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Boo Radley

Boo Radley is a character in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I chose to create a playlist for him because he is an intriguing character in both his mysteriousness and his wisdom. Jem and Scout Finch, along with a boy named Dill, are fascinated by Radley because he is known as a recluse, isolated from the rest of the Maycomb community. Boo Radley is first introduced in the novel as being somewhat crass and unpleasant – a “creep” in the children’s eyes who lives all
alone. At the same time, however, the children are fascinated with him and they use their imaginations to come up with all sorts of crazy stories. Even the nickname “Boo” appeals to his spookiness - he is seen as a phantom in the eyes of the children.

It isn’t until the end of the novel, however, that Scout realizes Radley is actually a genuinely good-hearted older man. They find that someone is leaving them small gifts in a tree outside of his house - that person is Boo Radley. Towards the end of the novel, Boo appears again when Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout late one night. Bob Ewell is the husband of Mayella, the woman who accused Tom Robinson, a black man, of raping her. Boo saves the children from the attack and emerges as the silent hero throughout Maycomb and the entire novel. Scout's perspective of Boo immediately changes - although he is still a silent recluse, he is also humble, intriguing, and incredibly kind. Scout begins to regret the way she treated him – she sees Boo as a “mockingbird” – something or someone with inner goodness that isn’t always noticed. His character embodies a major theme that runs throughout the novel. His character does not necessarily drive the plot, and he doesn't have a star role, yet he stands out as a silent leader. He teaches us compassion and morality in the face of adversity. Most importantly, he shows the reader and Scout herself that people can make judgments based on perspective, and be completely and utterly wrong. Despite the way Scout and Jem treated him, he still remains humble and forgiving. To me, Boo Radley stands as the moral center of the novel. The following songs can all be used to describe Boo Radley. Each song can also be seen as a different character's perpective of Boo.

I begin the playlist with Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Harper Lee first introduces Boo Radley through the eyes of Scout, Jem, and Dill. Because he is a silent recluse, the children spend their time coming up with stories of what Radley does at night. These imaginations were not only thrilling to the young children, but they also probably looked a lot like the famous music video that Jackson created.

Michael Jackson - Thriller - Thriller

It's Close To Midnight And Something Evil's Lurking In The Dark. Under The Moonlight You See A Sight That Almost Stops Your Heart. You Try To Scream But Terror Takes The Sound Before You Make It. You Start To Freeze As Horror Looks You Right Between The Eyes,
You're Paralyzed.
You Hear The Door Slam And Realize There's Nowhere Left To Run
You Feel The Cold Hand And Wonder If You'll Ever See The Sun
You Close Your Eyes And Hope That This Is Just
But All The While You Hear The Creature Creepin' Up Behind.
Here is a clip from Michael Jackson's music video:

Both the song and the music video could not more accurately depict the imaginations of the children. Boo Radley is no more than a creep, "lurking in the dark." Even in the music video, the characters dancing are in grotesque costumes. As little children, it is impossible to know how deep and intense imaginations can get, which illuminates the wonder and intrigue in the minds of the children.

While "Thriller" by Michael Jackson embodies how Boo Radley is first introduced to us, "Creep" by TLC seems to be more of a justification for WHY the children are so intrigued by Boo's utter creepiness.

TLC - Crazysexycool - Creep

So I creep yeah
Just keep it on the down low
Said nobody is supposed 2 know
So I creep yeah
'Cause he doesn't know
What I do and no attention
Goes to show oh so I creep.

The final line of this song really struck me as a way to describe Scout:
"I creep around because I need attention"
These children are bored in a lonely town, so they will desperately cling to whatever they can to fill their imagination. I like this song because of its lyrics more so than the feelings they arouse.

The song "Creep" by Korn, however, more accurately depicts the feelings that Boo most likely feels. He is known as a recluse by the rest of the community; he is an outcast. No one wants to talk to him because they are afraid of what he might do.

Korn - Korn: MTV Unplugged (Live) - Creep

But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here.

She's running out the door,
she's running,
she run, run, run, run, run.

The slow tempo of this song characterizes the sadness and despair that Boo feels. The lyrics only remind us of his feelings - he knows he doesn't belong, and the 'she' running out the door could be Scout who runs away from Boo because she is afraid.

