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Thread: If Boo Is God...

  1. #1

    If Boo Is God...

    Baddad wrote something truly wonderful and memorable in the
    thread on "To Kill A Mockingbird:"

    Quote Originally Posted by baddad
    Words are power. Fifty years after this book is
    released a poignant and relative discussion continues on this very
    forum. Shock, dismay, confusion, and in someway a sense of
    ugliness/evil, all stemming from the use of a single word, still
    reverberate within those astute enough to strive for meaningful social
    change. In an increasingly stubborn world I cheer to find thus-minded
    souls. The author intended you to care, wanted to drag the ugliness
    into to the light where it could be shamed and destroyed. This intent,
    and its success, is one of the keys to this great piece of
    The phrase "to drag the ugliness into the light" reminded me of:

    Quote Originally Posted by Plato
    Leontius, the son of Aglaion, was going up from the Piraeus under the
    outside of the North Wall when he noticed corpses lying by the public
    executioner. He desired to look, but at the same time he was
    disgusted and made himself turn away; and for a while he struggled
    and covered his face. But finally, overpowered by the desire, he
    opened his eyes wide, ran toward the corpses and said (to his own
    eyes) 'LOOK, you damned wretches, take your fill of the fair sight.'

    This certainly indicates that anger sometimes makes war against the
    desires (within us) as one thing against something else.

    Republic, 440a
    Plato's comment about anger making war with other desires, within
    us, reminds me of one verse from Psalm 4, which is more correctly
    translated from the Greek Septuagint than from the King James:

    Quote Originally Posted by Psalm 4

    Be angry, and sin not; feel compunction upon your beds (weep upon
    your beds) for what you say in your heart
    Ancient theologians point to such anger as a form of "righteous" anger
    which has some positive moral value, as opposed to anger which is
    simply a character flaw.

    As a child, I carried to school a lunch box with a scene of a brave and
    noble looking Davy Crockett confronting a sinister and evil looking
    Indian with a knife. I still have that lunch box to this day, on my
    bookshelf. Only years later, as and adult, did I understand that it was
    Davy Crockett who was evil and sinister, a thief and murderer, and the
    Indian who was nobly defending his home and family and livelihood.

    I was most curious about the meaning of the novel's title, "To Kill a

    To quote sparknotes:

    Quote Originally Posted by Mockingbird
    The title of To Kill a Mockingbird has very little literal connection to
    the plot, but it carries a great deal of symbolic weight in the book. In
    this story of innocents destroyed by evil, the “mockingbird” comes to
    represent the idea of innocence. Thus, to kill a mockingbird is to
    destroy innocence. Throughout the book, a number of characters
    (Jem, Tom Robinson, Dill, Boo Radley, Mr. Raymond) can be identified
    as mockingbirds—innocents who have been injured or destroyed
    through contact with evil. This connection between the novel’s title
    and its main theme is made explicit several times in the novel: after
    Tom Robinson is shot, Mr. Underwood compares his death to “the
    senseless slaughter of songbirds,” and at the end of the book Scout
    thinks that hurting Boo Radley would be like “shootin’ a mockingbird.”
    Most important, Miss Maudie explains to Scout: “Mockingbirds don’t
    do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to
    kill a mockingbird.” That Jem and Scout’s last name is Finch (another
    type of small bird) indicates that they are particularly vulnerable in the
    racist world of Maycomb, which often treats the fragile innocence of
    childhood harshly.

    Quote Originally Posted by Boo Radley

    As the novel progresses, the children’s changing attitude toward Boo
    Radley is an important measurement of their development from
    innocence toward a grown-up moral perspective. At the beginning of
    the book, Boo is merely a source of childhood superstition. As he
    leaves Jem, and Scout presents and mends Jem’s pants, he gradually
    becomes increasingly and intriguingly real to them. At the end of the
    novel, he becomes fully human to Scout, illustrating that she has
    developed into a sympathetic and understanding individual. Boo, an
    intelligent child ruined by a cruel father, is one of the book’s 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.
    I was stunned by a sudden, most curious thought:

    "What if Boo is God?"

    Woody Allen has one hilarious scene where he is standing in a long
    line outside of a theatre, arguing with someone about a statement
    made by Marshall McLuhan. Suddenly, Woody Allen says "Oh,
    yeah....well...." and he reaches over in the crowd and grabs the arm of
    Marshall McLuhan, who steps up and defends Woody's position in the

    Now, if I could grab hold of the arm of Harper Lee, and have her speak
    up and say "Oh yes, why.... certainly, Boo IS God in my novel, and I am
    pleased that someone has finally realized this and pointed it out!"
    that would certainly be the end of any arguments about Boo.

