“To Kill A Mockingbird” is a groundbreaking novel written by Harper Lee and published in America in 1960. The novel was one of the first of it’s kind to deal with the subjects of racial inequality and rape and is still widely read in schools to this day. Harper Lee wrote the book based off of an incident that happened in her small, southern town when she was a child in the ’30’s. As such, the book is seen as being in the Southern Gothic genre.
The story of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is that of 6 year old Scout Finch, a little girl living in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression of the ’30’s. Scout lives with her older brother, Jem and their widowed lawyer father, Atticus. In the summer of 1933, Scout and her brother befriend a boy named Dill who stays summers in Maycomb to be with his aunt. As the children play, Dill quickly becomes fascinated with an old, spooky house on their street. Scout and Jem inform him that it’s the house of a man named Arthur Radley (nicknamed Boo), who lives as a shut-in. The three children begin to tell imaginative stories about Boo Radley and start receiving presents from him the knothole of a tree in his yard.
Meanwhile, Scout and Jem’s father, Atticus is called upon to defend a black man, Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping a white woman. Most of the white people of Maycomb are disgusted by Atticus’ acceptance of the case and take their anger out on him and his children by shunning them and shouting abuse in the street. Atticus finds he must face down a mob of his former friends and neighbors to defend the rights of an innocent man and teach his two children a valuable lesson in the process.
The story is narrated by a young girl name Jean Louise Finch, nicknamed Scout, who begins by telling us a little bit of back story about her family and her father, Atticus Finch. Atticus is a respected lawyer who is one of the few citizens left in their town, Maycomb, Alabama that makes a solid, comfortable living. Gripped by the Great Depression, most of the rest of the town has fallen on hard times. The Finches live in a house on the main residential street in Maycomb with their cook, Calpurnia who also acts as a housekeeper and helps raise the children.
The book begins in the summer of 1933 when Scout is almost six and her brother is ten. That summer a boy named Charles Baker Harris moves in next door to live with his aunt. The boy, who calls himself Dill, has been sent to stay the summer with his aunt, Rachel. Scout and Jem quickly take to Dill and the three children become regular playmates. One day, Dill notices a run-down, dilapidated house on their block and asks Scout about it. She tells him that it belongs to a man called Nathan Radley who lives there with his brother, Arthur who everyone calls “Boo”.
Boo Radley has not been seen outside his house in years and lives as a shut-in for unknown reasons. Scout only knows the story which has been passed around the town’s children, that Boo was imprisoned in the house as punishment by his father after he got into trouble with the law as a young boy. He was not seen again until fifteen years later, when he stabbed his father with a pair of scissors. The people of the town insisted that Boo was crazy and needed to be put in an institution, but his father refused and when he died Boo’s older brother, Nathan came to live in the house with Boo.
Dill becomes enamored with the story and tries to convince Scout and Jem to help him lure Boo out of his house. Not making any headway there, he finally dares Jem to run up and touch the house and he does so hastily, sprinting back across the lawn afterward. Scout notes that she thinks she sees a shutter on the Radley house move slightly as if someone were peeking out.
At the end of the summer, Dill leaves Maycomb to return to his mother’s house and the Finch children prepare to start school. Scout in particular is excited about starting school as it is her first year. However, she quickly finds that her teacher, Miss Caroline doesn’t like children very much and seems to be openly contemptuous of them. Once she is back home, Scout tells her father that she doesn’t want to go to school anymore and asks if he could teach her himself. Atticus says that it is the law that she go to school, but promises to keep reading to her and teaching her when he can.
One day while Scout is walking home from school, she passes the Radley house and notices some tinfoil in a knothole in one of the Radley’s trees. Inside the tinfoil are two pieces of chewing gum. Scout chews both pieces until Jem hears of it and makes her spit them out from fear that they are poisoned. However, soon after the two children find two old “Indian-head” pennies hidden in the same knothole and decide to keep them.
Summer comes and Dill returns and the three playmates pick up where they left off. Except this time they began to play a game called “Boo Radley” where they act out the Radley clans story as they know it. Eventually Atticus see them playing and asks if their game is about the Radleys. Jem lies out of fear of getting in trouble and Atticus seems placated. But later he spots Jem and Dill attempting to stick a note onto the window of the Radley house with a fishing pole. Realizing what they’re doing, Atticus orders them to “stop tormenting that man” and to stop playing the Boo Radley game. The children obey him for a little while until on Dill’s last day in town, they decide to sneak into the Radley place and peek in through a loose shutter. They are successful in their game until, looking in through the windows they see a shadow of a man with a hat and get spooked into fleeing. As they run away they hear a shotgun go off behind them. In the retreat, Jem’s pants become stuck on a fence and he has to kick them off to get free. Later, when Jem is able to sneak back to the house to retrieve his pants, he finds that they have been freshly mended and hung on the fence.
