Certain uncanny resemblances between Tom Robinson and Boo Radley’s lives exist in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Often large groups of people misunderstand certain unusual individuals. Sometimes they stereotype the person; other times, they simply do not bother to find out the truth. When such circumstances occur, the ostracized person’s actions become unfairly misinterpreted or not understood at all. Sometimes rumors circulate about the individuals, that might then be assumed as the truth. In this novel, Tom and Boo are both outsiders to the white, normal society of Maycomb county. Tom and Boo share generous natures that are misunderstood; they hold little social value, and are generally assumed guilty.
The first parallel in the lives of Tom and Boo, focuses on their property. Tom lives in the “nigger nest” (pg. 175) near to Mr. Ewell but outside the city limits. While testifying Mr. Ewell says, “I’ve asked this county for fifteen years to clean out that nest down yonder, they’re dangerous to live around ’sides devaluin’ my property (pg. 175)”. A person’s status often relates to his property, and the interpretation of that property’s value is often based on the tenants of the land. In Maycomb county, the black community inhabits the least desirable property. In the Jim Crow era, blacks were stereotyped as violent and unclean; therefore, the property they owned was considered unvaluable and was located in the worst part of the county territory. On the other hand, the people in the “best” part of town are always white and upper class members of society. Mr. Ewell lives directly next to the town dump, yet he considers the blacks that he lives near a larger threat to his land’s value than the appearance and stench of the city’s trash. Most people in the better parts of town might even agree with him because they assume that the black people are a constant menace to white society, and being near them endangers one’s life.
The Radley property also threatens the lives of people brave enough to venture near it. The children believe that anything that comes from the Radley’s soil is poisoned, including the nuts and fruits on the trees. Jem yells at Scout once saying about the Radley property: “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to even touch the house over there? You’ll get killed if you do” (pg. 33). Jem also goes so far as to say, “if Dill wants to get himself killed, all he had to do was go up and knock on the front door (pg. 13)” No child has ever died from touching something on the Radley property, yet the children continue to believe it to be true. They envision Boo as a horrible beast that eats squirrels and rats with his bare hands who loves to kill children. In the end of the novel, the reader discovers that Boo emerges as a timid man who would never consider hurting a child. Yet, the children do not know or understand Boo, so they make his property threatening and evil. The excitement-hungry children assume Boo and his house jeopardize their lives because of the stigma associated with Boo.
Society characterizes both of these misunderstood people as amoral and threatening. Therefore, no one wants to go on the land they own, because their values and lives could be risked by simply being near such a type of person. Tom and Boo live outside the bounds of Maycomb county as citizens, and their property becomes a threat to children and adults alike.
Another similarity of their lives exists because most people assume their guilt. Without any evidence or reliable knowledge of the situation, Jem, Scout, and Dill assume the stories of Boo attacking his father are true. In one of their children’s plays: “Dill would walk by, cough at Jem, and Jem would fake a plunge into Dill’s thigh. From where I stood it looked real (pg. 40)”. Children who have only heard shady stories of such an incident, put it on display for the whole neighborhood to watch. They do not ask their father if the story ever happened or ask the sheriff, who was supposedly involved. They simply assume his guilt. The story itself seems ludicrous, but its absurdity does not hamper the children in retelling the story on their porch. Once they hear a story they want to believe, they refuse to examine any evidence proving them wrong.
Tom Robinson’s trial is another travesty of justice. For most of Maycomb county, his guilt never comes into question during the trail. Atticus says that the trial had: “An inevitable verdict (pg. 222)” The mob that wanted to lynch Tom also assumed his guilt. They do not wait until he can have his day in court, they want to execute the punishment they deem acceptable — a lynching. The leader of the mob challenges Atticus: “You know what we want … Now get aside from the door Mr. Finch” (pg. 151). In the 30’s, blacks were assumed to have committed any incidents the white members of society accused them of, without looking at evidence or hearing the blacks’ story. In Tom’s case, the mob believes Bob Ewell’s story of Tom raping Mayella Ewell, without having any hesitation about the truth, and they are unwilling to look for any proof indicating Tom did not commit such a heinous crime.
People different from the “normal” citizens in a society often become misunderstood because they do not exhibit the same values and beliefs as the majority of society. Boo happens to be a recluse whose recent appearances in society can be counted on a single hand. People, such as the children, do not understand why he feels it necessary not to venture out into the world and become a part of Maycomb. They do not understand his logic, so they think he must be a lunatic without human notions. Another poorly developed relationship in the 30’s existed between black and white communities in the South. In Maycomb County, the average white citizens do not trust any black man around an unaccompanied white woman. When Bob Ewell accuses a black man, Tom, of raping his daughter, the town has heard enough to believe Tom becomes dangerous enough to die. No matter the reputation Bob has as a drunkard and burden on society, they will believe him over any black man. In both of these cases, society presumes the stories about them as the truth, without scrutinizing the evidence.
The last parallel concerns the two men’s generosity. Tom makes it clear in his testimony at court that on several occasions he performed certain chores for Mayella free of charge. Atticus asks Tom if he had been inside the Ewell’s fence at anytime, and Tom’s answers: “Seemed like every time I passed by yonder she had something for me to do — choppin’ kindlin’, totin’ water for her (pg. 191)”. By almost any social standard at the time period of the novel, the Ewells remain the higher class when compared to any group of blacks. Tom works hard every day of his life in a physically demanding job, and after all of his efforts he still performs chores for Mayella without taking any money. He realizes the suffering and burden that Mayella carries, so he helps her when he can, even though he does not always receive any gratitude.
Boo Radley’s generosity benefits Jem and Scout. The gifts Jem and Scout receive are never directly attributed to Boo, but every indication points toward him. The gifts include, “a pocket watch that wouldn’t run, on a gold chain with an aluminum knife” (pg. 60). Boo has very little, as his gifts indicate, yet he gives his some of his possessions to the children anyway. More surprisingly, he gives them to children that have harassed and pestered him. Maybe, in a indirect way of trying to get the children to appreciate him, he leaves gifts for them. However, Jem and Scout never formally enact their gratitude to Boo. In the only way he knows how, Boo tries to brighten the children’s lives through his anonymous presents to them.
Society as a whole considers Tom and Boo as outsiders and miscreants, but the two men’s generosity far exceeds most of that of the high class in Maycomb county. Two people who have never met yet seem to share certain aspects of their lives, and do what they can for people that may not always appreciate it. Their actions often go unnoticed and without any direct appreciation, but their generosity continues.
These two men are on the outskirts of society, and their lives have certain resemblance’s because of that quality. They are generally not trusted, deemed a threat, and people fail to understand them. Harper Lee created such unique characters with a very definite intention in mind, but her motivation for her creations deserve the attention of an entire book. Boo’s reclusiveness, makes him into the local monster that because of the imagination of children. Tom lives as a black man in a society when the general public thought of blacks as inferior human beings and constant menaces to the established society. Both men become the subject of horror stories to the respective group of people that do not understand or attempt to understand them. Two people that are given a certain set of circumstances often meet those circumstances in similar ways. Even though they never met, Tom and Boo similar situations cause them to share many aspects of their lives.