Word count: 547
For my major project for this course, I wanted to tackle one of the texts we read this semester, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and one of its most iconic disability-aligned characters, Arthur “Boo” Radley. Throughout the novel, Arthur is portrayed as a phantom hanging over the town of Maycomb, to the point where Scout, Jem, and Dill see him as an inhuman bogeyman. This is further punctuated by the nickname he is referred to as throughout the story: Boo. However, at the end of the story, Arthur is revealed to be a normal person, just like anybody else, and his implied disability (as the nature of his disability is never explicitly named or revealed) does not change that. As part of this project, I wanted to include both depictions of Arthur and show how they mirror each other, as although he is not a monster or bogeyman the rumors and stories are a part of how the people of Maycomb perceive him, especially the children.
At the start of the novel, Scout, Jem, and Dill have never seen Arthur, and as such they can only imagine what he looks like. In the first chapter, Jem describes him as being “about six-and-a-half feet tall,” “[dining] on raw squirrels and any cats he [can] catch,” having “blood-stained” hands, with “a long jagged scar that ran across his face,” and teeth that “were yellow and rotten” (Lee 14).. While I kept this description in mind as much as I could, ultimately I decided for a more abstract approach with the two depictions of Arthur. The Arthur at the bottom of the image is the bogeyman Boo Radley, colored entirely red with the blood staining his body from the animals he supposedly eats and holding the pair of scissors he is said to have stabbed his father with. His eyes are hidden by shadow, aside from the light shining from the one eye not covered by his hair, further pushing the imagery of Boo being a monstrous figure haunting the minds of those in Maycomb.
In contrast, the Arthur at the top of the image represents the Arthur described in the final chapter of the book, when Scout properly sees him for the first time after he saves her and Jem from Bob Ewell. In this description, Scout notes how his “face [is] as white as his hands, but for a shadow on his jutting chin,” how “his cheeks [are] thin to hollowness,” and how “his gray eyes [are] so colorless [she] [thinks] he [is] blind” (Lee 310). Once again, while I kept this description in mind as much as possible with my piece, I took an abstract approach and instead colored the entire Arthur a pale grey, depicting him smiling gently at the viewer with clasped hands. This depiction of Arthur, the true Arthur, is far more gentle than legends would have one believe, and while he does ultimately kill Bob Ewell, he only does so to protect the children he considered his friends.
Arthur Radley is far from the only example of a disability-aligned character in literature with a dramatically different reality from his reputation, but he is perhaps one of the most iconic, and certainly he is one of the most memorable characters from Lee’s novel.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. HarperCollins, 1960.
I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. Alex Huber.