    But suppose Ms. Lee were to laugh at the notion that Boo is God?
    Well, one might argue that it was her subconscious at work, or some
    Jungian archetype expressing itself.

    But what might lead me to suspect that Boo is God?

    Well, no one ever sees Boo until the end of the book. The word "Boo"
    is something which a ghost says. The Christian Trinity is comprised of
    Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The children are fascinated by a house
    which they suspect is haunted, but haunted is just the flipside of the
    coin we call numinous. They speculate about the existence of "Boo."
    I am reminded of "Waiting For Godot."

    But, here is one of three clinchers which I see. "Gifts" mysteriously
    appear for the children in the hollow of a tree. There is a verse from
    the Epistle of St. James which says: "Every GOOD gift and every
    PERFECT give is from above and comes down from Thee, the Father of
    Lights." Ancient theologians questioned, "what is the difference
    between a GOOD gift and a PERFECT gift." Well, those ancient
    theologians conclude that the good gifts are things like air, water,
    health, while the perfect gifts are things like the Eucharist
    (Communion of bread and wine.) To this day, Greek and Russian
    Orthodox refer to the bread and wine as "the gifts."

    The second "clincher" for me how "Boo" suddenly appears or
    manifests in human form and puts himself at risk to save the children
    and slay the evil one. This is like Christ appearing in human form and
    suffering so that people may be delivered from evil.

    The third "clincher" for me is the statement that the children finally
    mature in their understanding of good and evil in the world once they
    finally "know" Boo as a person, in a personal relationship.
    Protestants are fond of speaking about a "personal relationship" with

    It was actually the early Christians who contributed much to the "art"
    of symbolic analysis, whether one chooses to call it "Eisagesis"
    (reading a meaning into a passage which the author never meant to
    convey) or exegesis (pointing out a concealed meaning which readers
    are intended to find.) Obviously, during the first decades of the
    Christianity, it was considered by both the Jews and the Pagans to be
    a "new" innovation. Even in those time which, for us, are ancient
    times, people gave more value and credence to that which they
    perceived as ancient than to something new. Therefore, it was to the
    theologians' advantage to "analyze" the ancient scriptures and myths
    and demonstrate that Christianity was really most ancient, and
    concealed and hidden in ancient prophecy.

    We may take as the following analysis of the story of Samson as a
    prime example of early Christian analytical techniques:

    Quote Originally Posted by Samson

    Book of Judges Ch. 13

    An angel appears to a barren woman and tells her she shall conceive
    a son, Samson (Annunciation and Virgin Birth?).

    The angel tells her that the child will be the deliverer of Israel

    Samson encounters a lion which he slays as easily as a lamb or kid
    (Lamb of God?).

    And a few days later (3 days?), he comes to find 'honey in the carcass
    of the lion" (Eucharist?).

    But it is a "secret" (Mystery?) so he gives it to his family to eat but
    does not tell them where it is really from.

    Then he is betrayed (with a kiss?).

    Then he is taken prisoner and mocked.

    Then he "destroys the temple" so to speak with "his arms
    outstretched" (Crucifixion?).

    Well, what shall we say of my notion that "Boo is God?" One valid
    subjective stance to take is that if Boo is God for me, then that is my
    subjective experience, and it has a certain subjective validity.

    When we read notions about Moby Dick being God for Melville, we
    find such notions far more credible, since Melville seems to work very
    hard making many allusions which would steer us in the direction of
    such a notion.

    It is interesting to note that: Truman Capote published "In Cold Blood"
    with a dedication to Jack Dunphy and Harper Lee.

  2. #2

    A Reply from India

    (posted by "Heretic")

    Quote Originally Posted by Heretic
    I have read "To kill a mocking bird", and while I did not think much about God, and the rest, I thought that the main message was how the society , steeped in a particular thought and tradition, does not see the injustice the culture brings to others under its thrall. Instead, they ,wanting to be "good and normal people" try to make excuses for the prejudices, and if anybody dares question them, is considered different(in this case-a '[email protected]'). Atticus is considered so only because he considered blacks to have the same rights as whites; instead of arguing about the strength or weakness of his argument, the community just brands him.

