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

the 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 sacred marriage, the father’s atonement, the apotheosis, and the elixir theft. While the monomyth’s journey follows a pattern that every heroic 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 in the town of Maycomb, Alabama.

the sacred marriage

The Sacred Marriage for Boo Radley occurs between two halves of the hero: the anima and the animus. As the call to adventure begins on this heroic journey, Boo has been jailed by his father for a misdemeanor, participating in the mischief of a gang who borrowed a flivver and broke the Ladies’ Law by yelling foul language. As punishment, his gang members went to the state industrial school and got a good education, but at the age of 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 forms of intimidation.” turn people into ghosts” (12). As the story begins, Boo is now in his mid-thirties and has had no communication with the outside world since his youth. He crosses the threshold into a new world, however, when one summer three boys, Scout, Jem and Dill, decide to force him out.

It is only when Boo realizes what the children are doing that he begins to search for his anima: his need to protect and care for the children who want him to be a part of their lives, albeit sometimes only in his imagination. . She leaves presents in the knot of the oak tree 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 of his house, risking his own life to save theirs from Bob Ewell one October night.

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 priceless gifts offer children friendship and hope, but also a sense of who Boo is: two Indian Head pennies that bring long life and good health, and a spelling medal that shows at one point in his life, he was also a good student. Among these gifts are two soap dolls, carved so skillfully by Boo himself that Scout and Jem can recognize themselves in these images. Other gifts include a ball of yarn and a pack of gum, luxuries during this 1930s Depression.

And the kids reciprocate with innocent antics during playtime as One Man’s Family, where the three reenact the rumors they’ve heard about the Radleys, but also the actions taken to communicate with him: the failed attempt to deliver an ice cream treat. through an attached note. to a fishing rod and a thank you note intended for the knot. The reader understands that Boo watches them with interest and amusement, but also with concern for their well-being. The day Scout rolls the tire and ends up in Radley’s front yard, he hears a sound. “Someone inside the house was laughing” (45), which he suspects 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 be met. seventeen shots. However, Bob Ewell is not finished and promises to retaliate against Atticus, who does not take his threats seriously. One night in October, as Scout and Jem return home from the school pageant, a drunken Bob Ewell attacks them and attempts 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 unforgivable predilection in Maycomb.” (10). After Boo was released following his gang’s flivver incident, Mr. Radley saw to it that he never saw his son again for fifteen years. In his suppressed anger at him, Boo was thirty-three years old when he stabbed his father’s leg with the scissors he was using to cut up newspaper for his scrapbook. Boo stayed in the basement of the courthouse, but eventually returned home, where he stayed 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 offering of gifts on the knot, imitating not only the actions of a generous and loving father, but also the ancient traditions between father and son. Atticus has allowed Jem to take his pocket watch, which will eventually become his in the usual transmission from father to son. When Boo places his own watch and chain in the knot, although broken, Jem decides that he would rather try to repair it and take this one. Boo’s broken clock indicates that time all but stopped for Boo Radley at seventeen, but is more specifically an indication of his Father’s Atonement, allowing him to make up for losses, mistakes, cruelty from his own father 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 gives him continued imprisonment. When Nathan discovers that Boo has been using the knot to communicate with the outside world, he fills the hole with cement. When Jem discovers that Nathan has filled in a healthy tree hole, he “stayed there until nightfall… When we got into the house I saw that he had been crying; his face was dirty in all the right places, but I thought it strange that he hadn’t. I would have listened” (71). This symbolic death for Boo in this deeper cave creates an even greater need to be reborn, and she accepts the challenge despite the dangers she must face later when she must kill the dragon.


By conquering the father figure through Boo’s reconciliation, the hero accesses 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 kids from Bob Ewell’s attack, Sheriff Heck Tate stages a cover-up. Instead of subjecting Boo to the city’s praise, as well as scrutiny, he tells Atticus, “Bob Ewell fell on his knife… taking the only man who has done you and this city a great service.” and dragging him with his shy ways into the center of attention, for me, that is a sin” (314-317).

Boo watches Jem sleep, recovering from a broken arm in the attack, and gently places his hand on Jem’s head. He then asks Scout to take him home. As he leads him out onto the porch, he slips his hand into the crook of his arm. “…if Stephanie Crawford were looking out of her upstairs window, she would see Arthur Radley escorting me down the sidewalk, as she would any gentleman” (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 thanks, acknowledging him for saving his children, by Sheriff Tate, who acknowledges him as a hero but spares him the pain of being the center of attention, and by Scout, who publicly treats him like a gentleman.

elixir theft

The lives of the children, Scout and Jem, are the treasures that Boo steals from the enemy dragon, 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 the part of him 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 he has become a new man, a savior and a knight.


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

Read, Harper. Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins, 1960.

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

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