When searching for a new book to read, people are often drawn to one that has an intriguing cover, not even bothering to learn what the book is actually about. Although the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” may seem foolish, people often use this tendency. Similar to judging a book by its cover, people commonly judge others based on rumors and reputations. Harper Lee depicts this theme in To Kill a Mockingbird, demonstrating that one must dig beyond the surface to find the truth.
Although Miss Stephanie’s outrageous claims about Boo Radley have the potential to sway Jem and Scout, the children boldly choose to look beyond the erratic rumors Miss Stephanie feeds them and instead believe in Atticus’ core philosophy of climbing in another person’s skin and walking around in it. Since doing so enables the children to better understand Boo’s situation and establish an unconventional friendship with him, this one simple decision ultimately results in Boo saving their lives, which most likely would not have happened if Jem and Scout had believed Miss Stephanie’s false gossip.
The unknown nature of Arthur “Boo” Radley gives the children a blank canvas of his personality that is painted by the prejudiced views of Miss Stephanie to create a distorted image of him. The neighborhood relationship the children have with Miss Stephanie is based largely on the phony information she tells them. This is conveyed from the moment that the reader is first acquainted with Miss Stephanie. She is introduced as the neighborhood source of gossip on the Radley family.
Interestingly, Jem and Scout turned to Miss Stephanie, of all people, in hopes of learning more about their mysterious neighbor. This shows that Miss Stephanie is infamous for sticking her nose into other people’s business, which is not something to be proud of. At the same time, her fabricated stories give the children a false image of Boo. Being young and gullible, Jem and Scout have no further knowledge of Boo to contradict Miss Stephanie’s lies. They were deceived into judging Boo without knowing the slightest bit of his true nature.
Miss Stephanie’s attempt to brainwash the naive children into believing that Boo is a monster is illustrated when she spreads false rumors: “‘Miss Stephanie Crawford said she woke up in the middle of the night one time and saw him looking straight through the window at her…said his head was like a skull lookin’ at her’” (12-13). Once again, Miss Stephanie is implanting lies into the minds of the innocent children about Boo that present him in the worst light. Obviously, the children are mesmerized by these fictional stories.
Because of Boo’s mysterious past and unusual life, Scout and Jem are led to believe that Boo is a monstrosity of the human race. Miss Stephanie’s skewed image of him creates a prejudiced painting of Boo in the minds of the children. This intolerance of diversity could permanently affect the manner in which Scout and Jem view the members of their community. The reader knows that the children take Miss Stephanie’s claims as truth and think of Boo as a freak because of the judgments they pass themselves.
Take for example when Jem is illustrating Boo’s appearance to Dill: “Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained—[…] his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time” (13). The reader can definitely see how the children have been disillusioned into believing that Boo is some type of malicious monster. It is exemplified that the children are quick to make judgments on the unknown.
Moreover, these prejudices are based on no factual evidence. The children obviously believe her because scout said Jem gave a “reasonable” description of Boo. Atticus is extremely disappointed with how his children are dealing with the information they are getting. He sees that his children are slipping into a trap and are starting to mimic a society that has for a long time been prejudiced towards anyone and anything peculiar. Atticus struggles to stop the bleeding by commanding the children to leave Boo alone, but the damage has been done.
This damage that is the skewed portrait of Boo in the minds of the children, can only be remodeled through the paintbrush of Atticus’ wisdom. Jem and Scout, through Atticus’ teachings, strive to uncover the true Boo Radley. After a disappointing first day of school, Scout comes home with complaint about her new teacher, Miss Caroline. In response, Atticus tells Scout to find out who a person really is before formulating an opinion: “‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—’ [… ] ‘—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’” (30).
Atticus’ core philosophy leads him to always see the best in people. He cannot comprehend how a human being could judge a person without actually knowing who they are. This point of view is in sharp contrast to Miss Stephanie’s. Miss Stephanie instinctively judges people based on the smallest sliver of information. She believes you can get an accurate interpretation of a person without finding the facts. Atticus provides a counter insight for the children to oppose the views of Miss Stephanie. This new perspective teaches them not to judge people until they understand them fully.
The simplicity of this concept helps Scout realize how one must understand others’ personal situations. This puts Scout and Jem at crossroads where they must make a difficult decision: should they continue judging people based on appearance or should they take Atticus’ advice and get to know people before they formulate opinions? Their struggle between the two contrasting ideas of Atticus and Miss Stephanie continues in the case of Mrs. Dubose. Atticus boldly claims that Mrs. Dubose was the bravest person he knew. The children are appalled by this statement.