    Here lies a lesson for all of us, especially Indians. Are we so much different from the people of Maycomb-indifferent to change, and covering their prejudices under the garb of religion and culture;in India any man questioning culture is eagerly branded a 'westerner' or 'pro-west' without meriting an argument; in many cases, that is the sole argument against his claims.

    'To kill a mocking bird ' in the end is about an individual stressing his rights against society-the mocking bird might refer to the victims-they are actually serving as mirrors that show the society's prejudices and vices; so instead of pointing fingers and pushing them down, the society must try to question their traditions, otherwise they risk being in the dock for stifling freedom.

    Remember-Socrates was condemned to die for 'encouraging the young men of Athens to question their ancient tradition'-sounds familiar to the way our society treats people who dare to question age-old practices?

    Take care. Bye.

    - Heretic

  3. #3
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    I just finished typing a reply but it got lost in the back alley's of the forum somehow! Will try again...
    I think I have read your post for the fifth time to make sure that I 'digest' it properly before I reply (that and the fact that I am by no means the sharpest tool in the box )
    'To Kill a Mockingbird' is my favorite book. I love it because it deals with, what I believe to be, very universal, humanitarian and timeless issues in a not-very-complex and pretentious way. I find children and adults alike can get a feel of what Lee is trying to convey although their level and depth of understanding might be different.
    Reading your arguements about presence of a Christian God and religious element in it made me a little uneasy to say the least. It spoils the magic for me in some ways.
    Having said that, I am intrigued enough to read the book again in the light of your arguments (Have been planning to re-read it again;got it from the library already and it is sitting on my to-read-shelf at home). Within next week or so, I will read it again and hope not to find the references you were making!
    We can agree to disagree on certain things but still agree that it is a great book, right?
    Last edited by Scheherazade; 01-18-2005 at 12:40 PM.
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  4. #4

    The Pooh Purplex

    So nice to hear from you, Scheherazade. Perhaps I should mention that my own personal religious perspective is more Hindu and Buddhist than Judaeo-Christian. I mention that so you will not think that I have some ideological hidden agenda in what I post. I have spent the past 20 or more years reading and writing about all the various religious traditions of the world, comparing and contrasting them.

    I have spend hundreds or perhaps thousands of hours over the past years on message boards and chat rooms, in yahoo and irc, and I note that many young people, especially those inclined to philosophy or science, are positively phobic about any mention of religion or a deity.

    I hope to write more on this thread, and hear from others, in the coming weeks. I did some research into Truman Capote's dedication of his book to Harper Lee. Apparently, during Capote's life, he often hinted that he had in fact written large sections of "To Kill a Mockingbird." At least one editor of some reputation believed him. But then Capote seemed inclined to mendacity, alleging many and various things which were far-fetched.

    Try to think of Christianity as a genre of literary analysis of the Old Testament. I think it was Augustine of the 4th century who said "The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed and the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed."

    Of course, 2000 years of Jewish scholarship disagree with the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament as predicting a Messiah.

    Well, I must post and close for now, as I have run out of time.

    P.S. Perhaps the more profound question is not whether there is a real, palpable allusion to God in the novel, but why you feel so strongly about the matter. In the 1960s I read a delightful book by a professor of literature called "The Pooh Purplex" in which he demonstrated how "Winnie the Pooh" might be "interpreted" in so many different fashions, from Freudian Sexual to Humanitarian to Romantic to Existential.
    Last edited by Sitaram; 01-18-2005 at 12:49 PM. Reason: Grammatical

  5. #5
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Capote implied he had written parts of 'Mockingbird'??? Never heard that one before... I haven't read any Capote *hangs head* so cannot compare styles etc, but that is really interesting to know.

    I am not phobic of religious ideas and suggestions. My belief in what I think this book stands for makes me unwilling to agree that there is a presence of Christian God and sentiment in this book. That, of course, does not nullify your arguement and as I said earlier, next time I read it, I will try to look at things in the light of this new point of view you bring in.
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  6. #6

    Some posts re: Capote

    Harper Lee grew up and was close friends with
    Truman Capote. He intimated in an interview that he
    wrote (or at least rewrote) large portions of this
    book. If true, that would explain why she turned
    out to be a one hit wonder.

    Whoever wrote it, one can't praise this book highly
    enough. It's a gem.

    I did just hear an intersting rumor that Harper Lee
    recieved a lot of help on this book from her
    childhood friend who spent almost every summer with
    her (a real life Dill). This person who helped her
    write her one and only novel is Truman Capote.

    Perhaps that explains a lot about why she only
    wrote one book, but it was a great one.