Similarly, Scout is running through the night at the exact moment we begin to realize Boo's inner goodness. On the walk home one night after the trial over the rape of Mayella Ewell, Scout is attacked by Bob Ewell and Boo saves her. This moment is the haunting climax of the novel and it is also the moment when Boo's character makes a startling transition. I chose the song "The Black Pearl" from Pirates of the Caribbean to depict this scene in the novel.

Klaus Badelt - Pirates of the Caribbean - The Black Pearl

This song could not more clearly convey the feeling of adventure and excitement. As Boo Radley rescues Scout from Bob Ewell, he triumphantly emerges as the moral leader of the story and the town.

At the same time, however, Boo is humble in his actions. While his rescue is triumphant, he does not take responsibility for the death of Ewell nor does he ask for payment or glory. As a result, his inner soul is greatly illuminated. "The Soul of a Man" by Blind Willie Johnson speaks to Boo's humility. .

Blind Willie Johnson - Sweeter As the Years Go By - The Soul of Man

Listening to the song, you get the feeling that you are in a small southern town, perhaps rocking in a chair on the porch. The slow tempo of the music in combination with Blind Willie Johnson's low voice helps to create this atmosphere.
"I'm going to ask the question
Please answer if you can
Is there anybody's children can tell me
What is the soul of a man?"
Just like in the novel, the children (Jem and Scout) are the ones who find and detect the soul hidden deep within Boo Radley.

I picked another Blind Willie Johnson because his sound and tempo captures the mood of the entire novel. "Let your light shine on me" describes a man whose soul has finally seen the light. Jem and Scout realize that despite his reputation within the town, despite his 'spookiness' and his dark and brooding character, he actually shines light.

Blind Willie Johnson - Sweeter As the Years Go By - Let Your Light Shine On Me

Similar to Johnson's music, I added "Colorblind" by Counting Crows to the playlist because of its slow tempo. The entire novel slowly conveys that not all beliefs are necessarily true, that people place judgments based on race and class. Boo Radley especially helps Scout become less color blind. He shows her human goodness but also reveals human evil because the entire town placed judgment on Boo just because of his isolation.

Counting Crows - This Desert Life - Colorblind

"I am covered in skin
No one gets to come in
Pull me out from inside
I am folded, and unfolded, and unfolding
I am
Coffee black and egg white
Pull me out from inside."

In a sense, Boo Radley takes Scout and, "pulls her out from inside" and shows her the racial prejudice that surrounds Maycomb. I interpret the word 'color blind' as being blind from color - and only seeing life in black and white. Maycomb, a simple-minded town, refuses to see more than black and white, thus they are 'colorblind.' When Scout and Jem begin to understand the complexities of Boo Radley's character, however, they see that the world they live in is also complex.

I chose to finish the playlist with "Shadow of the Day" by Linkin Park:
Linkin Park - Minutes to Midnight - Shadow of the Day

I close both locks below the window.
I close both blinds and turn away.
Sometimes solutions aren’t so simple.
Sometimes goodbye’s the only way.

And the sun will set for you
the sun will set for you.
And the shadow of the day,
Will embrace the world in grey,
And the sun will set for you...

The melody of this song is upbeat and uplifting which is how Boo's story ends (Scout and Jem find the beauty, love and honesty deep within Boo Radley.) At the same time, however, 'sometimes goodbye's the only way, solutions aren't so simple.' As Linkin Park's lyrics suggest, just because Scout and Jem realize his inner goodness - it doesn't mean Maycomb is ready to accept and move past their prejudices. The song is hopeful for Radley ("the sun will set for you, the shadow of the day will embrace the world in grey.") Boo Radley is the 'grey' area of the novel that is ultimately embraced; we don't quite understand him, he is the character who transforms from a dark recluse to a valiant saviour. At the same time, however, the song is honest because it reminds us that some people still see the world in black and white, some people are still tied to prejudices, and some are not ready to accept and embrace complexities.


Playlist Feedback

Nice work putting together all the songs and the details. I wonder a bit about the arrangement. I'm not thinking the songs need to track the narrative of the story exactly, but I wonder about some of the southern feel songs toward the end and the scout running songs at the beginning--could more of that mood setting happen initially? I do like the culmination and am just wondering aloud about the arrangement. I'm also curious about the phrasing of the explanations. It might be worth experimenting with taking out the first person and zooming in on the characters and story more directly.

Daniel Anderson | Wed, 02/06/2008 - 02:27

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