To Kill a Mockingbird: Boo Radley’s Ultimate Test on the Hero’s Journey

Hero’s journey

No one has written more about the hero’s journey than Joseph Campbell. Among his many articles and books on the subject, Campbell expresses the hero’s deepest understanding in four elements of the journey: The Holy Marriage, Father’s Atonement, Apotheosis, and Elixir Theft. While the Monomith’s Journey follows a pattern that every hero story follows, more or less, the character of Boo Radley in Harper Lee’s award-winning novel. Kill a Mockingbird he transforms through these stages into a stronger person who changes life for the better for the city of Maycomb, Alabama.

The sacred marriage

Boo Radley’s sacred marriage occurs between two halves of the hero: the anima and the animus. As the call to adventure begins on this hero’s journey, Boo has been imprisoned by his father for a misdemeanor, participating in the mischief of a gang who borrowed a flivver and violated the Ladies’ Law by yelling obscene language. As punishment, his gang friends went to the state industrial school and received a good education, but at age 17, Boo’s life outside his home ended. “No one knew what form of intimidation Mr. Radley used to keep Boo out of sight, but Jem guessed that Mr. Radley kept him chained to the bed most of the time. Atticus said no … there were other ways to turn people into ghosts “(12). When the story begins, Boo is now in his thirties and has had no communication with the outside world since his youth. However, he crosses the threshold into a new world when one summer, three boys, Scout, Jem and Dill, decide to make him leave.

Only when Boo realizes what the children are doing does he begin to seek his soul, his need to protect and care for children who wish to make him a part of their lives, albeit sometimes only in his imagination. She leaves presents in the oak knot near her house, puts a blanket around Scout’s shoulders when Miss Maudie’s house burns down, roughly sews Jem’s ripped pants the night the three boys look out the back window from your home, and you take a chance. his own life to save his from Bob Ewell one night in October.

Boo Radley is a half-finished man, and the Sacred Marriage of his anima and animus helps him discover the truth about himself. He is a worthy man whose gifts of value offer friendship and hope to children, but also a sense of who Boo is: two Indian Head pennies that provide long life and good health and a spelling medal that displays at a time of his life. , he was also a good student. Among these gifts are two soap figures, so skillfully carved by Boo himself that Scout and Jem can be recognized in these images. Other gifts include a ball of yarn and a pack of gum, luxuries during this Depression of the 1930s.

And the kids respond with innocent antics during playtime like One Man’s Family, where the three of them reenact the rumors they’ve heard about the Radleys, but also the actions taken to communicate with him: the failed attempt to deliver an invitation for ice cream. via a note attached to a fishing pole and a thank you note destined for the knot hole. The reader understands that Boo looks at them with interest and amusement, but also with concern for their well-being. The day Scout rolls on the tire and ends up in the Radley’s front yard, he hears a sound. “Someone inside the house was laughing” (45), and suspects that it is Boo.

After his father unsuccessfully defends a black man, Tom Robinson, from Bob Ewell’s false accusation of raping his daughter, Tom goes to prison, unconvinced that an appeal will free him, and attempts to escape only to receive shot seventeen times. However, Bob Ewell is not done and vows to retaliate against Atticus, who does not take his threats seriously. One night in October, as Scout and Jem walk home from the school quiz, Bob Ewell, drunk, attacks and tries to kill them. Boo defends the children and stabs Bob with a kitchen knife, killing him, Boo’s final act in the Holy Marriage.

Father Atonement

Harper Lee aptly describes the Radley family in two sentences: “The misery of that house began many years before Jem and I were born. The Radleys, welcome anywhere in town, kept to themselves, an inexcusable predilection in Maycomb “(10). After Boo was released following his gang’s flivver incident, Mr. Radley saw to it that his son was never seen again for fifteen years. In his suppressed anger, Boo was thirty-three when he stabbed his father’s leg with the scissors he was using to cut through the newspaper for his scrapbook. Boo was housed in the basement of the courthouse, but eventually returned home, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Before Boo answers the call to adventure, he has been passively living with an enemy, his father. In order for Boo to continue on the journey, the father figures and Boo must reconcile. He begins this process with the gift offering at the knot, not only imitating the actions of a generous and loving father, but also the ingrained traditions between father and son. Atticus has allowed Jem to carry his pocket watch, which will eventually become his in the custom passed down from father to son. When Boo places his own watch and chain in the hole, even though they are broken, Jem decides he would rather try to repair it and wear this one. Boo’s broken clock indicates that time practically stood still for Boo Radley at seventeen, but it is more specifically an indication of his Father’s Atonement, allowing him to make up for losses, mistakes, his own father’s cruelty, and father figure, his brother Nathan. Boo passes his watch to Jem, who is like a son to him.

Mr. Radley dies, but Nathan comes to take his place and places him in continuous imprisonment. When Nathan discovers that Boo has been using the knot hole to communicate with the outside world, he fills it with cement. When Jem discovers that Nathan has filled the hole of a healthy tree, “he stayed there until dark … When we entered the house I saw that he had been crying; his face was dirty in the right places, but I thought it strange that he was not I would have listened. ”(71) This symbolic death of Boo in this most intimate cave creates an even greater need for rebirth, and he accepts the challenge despite the dangers he must encounter later when he must slay the dragon.


By conquering the father figure through Boo’s reconciliation, the hero is allowed to rise to a higher plane. The fact that he destroys the father who physically abuses and betrays his own children, especially Mayella, and attempts to kill Atticus’ children contributes to his own Father’s Atonement. When Boo rescues the children from Bob Ewell’s attack, Sheriff Heck Tate organizes a cover-up. Rather than subjecting Boo to praise from the city, as well as scrutiny, he tells Atticus, “Bob Ewell fell on his knife … taking the one man who has done a great service to you and this city and ‘dragging’ him with his shy ways to the center of attention; for me, that is a sin “(314-317).

Boo watches Jem as he sleeps, recovering from a broken arm in the attack, and places his hand gently on Jem’s head. Then he asks Scout to drive him home. When she takes him to the porch, she slides her hand into the crook of his arm. “… if Stephanie Crawford were looking from the upstairs window, I’d see Arthur Radley walking me down the sidewalk, as any gentleman would” (320). Through the act of Father Atonement, Arthur “Boo” Radley has achieved the Apotheosis to which every hero aspires, to be better than he was, the person he was meant to be. Boo is elevated to this status by Atticus who shakes his hand in gratitude, acknowledging him for saving his children, by Sheriff Tate who recognizes him as a hero but saves him the pain of being the center of attention, and by Scout who treats publicly like a gentleman.

Elixir theft

The lives of the children, Scout and Jem, are the treasures that Boo steals from the dragon enemy, Bob Ewell. Not only are they safe, but Bob Ewell will no longer be a threat to the people of Maycomb. But Boo must also have his part in the Elixir. In fact, he may return to the Radley 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 knight.


Campbell, Joseph. The hero with a thousand faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 1949.

Lee, Harper. Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Harper Collins, 1960.

O’Connor, Susan. Language dance. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2008.

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