Everyone who has read To Kill a Mockingbird could attest that one of the big themes in the book is racism and how it impacts people in negative ways. This race is mainly explored through Tom Robinson. While racism is heavily emphasized, there is another theme explored in the book that was a bit more subtle. Mental illness is not explicitly stated but could be attributed with the character Arthur “Boo” Radley. Both Tom Robinson and Arthur Radley are symbolized as mockingbirds, innocent people who have been hurt by society. At that the time in southern United States, being black and being mentally ill carried social stigma so both men were seen “defective”. In contrast to being non-white, having any psychological disorder still carries a heavy social stigma in modern times. As anvilicious the racism gets to some people, To Kill a Mockingbird is still relevant today and resonates to many people who have experienced racism personally or suffered from any mental disorder.
Arthur Radley could likely have social anxiety disorder and/or avoidant personality disorder based on his behavior throughout the novel and his reclusion. His timid demeanor and lack of social cohesion with others at the end provided support to Jem’s claims of him wanting to stay inside. Taking account of assertions about his dad locking his son up, it could be implied that psychological abuse from his father negatively impacted his mental state that his desire to integrate into society waned. The fear of being negatively evaluated from social interactions could possibly be his jailer. He could be oversensitive of what people what react when they see him venturing outside of his house. As he is implied to have seclude himself on his own, it is unlikely he would be unable to function in society immediately if he were to ever rejoin. However, Arthur was probably a normal person before his forced isolation by his family and self imprisonment.
Radley Brothers’ Relationship with Father Theory
There are several speculations that could contributed his behavior and psyche though the rigid, strict lifestyle and belief imposed by his father could be a significant factor. His father, described as a foot washing baptist, was an authoritative man who believed pleasure is a sin. As such, Arthur’s early home life would not likely to be a pleasant one. His father’s imposition of the lifestyle and belief could have met with opposition by both his sons, Nathan and Arthur. While Nathan Radley might have use the opportunity to move to Pensacola when he came of age to escape his father, Arthur took to rebelling his father’s rule by joining a trouble making gang when he was a teen to experience some freedom he was deprived of. Due to his passive personality, it is likely he was a tagalong in the gang and had little ability in resisting his punishment of forced isolation for his rebellion until the stabbing incident.
When their father died, Nathan was summoned to return to Maycomb to become jailer to his younger brother. Nathan could have resent his situation and possibly his brother for bringing him back to a place and lifestyle he was escaping from in Pensacola. As much as he like to think he had little common with his father, he is as much as his father due to him executing the same methods in keeping Arthur Radley locked up.
Modern Social Stigmas
Considering there are so many misconceptions, lack of empathy, and ignorance pertaining to mental illness persisting to modern day, Arthur Radley would still be viewed today as a deranged, strange maniac.
An example of misunderstanding of his situation would be that some view that he might be mentally retarded despite winning a spelling bee in his childhood, which would implied at least average intelligence. His quiet and timid temperament could have cause some to conclude him having low intelligence despite a lack a relation between a talkative outgoing personality and intelligence.
In fact, to some, Arthur might be viewed more negatively than in the past. In a world of increasingly emphasis sharing our personal lives in social media and decreasing value of privacy, his reclusion would be looked at even more odd choice and derided. Most people would have little understanding of the reasons of secluding oneself regardless of whether one is mentally ill or not.
Furthermore, there is rise of pedophile paranoia in the United States ascribed to grown men. A man seen talking to small children could be seen as suspicious despite no evidence of narrating anything suspicions in the first place. Without knowing the identity of the character Arthur and the context in To Kill a Mockingbird, a grown man giving gifts to children and watching them play outside from his window would seem creepy to some in the current world.
The point of the matter would be that his behavior would be poorly understood regardless if the conclusion leads to mental disorder or not. It is not definite if he is even mentally ill as there was little screen time. If he is indeed mentally ill, his situation would definitely support the theme to put themselves in someone’s shoes even if that someone would be very different from you or occupy in lower social status, not just exclusive to race.