The next day the children find another present hidden in the knothole, a ball of gray twine. Soon more gifts begin to show up including chewing gum, a spelling bee medal, an old pocket watch and two figures carved out of soap that resemble Jem and Scout. Then one day the Finches find that the knothole has been plugged up with cement. Nathan Radley tells them that he did it because the tree is dying.
A short while later a neighbor, Miss Maudie’s house burns down one night. Atticus wakes up the children and they all go out to help save what they can from the house. Scout sits down on a curb to await her father and in the confusion someone places a blanket on her shoulders to keep her warm. When Atticus asks her who did it she realizes that she doesn’t know and Jem assumes that it was Boo Radley. He tells their father the whole story of the knothole and the mended pants and Atticus warns the children to keep the story to themselves. Scout is so frightened by the idea of Boo standing just behind her that she nearly vomits.
The next day, Scout nearly starts a fight with a boy when he makes fun of her for a case that Atticus has recently acquired. The case is the defense of a man named Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Atticus tells Scout that he took the case because he believes that Tom is innocent and he feels that he must defend him to uphold his personal sense of justice. Later though, Scout overhears her father saying that Tom Robinson is probably doomed as it is inconceivable that an all-white jury would acquit him.
Soon the children begin to face comments and abuse from their former friends and neighbors about their father’s defense of Tom Robinson. The town of Maycomb, whose inhabitants have thus far been painted in a positive light, begin to turn on the Finches, furious that Atticus, their best lawyer would represent a black man. Scout and Jem begin to see the town differently, now exposed to the childishness of the adults in their world and the seedy underbelly and racism of the town that they love dearly. Atticus cautions the children to avoid getting in any fights and to rise above the townspeople who are bullying them. To make matters worse, Dill does not come to Maycomb that year, instead sending a letter to say that his mother has remarried and he is living with her and her new husband. Scout is upset by this and by the fact that Jem seems to be growing up and pulling away from her.
Calpurnia, the housekeeper, decides to take Scout and Jem to her church. The children have never been to a black church before and are shocked to find that though this is the only black church in town, it only has one hymnal and that few of the parishioners can even read. However, the congregation is generally very friendly to the children and tell them that they know Atticus. After the service, Scout learns that Tom Robinson was accused by the white girl’s father, Bob Ewell. Since Ewell is the notorious town drunk, Scout wonders why anyone would take his accusation seriously.
As the trial begins to take shape, Jem and Scout find that they have to endure even more whispers and disapproving glances when they’re in town. With tensions high, Jem and Scout begin to argue with each other and one night after Atticus breaks up the fight and sends them to bed, they discover that Dill is hiding under Scout’s bed.
Dill tells them that he has run away from his home because his parents weren’t paying attention to him. He says that he took a train and covered the remaining distance from the station on the back of a cotton wagon. Jem tells Atticus and Atticus makes the boy comfortable with food and a bed before going next door to tell his aunt Rachel of his whereabouts.
A week later, a group of men come to the Finches door led by the sheriff. As his trial is getting closer, Tom Robinson is going to be moved to the Maycomb jail and they are worried about the town forming a lynch mob. The following evening Atticus leaves the house early to go into town. Jem, Scout and Dill sneak out to follow him and find him sitting in front of the Maycomb jail reading a newspaper. Jem suggests that they don’t bother him. As they turn to leave, four cars drive up and a group of men get out and demand that Atticus move away from the jailhouse door. Atticus refuses and Scout races to his side, followed by Jem and Dill. Worried for their safety, Atticus orders the children to go home but they refuse. One of the men in the mob informs Atticus that he has 15 seconds to take his children and leave. Scout recognizes Mr. Cunningham, the father of one of her classmates, in the crowd. She begins talking to him about his son and Mr. Cunningham gets so ashamed that he tells the men to disperse.
After they depart Mr. Underwood, the owner of the town’s newspaper speaks from a nearby window. He tells Atticus that he: “had him covered all the time” and holds up a shotgun. Atticus and Mr. Underwood talk for a while and then Atticus takes the children home.
