Innocence, Joy, Fragility and Beauty in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Role of Boo Radely vs, Role of a Mockingbird | Teen Ink

Innocence, Joy, Fragility and Beauty in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Role of Boo Radely vs, Role of a Mockingbird

March 28, 2021
By maminouche BRONZE, Jerusalem, Other
maminouche BRONZE, Jerusalem, Other
1 article 0 photos 1 comment

20th-century Pulitzer-prize-winning modern-classic— ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’— is a novel that has captured the minds of many due to its approaching of a controversial subject: one that provoked hypocrisy, injustice and most of all, a sense of teetering onto what-would-be a  drastic murder of innocence. The book is set in Alabama, mid-1900s, amidst the fiery inequality still upon coloured people. This injustice was still at a height despite decades of pilgrims having fought against it. The book’s story is portrayed through the eyes of a lawyer’s daughter as she sees how her father fights tirelessly for a cause that is lost before it began. The defending of a coloured man unjustly charged for abusing of a white girl. Throughout the story, we are reminded of the presence of two seemingly unimportant characters: Boo Radley and a mockingbird.

While both are frightfully important in the conveying of a clear metaphorical idea to the reader, they can be identified through drastic contrasts. Boo is a man who is turned in from the world. He is human, unlike a mockingbird, consequently, it is understood that the message he underlines through his living and actions is appliable to the sophisticated beings, humans, with the capability to form clear thoughts. These thoughts are rational ones, and not just acts upon instinct and emotion. In contrast, a mockingbird, a character in the book that appears in the beginning when Atticus, the lawyer, warns his children against shooting it, is an animal. A bird that acts upon his primal senses rather than through a comprehension of a certain defined sense of understanding between good and bad.

In addition to this, Boo is a man who has been mistreated by his father, who locked him up for something minor when he was a young man, having Boo duly pay the toll, becoming the containment, or perfect excuse, for the town’s fears and superstitions. In the book, he is many-a-times perceived as somewhat of a distant shadow, a person of whom the world’s perception of him is blurred between truth and tale. He is never seen by reality, so fear and superstition have claimed him. Meanwhile, a mockingbird is a pure character of whom Atticus says, “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Atticus expresses clearly to his children that all mockingbirds ever do is sing and make it ultimately pleasant for others. A mockingbird, as opposed to Boo Radley, is seen through an angle of an untouchable innocence and pureness. In this sense of conception, through the world’s narrow lenses, Boo Radley and a mockingbird could not be more different. While one is painted through pain, denial and a ghostly negligence; the other is a picture of carefreeness, melody and joy.


One more severe distinction amongst them is the substantiality of one compared to the vagueness of the other.  Although Boo seems to be a superfluous character at first, time and circumstance prove him to be most definitely real. He is a whole entity, one seriously scarred by life, yet a specific being in all the glory of that definition. He appears and talks in at least a scene, and in saving her brother, plays a very important role in personally affecting the narrator’s life. Unlike him, the mockingbird, referred to solely as an idea, is never a character visioned throughout the book- or even singled amidst its race. This character is only referred to, an unspecific bird amongst others, by Atticus and later by his daughter, as a species to not kill.


Despite all these dissemblances, Boo and a mockingbird have more in common than what meets the eye. To start, they both, in their respectively different ways, leave the reader with a sensation of having read of some pure innocence. Boo, while having been accused of an infraction, has not been determined a serious culprit by anyone but his father. Indeed, Atticus’ daughter does wonder if Boo Radley does not stay a secluded being by choice, as a retreating of a world where innocence, and the simple sense of justice it implies, is slipping away. In the final scenes, Boo, despite not being very expressive or vocal, clearly shows that he has a very strong opinion on what is right and wrong— a primal sense of purity that drives him through his pilgrimage in defending its implied sense of justice. Before those scenes, he never leaves his house and therefore one can’t help noticing the importance justice holds for him. Yes, one does feel that he still has this simplistic, but undoubtedly vital, notion ingrained in him; though, the measures he went to defend that, may very well have been at his peril; as he lives in a world that seems bent on going in the opposing direction.

A mockingbird is a character who is rather easier to show as one of virtue and chastity. In fact, the first time it is mentioned is when Atticus tells his children that because a mockingbird is a creature that makes it agreeable for others, it’s a sin to shoot it. The very first picture one conceives of this bird is one of a mockingbird singing jovially, in a certain carefreeness- they are, at least from Atticus’ shooting, abstained from a terrible verdict. The simplicity and loveliness combined of them (from the picture of mockingbirds in the book) is such to make us understand, though it may be on a simpler metaphoric scale, that they are some sort of representation of innocence, through their lack of aggression. They are the innocent protected; not the aggressive protectors. In this, Boo Radley can be found to be very similar to a mockingbird.

