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#1
Old 03-05-2010, 10:47 AM
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Was Boo Radley Mentally Handicapped?

This thread reminded me of the question. Many synopses of To Kill a Mockingbird say that Boo is mentally handicapped, but this is not made explicit in the book. The behavior of the character's family--keeping him shut in the house for 20+ years--does seem typical of how folks with developmental disabilities were treated back in the day, especially if they'd gotten into trouble like Boo had. What do you all think?

Last edited by StusBlues; 03-05-2010 at 10:48 AM.
#2
Old 03-05-2010, 10:52 AM
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I have always assumed that he was mentally handicapped and emotionally disturbed. Isn't there something in the book about his father bailing him out of jail for doing something strange as well?
#3
Old 03-05-2010, 10:52 AM
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His behavior suggests that he was studying computer programming. So the answer is yes.
#4
Old 03-05-2010, 11:00 AM
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I was wrong about the circumstances of his arrest; I just checked in the book. He was arrested for what amounted to juvenile delinquency while hanging with the Cunninghams. It is also reported as factual in the book that he stabbed a member of his family in the leg after a few years of being confined at home.
#5
Old 03-05-2010, 12:10 PM
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In the old days it was quite common to keep "odd" relations and spinster aunts in the attic or otherwise hidden. Unless you were the Kennedys, then you just stuck an ice pick in their eye and wiggled it around a bit
#6
Old 03-05-2010, 01:15 PM
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I didn't get the feeling that he was mentally retarded so much as emotionally disturbed/mentally ill in some way. Granted, it's been years since I read the book, but IIRC the stuff he put out in the tree for the kids included a spelling medal, and I always got the feeling that the things he put out there were his things offered as a special gift to his special friends. I suppose that he could have been given (or stolen) a medal a parent or sibling had won, but that was never the vibe I got from Boo.

So if one assumes that the spelling medal was one he had earned, it would seem to rule out of most forms of mental handicap, especially given the state of education for such students at that time. But most of the stuff that Boo gave the kids was the sort of thing only a child or someone with the emotional state of a child would treasure--just little broken odds and ends. It seems clear to me that there was definitely meant to be something Not Right with Boo Radley, but I don't think that something was retardation.
#7
Old 03-05-2010, 01:17 PM
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I think both Boo Radley and Lenny from Of Mice and Men are portrayals of autistic people before science officially labeled the autistic type of mental retardation.
#8
Old 03-05-2010, 01:43 PM
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I haven't read TLAMB, so I have no opinion about Boo. But Lenny had a childlike mentality, rather than an autistic one. I'd label him mentally retarded. He liked to pet soft things, but wasn't ritualistic about it and didn't complain about things that weren't soft.
#9
Old 03-05-2010, 08:42 PM
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I can't recall what's said in the literary criticism of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I've read it a number of times and it's one of my favorite books. And my analysis is that he was a normal kid who got into trouble and was effectively placed under house arrest by his family,who were well-to-do. Remember Scout says Boo's father (or maybe, later, the brother) "bought cotton," which is a polite term for doing nothing. If you could afford to do nothing during the Depression, you had money.

If his family was influential, their power was enormous in a small Southern town, and their ability to shut down their rambunctious son was absolute. See also, Faulkner. Remember Calpurnia spat in the sidewalk when Boo's father's body was taken from the house, saying, "there goes the meanest man God ever put on this earth" (or words to that effect; I don't have a copy in front of me). Miss Maudie, I believe, commented that there's more ways than one to turn a person into a ghost.

So Boo went from a rather impressionable, normal teen who got in with a wild crowd to totally being shut down by his parents. Morbid with his own failings of letting down the family name, he allowed himself to be cowed into submission, and eventually it began to affect his mind. In a fit of some type, he stabbed his mother once with scissors. I mean, who wouldn't? Eventually he just gave up and became a ghost.

