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First impressions of people are often lasting impressions,especially in the minds of children. Unfortunately, these impressionstend to be negative, thus, discrediting the individual who conveys theimpression and causing the observers to inaccurately assess his truecharacter. Many times these impressions, aided by misunderstanding andprejudgment, cause unjust discrimination against an individual. Tokill a Mockingbird depicts the themes of misunderstanding andprejudice which portray Arthur (Boo) Radley as a villain. Through theprogressive revelation of Radley's character, the children realizethat their negative impressions and fears toward him were unfounded.Through gradual stages of change, Jem's, Scout's, and Dill'simpressions of Radley are dramatically altered, bringing them to therealization that he is not the evil man he was thought to be, butrather a caring individual of distinguished bravery, and truly, thehero of the novel. In the beginning of the novel many falsehoods portray Boo Radleyas a villain . These deluding opinions, very apparent in the adultcommunity, are well illustrated by Miss Stephanie Crawford. She helpsto mislead the children's impressions.
Since Atticus, although ofteninterrogated, but not wanting to create a breach of etiquette, refusesto speak about the Radleys. Therefore, Jem receives most of hisinformation from Miss Stephanie Crawford, a neighborhood scold, whoinsists she knows the whole truth about the Radleys. It is fromCrawford that the children learn of Radley's scissor attack on hisfather and other such interesting rumors. Thus, Arthur Radley islabelled as a "hant", a possibly insane and dangerous man, and the"malevolent phantom." The latter, coming from the fact that Radley hadnot been seen for many years, and was believed to be responsible forpetty crimes around the neighbourhood. It is not solely Crawford whodisplays her distaste towards the Radleys, Calpurnia, also sharesthese feelings of hatred. Her dislike of Radley is well described inan offhand remark to the children: "T
here goes the meanest man everGod blew breath into." (p.12) The children, aided by neighborhoodlegends, make their own conclusions about Radley. Based on prejudiceand myth, Jem compiles a very detailed description of Radley: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that's why his hands were bloodstained-if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time. (p.13) Dill, through his curious and innovative character, also helps toheighten and shed light on the mystery around the Radley house.
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(p.13) Furthermore, on top of all the misjudgments brought on by thechildren, Radley is discriminated upon by the general public. "People said he went out at night when the moon was down, and peeped in windows. When people's azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he breathed on them. Any stealthy small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work." (p.9) At this point, Radley's impressions are clearly outlined as beingextremely unfavourable and highly discriminatory of his nature.Perhaps it is by the children's burning desire to understand Radley,that their impressions of him evolve. In the first part of the novel,the first impressions of Radley are made. Though they are not easilyforgotten or changed, they are progressively altered, making Radley'strue nature reveal itself. Evidently, it is Atticus who first tries to discourage thechildren from their fantasies about the Radley's, but, through theevents with Jem's pants, the neighborhood fire and the presents in thetree, the children themselves begin to realize that Radley is more ofa friend than a villain. Although Atticus' attempt at dissuasion isnot totally successful, it is aided by Miss Maudie who helps Scoutmake an important realization: "Do you think they're true, all those things they say about BÄÄMr.
