How is Boo Radley a Mockingbird: Examining Symbolism

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How is Boo Radley a Mockingbird: Examining Symbolism

This essay explores the symbolic significance of Boo Radley as a mockingbird in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It delves into how Boo, as a misunderstood character who ultimately performs acts of kindness, embodies the innocence and goodness that the mockingbird symbolizes. The piece examines key moments in the novel where Boo’s actions reflect the themes of empathy and the wrongful harm of innocence. It also discusses how Boo’s character challenges the prejudices and preconceived notions held by the townspeople of Maycomb, and what this reveals about human nature and morality. Also at PapersOwl you can find more free essay examples related to Fiction.

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Multiple studies estimate that somewhere between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners are innocent in the United States. In Harper Lee’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee uses the symbol of a mockingbird to represent good and decent things being destroyed by evil. Two characters in the novel particularly are represented by this mockingbird symbolism: Tom Robinson, a polite and hardworking African American who’s falsely accused and convicted of rape, and Boo Radley, a shy but caring man whose depicted as a monster by neighborhood gossip.

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Tom Robinson and Boo Radley both demonstrate the symbol of a mockingbird by being good and decent men who both end up being mistreated by society.

Tom Robinson: The Mockingbird Falsely Accused and Convicted

Tom Robinson fits the symbolism of a mockingbird by being a hardworking and polite man whose wrongfully convicted of rape because of his skin color. In Tom Robinson’s testimony, he mentions how he would help Mayella Ewell, the woman who accused him of rape, with random chores around her house. During the prosecutor’s cross-examination of Tom Robinson’s testimony, he is asked, “You’re a mighty good fellow, it seems – did all this for not one penny?”(404). Tom responds, “Yes, Suh. I felt right sorry for her; she seemed to try more’n the rest of ‘em-” (404). Tom Robinson is very clearly a decent man for helping a young lady with chores and not letting her pay him for it. He even says he felt sorry for her, which is remarkable considering this novel takes place in the 1930s. After the cross-examination and lack of any corroborating evidence from the prosecutor, the jury is left to decide its verdict. After multiple hours the jury comes up with its verdict. The judge reads aloud, “Guilty … guilty … guilty … guilty …” (434). Even though Tom has proven to the jury that he is a good and decent man, the jury still says he is guilty, presumably because of racial bias.

Boo Radley: The Shy Caring Man Portrayed as a Monstrous Legend

Atticus says, “Seventeen bullet holes in him. They didn’t have to shoot him that much” (483).
Boo Radley fits the symbolism of a mockingbird by being a shy but caring man whose reputation is turned into a monstrous legend by neighbor gossip. When Scout, the narrator, first introduces us to Boo Radley, she states, “People said he went out at night when the moon was down and peeped in windows. When people’s azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them. Any stealthy small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work.” (25). Although Boo hasn’t actually done any of these things, his image in the town has been turned into some mystical and evil entity. Children are even afraid to walk past his house, and many imagine him as a violent monster who eats wild cats and squirrels. This, of course, is a direct result of people spreading false rumors about his isolation, which in turn causes his reputation to be ruined. Later in the novel, a fire breaks out at one of the nearby houses in the middle of winter. Although it’s very cold outside, Scout and her brother Jem watch the town trying to quench the fire. Atticus, Scout, and Jem’s father ask Scout where she found the blanket she was using to keep warm. When she realizes she doesn’t know where it came from, Atticus states, “You were so busy looking at the fire you didn’t know it when [Boo Radley] put the blanket around you.” (154-155). Boo sees Scout is cold and puts a blanket on her. This shows Boo’s true nature as compassionate and caring, and not what others say about him. Clearly, some evil monster wouldn’t put a blanket on a little girl to help her keep warm during a cold winter morning.

At the end of the novel, Boo Radley saves the children from Heck Tate and states, “To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking [Boo Radley] who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight – to me, that’s a sin.” (566)


In conclusion, Boo Radley and Tom Robinson are both represented by the mockingbird by being good men who, in some way, end up being harmed by others, from Boo saving Jem and Scout’s lives to Tom helping Mayella Ewell with her chores. Through To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee tells the readers that it’s wrong to do harm to those who are decent and innocent.


  1. Lee, H. (1960). To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co.
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How Is Boo Radley a Mockingbird: Examining Symbolism. (2023, Aug 05). Retrieved from