I think it desperately sad that after he was effectively exonerated for killing Bob Ewell and protecting Scout and Jem, he continued his withdrawn existence. He had a chance, but couldn't escape the life that his domineering family had created for him. It would have been a sin to kill the mockingbird that was Boo, for he never harmed anyone who didn't hurt those he loved, but for what reason was he sacrificed? Tom Robbins was an innocent man who was destroyed by evil, I guess so was Boo.
#10
Old 03-05-2010, 08:52 PM
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Here's what a Cliff Notes type site, Spark Notes, says about Boo:

Quote:
Boo, an intelligent child ruined by a cruel father, is one of the books most important mockingbirds; he is also an important symbol of the good that exists within people. Despite the pain that Boo has suffered, the purity of his heart rules his interaction with the children. In saving Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell, Boo proves the ultimate symbol of good.
#11
Old 03-06-2010, 06:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kelly5078 View Post
His behavior suggests that he was studying computer programming. So the answer is yes.
(I'm a programmer!)

Last edited by Khadaji; 03-06-2010 at 06:24 AM.
#12
Old 03-06-2010, 06:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Khadaji View Post
(I'm a programmer!)
Me too. I think my first post may have offended kelly5078 for some reason, and a quick look at my profile provided fodder for that oh-so-subtle insult.
#13
Old 03-06-2010, 09:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ellen Cherry View Post
Remember Scout says Boo's father (or maybe, later, the brother) "bought cotton," which is a polite term for doing nothing. If you could afford to do nothing during the Depression, you had money.
I was under the impression (when I was 12) that he was a commodities trader, and Scout just didn't understand what that meant.
#14
Old 03-06-2010, 11:07 AM
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I always saw Boo as a victim of abuse, too. Someone who was promising, but beaten so far back (mentally and/or physically) that he just faded away. I didn't see anything wrong with him organically, but that it was environmental. Nurture, not nature, did it to him.
#15
Old 03-06-2010, 12:41 PM
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Arthur. His name was Arthur. He was deeply emotionally abused by his family and eventually it made him mentally ill and a shut in. His constant but very secret watching over Jem and Scout in violation of his terms of "imprisonment" was what saved his humanity.

Last edited by The Second Stone; 03-06-2010 at 12:43 PM.
#16
Old 03-06-2010, 12:47 PM
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I thought that the scissors stabbing thing was just a rumor that everyone took as fact because they never took the time to actually learn the facts or think of Boo as a real person.
#17
Old 03-06-2010, 01:08 PM
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Charles J. Shields wrote a bio of Lee called "Mockingbird." Boo Radley was based on person named Son Boleware. Boleware's situation mirrored Radley almost exactly. IIRC, he got in trouble for breaking some windows. The judge who heard Boleware's case wanted to send him to trade school. Boleware's father said that if the judge returned him home, he promised his son would never be in trouble again. Judge said okay and Son Boleware never left his home again. Poor kid.
#18
Old 03-06-2010, 01:12 PM
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Yeah, from the descriptions of what trouble he and his friends got into as kids, I don't think that he was supposed to be mentally handicapped, but disturbed after being abused. Most kids aren't going to want to hang out with someone with limited mental ablilities, so it seems as though the problems he had weren't due to being slow.
#19
Old 03-06-2010, 02:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Freudian Slit View Post
I thought that the scissors stabbing thing was just a rumor that everyone took as fact because they never took the time to actually learn the facts or think of Boo as a real person.
The story of the stabbing, and the sheriff's involvement, Boo's brief second imprisonment in the courthouse basement, and his release into the custody of his father all comes from Miss Stephanie Crawford, not the most reliable of sources.
#20
Old 03-07-2010, 11:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Crotalus View Post
Me too. I think my first post may have offended kelly5078 for some reason, and a quick look at my profile provided fodder for that oh-so-subtle insult.
Unless your post is a whoosh, I thought kelly's was in jest. Like jokes about trekkies who live in their mom's basement. "Mentally handicapped and emotionally disturbed? Must be a computer programmer/Doper."
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