The next day the trial begins. Scores of people from all over the county show up in the courtroom supporting both sides. The trial is presided over by Judge Taylor a man who has a reputation for running a more informal court room. Thinking that they will sneak in, Scout and Jem arrive at the trial a bit late and are only able to find seats when Reverend Sykes from Calpurnia’s church allows them to sit in the balcony where the black audience is required to sit. Mr. Gilmer, the prosecutor begins the trial by questioning the sheriff and the town doctor who both admit that the white woman, Mayella Ewell, told them that she had been raped by Tom Robinson. The doctor also says that the bruises that he found on Mayella’s face were concentrated on the right side.
Next on the stand is Mayella’s father, Bob. Bob Ewell is described as the town drunk and a rude, nasty little man. He testifies that on the night in question he heard Mayella screaming from inside their house and saw Tom Robinson raping her from a window. He ran in and Robinson fled, Ewell called for the town sheriff after that. Atticus has the witness write his name on a sheet of paper and notices that the man is left-handed. Therefore he would be more likely to hit someone on the right side of their face.
Mayella herself testifies next, saying that she offered Tom Robinson a nickel to break up a dresser for her and once he was inside her house he took advantage of her. Atticus asks her how it was that Robinson managed to bruise the right side of her face when his left hand is paralyzed after an accident with a cotton gin when he was a child. Atticus cross examines Mayella asking her to admit that Tom did not rape her and that her father beat her. Upset, Mayella bursts into tears, refusing to answer any more questions.
Robinson testifys next, saying that he often helps the Ewells with small chores as he passes by their house on the way home from work. He tells the court that on the evening in question Mayella asked him inside to help fix a door but when he got inside he found that there was nothing wrong with the door. Mayella then asked him to grab a box down from a dresser and when he climbed up on a chair she seized hold of his legs. This scared him so much that he jumped down at which point she grabbed him around the waist and asked him to kiss her. Before he could react her father appeared at the window calling Mayella a whore and saying that he was going to kill her. Tom fled for his life.
The defense rests and Mr. Gilmer begins to question Tom. He gets Tom to admit not only that he has a former charge of disorderly conduct but that he possess the strength to choke a woman and dash her to the floor even with only one hand. He bullies Tom into admitting that he often helps Mayella with chores only because he feels sorry for her. This upsets the audience in the courtroom as, in Maycomb black people aren’t supposed to feel sorry for white people.
After Tom’s questioning is over, Atticus makes a personal appeal to the jury. He points out that the prosecution has only provided two questionable witnesses and no medical evidence. Also, that the physical evidence suggests that it was Bob Ewell who beat his daughter. He begins to tell a different story, a story of how Mayella, lonely and depressed, found herself lusting after a black man and then covered her shame by accusing him of rape. Atticus begs the jury not to fall for the Ewell’s lie and to see Tom Robinson for who he truly is and free him. The jury leaves to convene.
At that point Calpurnia marches into the court room and hands Atticus a note saying that his children have not been home since midday. When he notices that they are in the balcony, he asks Calpurnia to take them home. The children beg to be allowed to stay and Atticus tells them to go home and have supper and that they can return after that, knowing that the jury will probably be back before then.
Jem, Scout and Dill go home and eat dinner quickly arriving back to find that the jury is still out. The court room stays full, but the jury does not come back till after eleven that night and when they come back they deliver a guilty verdict. The courtroom begins to empty and as Atticus leaves all of the black people in the balcony rise to their feet as a sign of respect for him.
That night Jem cries over the injustice of the verdict. The following day, Maycomb’s black population deliver huge amounts of home-cooked food to the Finch’s house. Jem revels that he is upset by the verdict because it shattered his illusions about Maycomb and how nice of a town he thought it was. The children’s neighbor, Miss Maudie points out that the jury staying out for as long as they did constitutes a sign of change in race relations in the county.
As the children leave Miss Maudie, they find out that Bob Ewella spat on their father that morning and swore revenge for ruining his public image.
Atticus tells the children that he is not worried about Bob Ewell’s threat and that he assumes that the other man got it out of his system and will no longer be bothering them. Meanwhile, Tom Robinson has been sent to another prison in the next county while awaiting his appeal. Atticus states that Tom has a solid chance of being pardoned but when Scout asks him what will happen if he isn’t, Atticus has to admit that Tom end up in the electric chair. Atticus echoes Miss Maudie’s statement that they were lucky to have the jury deliberate for so long and that in the Alabama court of law the white man’s words usually beat the black man’s outright.
