The Radley place is a subject of great fascination to Scout, Jem and Dill because of its mysterious inhabitant who the children have nicknamed as “Boo Radley”.
Boo Radley according to Scout is a “malevolent phantom” that the kids had never seen, even though people said he existed.
The people of Maycomb said that he went out only when the moon was high, and peeped into windows. Any stealthy crimes committed in Maycomb were the works of Boo Radley. The people were terrified of the Radley Place, and would try their best to avoid passing it or having anything to do with it.
The mysterious anonymity of Boo made the children obsessed with him. Jem gave a “reasonable description” of Boo Radley, claiming he was about six and a half feet tall.
According to him, Boo dined on raw squirrels, cats and rats, which is why his hands were always stained red. “There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were all yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.”
Talking about Boo gave the children the same kind of thrill as telling scary stories around a campfire. They had never seen him in person, so they never completely believed he existed, and also felt free to make up wild stories about him. They made up long, horrifying make-believe stories and acted them out for the fun of it.
Their dramas were melancholy and woven out of the various legends they had heard about Boo. They made up the character of Mrs. Radley as well. “Mrs. Radley had been beautiful until she married Mr. Radley and lost all her money. She also lost most of her teeth, her hair and her right forefinger.”
However, the children were not only scared of Boo, but also seemed to sympathize with him, and would try to walk around in his skin, as Atticus always said. For example, when attempting to lure Boo out of his house, Dill said ,” We’re askin’ him real politely to come out sometimes, and tell us what he does in there—we said we wouldn’t hurt him and we’d buy him an ice cream.”
Boo raises an important question to the children-‘can you still be human without being a part of the community?’ In certain respects, the case of Boo Radley is similar to that of Tom Robinson; both are like mockingbirds. Tom is made the subject of criticism by the people of the county, and the children treat Boo with the same kind of prejudice.
However, as the children begin to understand the hypocrisy of the adult world, they begin understanding the real Boo better. “It’s because he wants to stay inside” says Jem, as he tries to explain why he thinks Boo remains locked up in his house.