She has the plot and the main players in mind and now she needs a special name for a character unlike any other. She invents a surname and with the aid of her attorney sister, searches local courthouse records to be sure the choice will not offend area residents. Satisfied her selection is unique, she adds a childhood utterance used by her father to invoke fright and breathes life into the perfect malevolent phantom to mystify Scout and Jem Finch. Introduced at the beginning of Harper Lee’s prize-winning novel, Boo Radley lurks mysteriously in the background as the story progresses in Maycomb, Alabama. Little did Ms. Lee realize that this furtive fictive personality would become a worldwide cultural icon.
Drive to downtown Mobile and stop by Boo Radley’s bar for a drink or fly to Capetown to dine in a restaurant that bears his name. One can purchase ladies’ clothing in Australia with the Boo Radley label. A rock band in Cincinnati, a law-school seminar at William and Mary, half-dozen popular songs, a champion West Highland Terrier and a popular British musical group are just samples of the thousands that have appropriated the name of a man who exists only in the imaginations of To Kill a Mockingbird fans across the globe.
The mystique of Maycomb’s lone recluse has gnawed at more souls that those of Scout, Jem and Dill. It seems the world has entered into a virtual relationship with his identity. Student essays, professional papers, psychological profiles, tweets and blogs have explored the psyche and social ramifications of Boo Radley’s character. Why?
On this 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, Arthur “Boo” Radley still fascinates the reader in much the same way he intrigued the Finch kids and Dill. Ms. Lee wrote this story in an era when children and adults with special needs were often tucked out of sight either at home or in institutions. The secrecy could not help but engender suspicion and childhood fears.
Student essays, professional papers, psychological profiles, tweets and blogs have explored the psyche and social ramifications of Boo Radley’s character.”
Her portrayal of Boo does reflect those fears but, in a masterful stroke of the pen, she adds an uncharacteristic sense of trust to the mix. Subsequently, Boo Radley leads the reader to a poignant reconciliation of disparate feelings of fear and trust. So, thanks to Harper Lee for divining the name for a character that helps shed light on the plight of many misunderstood souls that dwell on the margins of society.
The Alabama Humanities Foundation congratulates Harper Lee on the 50th anniversary of her remarkable achievement and for helping to release the Boo in each of us.
Visit ahf.net/mockingbird for more information.
Written by: Bob W.