Another resemblance between the two is that they both are, in some way, very simple, have very plain-trusting characteristics and require protection or assistance. Boo is quite unemotive, does not undergo many harsh excursions; and, when he does come out- relies on Atticus’ daughter for guidance and holds her hand. In resemblance to this, a mockingbird is only described as jovial, not a bird of prey nor one very on-guard when it comes to it being hunted. This shown when Atticus feels the need to reprove his children against shooting them. Neither is very intricate (a word one would find much appropriate to describe harsh characters like Atticus) and both require protecting. Boo- from the world and its light, a mockingbird- from its hunters.

A final correlation that there is amongst them, possibly the one worthiest of recognizing, is their role in the story/message of the book and the importance the book gives to them. As mentioned above, both characters are already brought up at the beginning of the story. For the reader reading this book for the first time, it’s a lit disturbing or confusing: it is hard to decipher why they hold a place in the plot. How do their seemingly superfluous traits have anything to do with the trial of the coloured man and white girl? Both their stories (Boo’s seclusion and a mockingbirds gayness and subsequent special status) are separate and have been going on a lot longer than the run of Atticus’ case. Our curiosity, though piqued, must stay patiently idle a little longer to be satiated.

 At the end of the book, in the final scene, they are both mentioned in accordance to the same situation. Atticus’ daughter expresses: as it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, likewise it would be found a fault to denounce Boo’s killing of a man who both wrongly accused a coloured person and tried to kill Atticus’ children. At this point of the story, when they are brought up in the same conversation, we are very prone to notice that the author, Harper Lee, chose to intertwine the symbol both donate to the plot. Just how are they linked?  Well, It is worthwhile to note how the first two mentioned characteristics of similarity between Boo and a mockingbird are important here-  even crucial to the story. It has been explained that they are both pictures of innocence and simpleness; so, in their being brought up with a case that is the very opposite of that, they are brought up to show us that the coloured man’s case is also simple, requires a sense of justice implied by innocence and needs protection. The author ingeniously associates both man and animal, pained and joyful, certain and vague to give both their meanings in the story the same definition.

The importance a story gives to a certain character is one of the most interesting aspects of that respective role. Here, despite all Boo and a mockingbird’s differences, they are given the same significance and are related to the same cases. The book could very well have chosen to bring up one without the other, but by relying on all the hinted dissimilarities built upon at the beginning of the book, a compare-and-contrast method can be used to see that the case is simple. If Boo Radley and a mockingbird can be emphasizing the same moral, then undoubtedly the coloured man’s case is just as straightforward. We surmount the differences to an inevitable conclusion, the book finds it has to give the same importance exactly (which can be measured by the fact that both characters’ peak in the story is that it is a sin to kill them) to such diverse characters.

My opinions on each, though not founded on much considering the scarce amount of times they appeared in the story, is extremely strong. I think that they are the most interesting characters in the book—especially when related to one another. Boo, while the story seems to be going in a clear direction with all mentioned scenes having the purpose of painting a picture of Atticus’ case, is frequently mentioned—seemingly superfluously. Why we see Atticus’ daughter recall him warning her of shooting mockingbirds is equally puzzling. This all-the-more reinforced the strong message they sent me at the end of the book: the small cases, the simple ones, the virtues of innocent justice; must all be pursued tyrannically by the weak and the strong equally. Though Boo seemed, even to the readers, quite repulsive and justly fully-secluded: he proved himself the hero of the book. I’d even go as far as saying that the primary goal of the book was not to present Atticus’ case with Boo and a mockingbird as martyrs or supporters, but the other way around. Indeed, the book ended on a note of revelation of Boo’s true nature and story in relevance to a mockingbird, rather than a conclusion to Atticus’ case that had long been finished. Atticus’ case helped show truth to Boo and a mockingbird’s reality which continued to be true even after the case. Even though I had not much consideration for either character at the beginning of the book, I learned that they sent a very important message; especially to myself who had so underestimated them.

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This article has 2 comments.

on May. 10 at 2:56 pm
maminouche BRONZE, Jerusalem, Other
1 article 0 photos 1 comment
Thank you, I thought it was a brilliant book and liked the idea of the mockingbird being a character as it seemed to have such an important role; some people wouldn't agree with the characterization though, I'm sure...

Lydiaq GOLD said...
on Apr. 16 at 8:48 pm
Lydiaq GOLD, Somonauk, Illinois
18 articles 6 photos 130 comments

Favorite Quote:
Normal people don't know what they're missing.

Not sure if I understand all this, but this is an impressive in-depth analysis with great wording, fascinating to read. Nobody I've ever known has viewed the mockingbird as a character. I love To Kill a Mockingbird also.