Boo Radley, and her and Jem often try and get him to leave his house. The Radley House is an important symbol in this relationship. It symbolises fear and mystery, particularly through the depth of description, paired with character assumptions of Boo. The house has a tree on it’s threshold, which comes into play later in the novel.
Boo and Scout don’t actually meet until the end of the book, but their relationship is prominent from the very beginning. Despite not ever meeting, Scout is infatuated with the man who never leaves his house, and with the rumours floating around about him. Deep down, she wants to know if he is truly as others say he is. They describe him as an ‘unknown entity’ and a ‘malevolent phantom’, but they do not know his honest character. The Radley House is introduced in the first chapter, being described as ‘jutted’, ‘darkened’ and ‘drunkenly guarded’. This gives it a very gothic vibe, not unlike a haunted house. The idea of Boo being a ghostly figure supports this. This shows that Boo’s personality is supposedly reflected through the house’s appearance. Scout trusting other’s opinions about Boo and his house also brings in the theme of innocence, and how Scout has not matured enough to fully form her own opinions at the beginning of the book. The children are scared of the Radley House, because they believe terrible things happen to people who cross the threshold, which is why Boo Radley is the way he is. The main connection between Scout and Boo here is the house, as it is the only physical representation of Boo as a character. This is the only thing that Scout has to judge Boo on, and because of the way the house is described, the judgement is not a good one, but neither is it fair. The idea of prejudice shines through here, which becomes a main theme through the later trial of Tom Robinson, but it is clear that Scout is judging Boo solely on appearance. However, instead of this being a case of black and white, it is the appearance of a physical object, rather than a person.
Boo begins to leave presents in a hole in the tree of the Radley House threshold. These gifts include chewing gum, coins and medals. Through this, the Radley House continues to be a part of Scout’s life, but instead of just through her figurative imaginings of Boo inside the house, there is now a physical connection. The gifts are one of the main things that connect Boo and Scout in the book. It brings Boo to life, rather than just being a ‘phantom’ in a house, by representing himself in the objects. Miss Maudie, another neighbour of the Finches, tells the story of Boo’s childhood, and how he was under the strict supervision of his father, which led people to believe Boo became crazy being honed up inside. Again, this brings Boo’s character to life more, and the house becomes a device for why people think of Boo as crazy. Scout is excluded from the fun when Jem and a friend, Dill, plan to try and touch the Radley House. She isn’t involved because she is seen as too young. This turns the house into a symbol of maturity, and how it shows the difference in the innocence of Scout, and the slightly more mature nature of Jem and Dill. This idea is extended later in the novel. After the thrill that comes from touching the Radley House, Scout and Jem find carved soap figures in the tree as a final gift. This shows the house continuing to be bought to life through the personalised soap figures, as they are carved into the shape of the two children, and again makes Boo seem more human and connected to the world, and Scout in particular.
After the gifts in the tree cease to appear, Boo is hardly mentioned, as the story turns it’s attention to the trial of Tom Robinson, the main plot point in the book. After the trial, Scout points out that her fear of the Radley Hosue has decreased, or ceased to exist entirely. This shows that Scout is growing up and becoming more mature, particularly after being exposed to a more adult world through the trial. This also goes back to a point made earlier about how the Radley House, or fear of the Radley House, can be an indicator of innocence developing into maturity, especially in Scout’s character. Her lack of interest in the house could also show that she as begun to respect Boo’s privacy, another way of showing she has matured through what she has experienced in the trial. In the final chapters of the book, Jem and Scout are attacked by Bob Ewell, who is the father of the young girl who Tom Robinson is accused of raping. Boo rescues the children from Mr Ewell, and takes them home. When in the Finch’s home, he is described as a fragile man with a ‘thin frame’, meaning it must have taken great strength for him to save the children. This shows he is a kind and courageous man, and nothing like anyone described him to be. With the appearance of Boo Radley, and Scout coming to a full understanding of who he is, her decreased fear of the Radley House is suddenly explainable. She is growing up, and has come to respect Boo a lot more. After everything settles down after the attack, Scout walks Boo home. She stands on the threshold of the house, but instead of looking towards it like she used to, she looks out from it, onto the street. She is finally found a moral connection with Boo, seeing things from his eyes. As her father once said, “you can never really understand person until you consider things from his point of view” (Lee, 31). Scout now understands why Boo liked to stay inside, because she has experienced the prejudice in the town, and understands why he wouldn’t want to be a part of that.
To conclude, Boo and the Radley House help the reader to realise the growth in Scout’s maturity throughout the novel. Scout’s relationship is always there in the background of the story, and is occasionally mentioned, the majority of the time in relation to her growing up. Despite not being fully introduced to Boo’s character, we see a major development, from what he was assumed to be at the beginning, to what he ends up actually being in the end. This is the perfect way to show prejudice, and how people assume to be something because of the way they live. This is how Scout sees Boo, and as she matures, and is faced with the problem of prejudice, so does her opinion of Boo. The Radley House, and Scout’s relationship with Boo, develops from being a symbol of fear, to a way of measuring Scout’s maturity levels.
If anyone has any thoughts on anything written here, then please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, as it will be very interesting to see what others have found when reading this particular book.
Seeing as this is the final installment in this (very exciting) collection of essays, here is a small conclusion to round up everything I’ve spoken about over the past four weeks.
This essay collection was comprised to explore character relationships, and how they can be developed over the course of the novel, as well as looking closer at narrative theories and symbolism. They successfully communicate how each of the separate character connections are formed, developed and closed, through the use of one main physical symbol.
If each of these essays can prove that physical symbols play an important part in character relationships, then we can track this across a wider range of literature. This is just a small selection of books, part of a much larger collection. Each of the stories referenced in these essays are from a different genre; modern classic, children’s fantasy, historical fiction, and young adult fiction. Even in this wide group of genres, the formula can still be applied. How characters come together can be tracked back to something physical in their lives, that plays a big part in the overall narrative. But what does this tell us about other books? Surely if this is proof, we can start to see the formula in action in every book we read. For example, Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester’s relationship can be symbolised by the chestnut tree, or how Gatsby and Daisy’ relationship can be symbolised by the green light across the water.
Each of these separate essays tell a story; the story of a relationship developing. The importance is how they come together to communicate a broader narrative. Collaboratively, they show how readers can begin to find links in the books that are part of their own reading journey, and teaches about the importance of using symbolism in literature.
Next week I will be discussing how I went about studying the stories I read for this project, what I have learnt from my experience, and how I want to apply it to my reading in the future.
Until next time…