They viewed Mrs. Dubose as bitter old woman. They were unaware of her morphine addiction and hastily jumped to a conclusion. The consequences of prejudice are now crystallized in their minds. As the novel progresses, Scout and Jem take on Atticus’ ideology towards judgment, and they try to see things from other people’s points of view. One instance of this comes up when Jem is hypothesizing why Boo Radley stays inside: “‘I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time … it’s because he wants to stay inside”’ (227).
Jem and Scout take the initiative to try and see things from Boo’s point of view. They make a conscious effort to understand where Boo is coming from and he befriends Jem and Scout through subtle gestures: He leaves little gifts and knickknacks for the children in the knothole of the big oak tree in his yard. The reader now can see that Jem finally understands that Boo is one of the many victims of the town’s prejudice which is inflamed by Miss Stephanie. One of Jem’s theories of Boo’s seclusion is that Boo does not want to face the cruelty of mankind.
Atticus has now gotten through to Jem with Atticus’ most valuable lesson and a major theme in this book how it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. This has given Jem a far more mature perspective on people than before. Miss Stephanie has failed to corrupt the minds of the town’s youth; coincidentally; Atticus has prevailed in trying to better the future of Maycomb. The ability of Scout and Jem to look past prejudices set forth by Miss Stephanie will end up helping them in the long run. By being able to realize the innocence in Boo Radley, Scout and Jem make a life or death decision.
Soon after the trial, Bob Ewell becomes exceedingly hateful towards the Finch Family. On the way home from a school play, Scout and Jem are attacked by Bob Ewell. They are saved from the clutches of death by a mysterious figure. Scout later identifies their savior as Boo Radley. Scout and Jem’s effort to befriend Boo gives Boo the courage to come out in public for the first time in over twenty years. This is a testament to the characters of Scout and Jem and how refused to fall victim to the trap that most Maycomb residents are not so lucky to escape.
If Jem and Scout had taken Miss Stephanie’s baseless opinions on Boo as truth, then it is highly likely that they would both be dead. Fortunately, they make a decision to find out who the real Boo is and it led to their lives being saved. They showed Boo that they respected him for who he was, a mockingbird who “sings” for the children without seeking any recognition. Jem and Scout are finally able to realize the positive effects of seeing things from others’ points of view. After this unforgettable event, the children will never judge people without all the facts again.
After Boo is no longer needed, Scout walks him home. As Scout is about to leave the Radley residence, she has a revelation: “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough” (279). In this passage, the reader can see that Scout has finally learned not to judge people without looking from their perspective. Scout is literally and figuratively able to see from Boo’s point of view in this passage.
Earlier in the novel, Scout was terrified of the Radley estate because of all the horrific tales she had heard from Miss Stephanie. Now actually standing on the porch and looking out, Scout sees what Boo has been seeing for all these years. This is the turning point in the novel where Scout is finally beginning to understand why Boo is the man he is. Scout and Jem have been able to fight the prejudices laid out by Miss Stephanie and the town of Maycomb and by doing so they have saved their lives.
The readers can see Scout apply this new-found knowledge to a fictional story, The Gray Ghost: “An’ they chased him ‘n’ never could catch him ‘cause they didn’t know what he looked like, an’ Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things … Atticus, he was real nice…. ” This passage exemplifies the major theme of the book: looking past prejudices. This scene, coming at the end of the book, sums up the whole story very well and sends a clear message to the reader. Throughout the book, many people become the victim of Miss Stephanie’s prejudice.
From this passage, the reader can see that Scout has finally rid herself of Miss Stephanie’s misrepresentations of others’ characters. This prejudice was replaced by Atticus’ belief of looking at things from different people’s perspectives. After this experience, Atticus’ philosophy will be forever engraved in Scout and Jem’s minds. By the end of the novel, Scout and Jem are mature enough to follow Atticus’ philosophy and not give into Miss Stephanie’s severe ways of avoiding the plain truth. Although they did not know it at the time, this one decision saved their lives.
Scout and Jem do not follow in Miss Stephanie’s footsteps. They do not try to hide their fear of the unknown by being prejudiced. This displays a strong theme of looking past personal prejudices and getting to know people for who they really are. This can be applied to every day life and is very prevalent in our world today. As with a book, the reader must interpret and unearth the truth behind a book’s cover to ultimately come to an informed conclusion. Although extremely cliche, one lesson still holds the test of time and can be applied to everyone in every corner of the world: do not judge a book by its cover.