To Kill a Mockingbird

What is the relationship between Boo Radley and the children in Chapter One?

Chapter 1


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To the children, Boo is only what they have heard from popular legend, and interpreted in their own imaginations. Scout's retelling of Jem's description of Boo shows how her young mind could not yet distinguish between fact and fiction. Jem explains that Boo, "dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that's why his hands were blood-stained - if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off." The children's acceptance of such superstitions as the permanence of raw animal blood shows that they are equally susceptible to accepting the local gossip about the mysterious Boo, as evidenced by Scout's evaluation of Jem's description as "reasonable."

The childish perspective, however easily misled, is also shown in this chapter to probe closer toward truth than the adults are capable of. Dill's comment, "I'm little but I'm old," explains why his height seems disproportionate to his maturity, but also symbolically suggests that "little" people may have a wiser grasp on events than their elders. The physical representation of this facet of childhood is represented in Jem's daring rush into the Radleys' yard, in which he enters a space that has been fundamentally condemned by the entire town. The journey of this one individual against the mores of the entire group, though performed here in fear and on a dare, symbolically speaks toward events that will follow when Atticus defends Tom Robinson in court and Scout breaks up the threatening mob of townspeople. Dill tries to persuade the other two to "make him [Boo] come out" because "I'd like to see what he looks like." His desire for this "seeing" has symbolic relevance to the idea that children, who are as yet still somewhat innocent and uninfluenced by their society, have a desire to see things more truly than adults, and can be capable of understanding the fallacies of adult biases, prejudices, and false accusations.