    At 77, she refuses interviews and makes few public

    "I am still alive, though very quiet," she wrote in
    1993 when asked to write a new introduction to "To
    Kill a Mockingbird."

    She refused. "Please spare 'Mockingbird' an
    introduction. ... 'Mockingbird' still says what it
    has to say; it has managed to survive without

    It has more than survived. Never out of print since
    it appeared in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize,
    Lee's only novel is a staple of school reading

    I glean from a biography of Truman Capote that there is speculation that he may have written *To Kill A Mockingbird* and let Harper Lee (his hometown neighbor who never wrote anything else?) take the credit. Maybe it's just the sinister glee at the thought that Truman Capote, a vicious monstrous adversary (to people who as far as I can tell deserved it) dismissed as a clown figure is behind a classic that most high school students in the US have to read, but my cognitive (and perhaps personality) disorder(s) thrill at
    such illogical non-factoidism.

    As a boy, Truman lived next door to Harper Lee, and
    the two remained close friends and collaborators
    throughout their lives. There has even been
    speculation that Truman not only helped edit To
    Kill a Mockingbird, but actually wrote much of the
    book. This is no doubt mere rumor, but there is a
    similarity between Lee's great novel and "The
    Thanksgiving Visitor." Odd Henderson is reminiscent
    of Mr. Ewell, though he turns out to be far more
    sympathetic, and Truman, in his emotional
    confusion, bears some resemblance to Scout. But it
    is honest, decent Sook, who has the moral authority
    to inform every aspect of this story like Atticus
    Finch. And it is the intimate detail with which
    Capote recreates the character of his friend that
    lifts this story out of the realm of anecdote and
    into the realm of art.

    Capote was a lifelong friend of Monroeville
    neighbor Harper Lee, and was allegedly the
    inspiration for the character of Dill in her
    best-seller To Kill A Mockingbird. Capote
    frequently implied that he himself had written a
    considerable portion of her novel, and at least one
    person - Pearl Kazin Bell, an editor at Harper's -
    has gone on record as believing his assertions were

  7. #7
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Thank you very much for the links, Sitaram. I will have a look at them. I have a feeling I should start reading Capote. A I missing out much? Funny enough, 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' is one of my favorite movies.
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  8. #8
    I was utterly shocked about the Capote controversy. Initially, I began searching when I first learned that Capoted had dedicated "In Cold Blood" to Harper Lee. Then I read the rumors about Capote having written some of "To Kill A Mockingbird." It would REALLY be shocking if Capote did write a lot of it and there ARE the allusions to Christianity which I perceived, since Capote hardly strikes me as someone who would go in for that sort of thing.

  9. #9
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    So maybe there are NO allusions to Christianity afterall!
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  10. #10
    Well, as rabbi Abraham Heschel, author of "The Prophets," wrote, "we must learn to understand what we see, and not simply see only what we understand."

    I hope to begin a careful reading of "To Kill A Mockingbird" and I will very likely find certain tell-tale sentences and vocabulary if religious allusions were a conscious act on the author's part. If I do not find such signs, then I will assume it is simply coincidence that the narrative of "Boo Radley" accidentally resembles certain Christian themes. Do try to take a look at "The Pooh Purplex" if you can find it in print anywhere.

  11. #11
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    I was looking at the links you posted re.Capote and saw this:

    "Finch is the maiden name of the author’s mother, and Cunningham is a name from her father’s side of the family. And etc." (

    So maybe it is only a coincidence that the family name is another small bird (re. Boo Radley's quote in your first post)
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  12. #12
    Good point, regarding the Finch family name, and coincidence! I was thinking today of "the man in the moon," the face which we see in the moon as a good example of "reading into things." Everyone seems to agree that there is a face there, but we all know it is pure coincidence that the craters create that illusion. Yet, though we know it is an artefact, yet, for us, there is a "man in the moon" and the concept enjoys some measure of reality.

  13. #13
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    I often feel and wonder the same thing... Sometimes things are just what just what we see... without hidden meanings behind them. When I listen some arguments, I do wonder if we as humanbeings are simply to desperate to give meanings to things;strive to make them 'meaningful' for our own sakes... end up reading too much into things.
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  14. #14
    You might take a look at my "Sanctity of Unity" post (if you have not already read it) which has to do with the very thing you mention, our urgency to impose meaning, order, unity, which I suppose is a form of control.

  15. #15
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    I did read some part of that thread... Will have another look at it now
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

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