Arthur?" "What things?" I told her... "No, child," she said, "that is a sad house. I remember Arthur Radley when he was a boy. He always spoke nicely to me, no matter what folks said he did. Spoke as nicely as he knew how." (p.46) Here, Scout realizes that her opinions and judgements of Radley maynot be all that accurate. This message said by Miss Maudie, a highlyrespected figure by the children, ignites the evolution of
Scout'simpressions of Radley. In the incident with Jem's pants, the childrenagain come to the realiz ation that their former opinions of Radley areprobably not completely true: In the children's attempt to get abetter view of the Radley's, they are spotted and scared off by NathanRadley's shot gun. In their haste, Jem's pants are caught on thefence, and left behind. That night, when Jem returns to reclaim hispants, he is overwhelmed. Later, he explains the events to Scout: "When I went back for my breechesÄÄthey were all tangle when I was gettin' out of 'em, I couldn't get 'em loose. When I went backÄÄ" Jem took a deep breath. "When I went back, they were folded across the fence... like they were expectin' me." "AcrossÄÄ" "And something elseÄÄ" Jem's voice was flat. "Show you when we get home. They'd been sewed up. Not like a lady sewed 'em, like something I'd try to do. All crooked. It's almost likeÄÄ" (p.58) Here is the beginning of a serious change of "heart" towards Radley.Though he still seems mysterious, the children's fears are slowlydiminished. The next indication of a "friendship" with Radley, comeswhen objects start to mysteriously appear in a tree knot-hole near theRadley's house. The hole, at first is thought to be a child's secrethiding place, but soon that notion is discarded and the children beginto claim the objects: a ball of twine, an arrowhead knife, a stick ofchewing gum, Indian head pennies, a pocket watch, a spelling medal andsilk carvings. Less than two weeks later we found a whole packet of chewing gum, which we enjoyed, the fact that everything on the Radley place was poison having slipped Jem's memory. The following week the knot-hole yielded a tarnished medal. Jem showed it to Atticus, who said it was a spelling medal, that before we were born the Maycomb County schools had spelling contests and awarded medals to the winners. (p.60) The finding and accepting of objects in the Radley's symbolizes thatthe children have begun to trust and accept Radley as a more of afriend.
As Scout mentions in the quote, Jem even forgets about hisoriginal fear that everything on the Radley lot is poisoned. Thefollowing good deed by Radley is at the neighborhood fire. As thechildren are standing outside in the cool night, someone, presumablyRadley, unnoticeably slips a blanket around Scout. "Someday, maybe Scout can thank him for covering her up." "Thank who?" I asked. "Boo Radley. You were so busy looking at the fire you didn't know it when he put the blanket around you." (p.71-72) These small acts of kindness set the stage for the last and finalphase of the novel which truly distinguishes Radley as the hero of ToKill a Mockingbird. It is only in the end of the novel, and through Radley's act ofcourage and heroism, that the children realize his true nature.Through his kindness, love and devotion to the children, he savestheir lives and teaches them an invaluable lesson. Near the end of thenovel, on their way home from a pageant, the children are attacked byBob Ewell. Ewell, with full intention to kill the children, is stoppedand killed by Boo Radley. The rescuing of the children's lives is seenas an act of courage and strength which truely distinguishes Radleythe hero of the novel. It is at this point, that Scout finallyunderstands that Radley's intentions were not evil but good. Throughhis act of herosim, Radley is accepted as a friend. Boo was our neighbour. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of goodluck pennies, and our lives. But neighbours give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad. (p.278) This is a very special realization for Scout, she acknowledgesRadley's good nature and kindess.
She realizes that Radley had giventhem their lives, the most important gift of all.
Radley has indeedfound a place in the children's hearts, and through his naturalgoodness he comes out as the true hero of To Kill a Mockingbird.Scout probably learns an invaluable lesson through all of this: neverprejudge others, because first impressions, although usually lastingimpressions, are not always the true impressions. Through many fundamental stages in the novel, the character ofBoo Radley is slowly unraveled depicting his true self. From lookingat first impressions, evolving, growing and changing impressions,Radley's character is gradually exposed. This growth and process ofchange makes the children realize that prejudgment of people generallyinaccurately and negativily represents an individual. There is animportant lesson to be learned from this novel: never prejudge peoplebased on limited knowledge and generalize on first impressions,because these often hinder more than help. Perhaps it is alsoimportant to remember that the first impressions of Boo Radleyportrayed him as a villain, and yet truly he was quite the opposite ofthat. Maybe if we stop prejudging others we will see somethingentirely different in them. We should never ignorantly prejudgeothers, for these people end up being the true heros of our world.
BibliographyLee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird.