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To Kill a Mockingbird: Boo Radley’s Supreme Ordeal on the Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey
No one wrote more about the hero’s journey than Joseph Campbell. Among his many writings and books on the subject, Campbell demonstrates a deep understanding of the hero in four aspects of the journey: Sacred Marriage, Father’s Atonement, Apotheosis, and Elixir Theft. As the journey of the monomyth follows the pattern that every superhero story follows, more or less, the character of Boo Radley in Harper Lee’s award-winning novel. Killing Birds is transformed through these episodes into a powerful person who changes life for the better in the town of Maycomb, Alabama.
Boo Radley’s Sacred Marriage takes place between two parts of the hero: the anima and the animus. When the call to action begins on this hero’s journey, Boo is arrested by his father for a minor crime, taking part in a criminal gang that borrowed a flivver and broke the Ladies Law by yelling obscenities. As punishment, his fellow criminals went to a public industrial school and did well, but at the age of 17, Boo’s life outside of his home ended. “No one knew what kind of fear Mr. Radley used to keep Boo out of sight, but Jem thought that Mr. Radley chained him to the bed most of the time. Atticus said no…there were other ways to make people. ghosts” (12). When the story opens, Boo is now thirty years old and hasn’t spoken to the outside world since childhood. He is crossing the threshold to a new world, however, when one summer three children—Scout, Jem, and Dill, decide to go out.
When Boo discovers what the children are doing he begins to search for his life – his need to protect and care for the children who want to make him a part of their lives, even sometimes in their minds. . He leaves a gift on the trunk of an oak tree near his house, puts a blanket over Scout’s shoulders when Miss Maudie’s house burns down, brutally sews Jem’s torn pants the night the three children look out the back window of his house, and puts himself in danger. his own life to save Bob Ewell one October night.
Boo Radley is the ultimate man, and the Sacred Marriage of his anima and animus helps him discover the truth. He is a precious person whose precious gifts give friendship and hope to children, and to know who Boo is – two Indian Head coins that bring long life and good health and a spelling medal that shows at one time in his history. life, he was also a good student. Among the gifts are two soap dolls, so beautifully sculpted by Boo himself that Scout and Jem can recognize themselves in the pictures. Other gifts include a ball of twine and a pack of chewing gum, valuable in the 1930s Depression.
And the children repeat with innocent toys like the Family of One where the three rehearse the rumors they heard about the Radleys and what they did to reach him – a failed attempt to deliver an invitation for ice cream via an attached note. to the fishing rod is a word of thanks given to the knothole. Readers understand that Boo looks at them with curiosity and amusement and with concern for their lives. The day Scout rolls over in a tire and ends up in Radley’s front yard, she hears a noise. “Someone in the house was laughing” (45), and he suspects that it is Boo.
After their father fails to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, in Bob Ewell’s false accusation of raping his daughter, Tom goes to prison, unsure if an appeal will free him, and tries to escape only to be shot seventeen times. Bob Ewell is not finished, however, and vows to get revenge on Atticus, who does not heed his threats. One October night as Scout and Jem are walking home from school, a drunken Bob Ewell attacks and tries to kill them. Boo protects the children and stabs Bob with a kitchen knife, killing him, which Boo did in Holy Matrimony.
Harper Lee describes the Radley family appropriately in two sentences, “The suffering of that house began many years before Jem and I were born. The Radleys, welcomed everywhere in the city, kept to themselves, the unforgivable neglect of Maycomb” (10). After Boo was released following the actions of his gang, Mr. Radley ensured that his son would not be seen again for fifteen years. In a fit of rage, Boo was thirty-three years old when he stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors he used to cut newspapers to get his book. Boo lived in the basement of the courthouse but later returned to the house where he spent the rest of his life.
Before Boo answers the call for an adventure, he becomes carefree with an enemy, his father. In order for Boo to continue the journey, father’s and Boo’s figures must be reconciled. He begins to do this by giving gifts along the way, not only following the actions of a generous and loving father but also the traditions that have existed for a long time between a father and his son. Atticus lets Jem carry his pocket watch, which will eventually become his in a tradition passed down from father to son. When Boo puts his watch and chain on the road, even though it’s broken, Jem thinks he’ll try to fix it and pick this one up. Boo’s broken watch shows that time has stopped for Boo Radley at the age of seventeen, but it is a symbol of his Father’s Atonement, allowing him to atone for the losses, mistakes, abuses of his father and his father, his own. Brother Nathan. Boo passes his watch to Jem, who is like a child to him.
Mr. Radley dies but Nathan comes to take his place and forces him to stay in prison. When Nathan realizes that Boo has been using this point to communicate with outsiders, he fills the hole with cement. When Jem realizes that Nathan has filled the hole in a normal tree, he “stood there till night…surprise I didn’t hear him” (71). This symbolic death of Boo in this inner cave creates a greater need for rebirth, and he accepts the challenge despite the dangers he will face later when he kills the dragon.
By defeating the father figure through Boo’s mediation, the warrior is allowed to go to a higher plane. The fact that he destroys the father who abuses and betrays his children, especially Mayella, and tries to kill Atticus’ children helps to protect his Father. When Boo saves the kids from Bob Ewell’s destruction, Sheriff Heck Tate plans to go into hiding. Instead of giving Boo the praise of the town and the search, he tells Atticus, “Bob Ewell fell on his knife… shame in the open – to me, that’s a sin” (314-317).
Boo looks at Jem as he sleeps, recovering from a broken arm during the attack, and places his hand lightly on Jem’s head. Then he asked Scout to take him home. When he takes her out to the balcony, she puts her hand in the crook of his arm. “… if Stephanie Crawford looks out from her upstairs window, she sees Arthur Radley escorting me down the street, as any gentleman would” (320). Through the act of Father’s Atonement, Arthur “Boo” Radley has achieved the Apotheosis that every hero aspires to, to become the better man he was, the man he was meant to be. Boo is promoted to this position by Atticus who shakes his hand in thanks, acknowledging him for saving his children, by Sheriff Tate who recognizes him as a hero but protects him from the common pain, and Scout who publicly treats him like a gentleman.
The lives of the children, Scout and Jem, are the treasure that Boo steals from the dragon’s enemy, Bob Ewell. Not only is he safe, but Bob Ewell will no longer be a threat to the people of Maycomb. But Boo must have his share in Elixir. He may return to Radley’s house, never to be seen again, but he has finally had his day, his resurrection, and has become a new man, a savior and a gentleman.
Campbell, Joseph. A hero with a thousand faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 1949.
Lee, Harper. Killing Birds. New York: Harper Collins, 1960.
O’Connor, Susan. Dance of Language. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2008.
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