A few months later Atticus discovers that Tom Robinson attempted to escape from jail and was shot seventeen times. He brings Calpurnia along to tell the Robinson family of Tom’s demise. Later, Jem tells Scout that he and Dill ran into Atticus on his way to the Robinson’s house and convinced him to let them accompany him. He says that they saw Helen Robinson, Tom’s wife collapse and start crying before Atticus could even tell her what happened. The people of Maycomb shake their heads at Tom for trying to escape and say only that it was “typical of a black man”. Mr. Underwood condemns the death as the murder of an innocent man in his paper and Bob Ewell is overheard saying that Tom’s death makes “one down and about two more to go”.
Soon summer ends and Dill leaves. School starts again and Jem and Scout have to pass the Radley house everyday. They no longer find the house or it’s inhabitants frightening, but Scout still wishes that she could see Boo Radley just once. The shadow of the trial and Bob Ewell’s threat still hangs over the family. Bob begins to stalk both Judge Taylor and Helen Robinson, keeping his distance but obviously threatening them.
Scout gets cast in the schools Halloween play and Jem volunteers to walk her home after ward. On the way home, they hear someone behind them and frightened, begin to run. Hampered by her costume, Scout trips. Jem tries to help her but gets attacked by their assailant. In the confusion, Scout runs for her brother but is grabbed by someone and squeezed. Suddenly her attacker is pulled away. Scout feels around on the ground for Jem but finds only passed out body of an unshaven man who smells of whiskey. She runs home and sees a man carrying Jem toward the house. Once they reach home, Atticus calls the sheriff and the doctor, saying that someone has attacked his son. The doctor arrives and tells Atticus that Jem has a broken arm but that he will be alright.
The man who carried Jem home stays through the exam, but Scout does not recognize him. The sheriff appears and tells them that Bob Ewell was found lying dead under a tree with a knife in his chest. As Scout recounts her side of the events to the adults, she looks at the man who carried Jem home and realizes that he must be Boo Radley. Scout takes Boo out to the porch and they listen to Atticus and the sheriff argue. Atticus thinks his son killed Bob Ewell and doesn’t not want him protected from the law. The sheriff insists on saying that Bob Ewell fell on his knife, knowing that it was Boo who actually killed him. Tom Robinson died for no reason, he says and now the man responsible is dead and that’s good enough.
Scout walks Boo home. Once he goes inside his house she says that she never sees him again but that for a moment, she saw the world from his perspective. She returns home and finds Atticus reading a book to Jem. Scout sits in Jem’s room and falls asleep to the sound of her father’s voice.
Jean Louise “Scout” Finch – the main character and narrator of the story. Scout is a six-year old girl who lives with her widowed father, older brother, Jem and their housekeeper, Calpurnia in a large house in Maycomb, Alabama. She does not remember her mother, the woman having died when she was two years old.
Scout is a bright girl who loves reading and has a basic faith in people that is shaken by the town’s campaign against Tom Robinson. Scout is a bit of a tomboy and possesses an angry streak that often gets her into fights in defense of her family’s honor. Being so young, she is often left confused and bewildered by the Tom Robinson trial and finds it hard to follow at times, having to learn things about the law as often as she learns things about the people of the town. By the end of the book, Scout is three years older than she was in the beginning. She is both wiser and slightly more bitter. But it’s clear that she still finds herself capable of appreciating human kindness.
Atticus Finch – he is one of literature’s all-time classic heros. Both the father and moral center of the Finch family, he is a lawyer with a strong sense of morals and justice. He takes on the Tom Robinson case because of his commitment to racial equality and his commitment to doing whats right. Atticus stoically stands up against the outrage of the white community of Maycomb and instills these values of strong morality in his children through everyday lessons. At the end of the book, Atticus is obviously saddened by the loss of Tom Robinson’s trial and, moreover his life but he does not seem to be fundamentally changed. He continues to look for the good in people, take care of his children and uphold the convictions that he holds most dear.
Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch – Scout’s older brother and playmate. Jeremy begins the book as an innocent ten year-old boy whose biggest concern is what game to play that day and ends it as a wise young man on the cusp of his teenage years. He is perhaps even more upset than Scout by the loss of the Robinson trial and what it means for the town that he loved, but better at hiding it until they are alone. He has less of a defensive streak than Scout and constantly polices her outbursts so that she won’t get into trouble. Jem clearly sees himself as Scout protector and spends most of his scenes in the book defending her both verbally and physically.
Arthur “Boo” Radley – a shut-in who has become somewhat of an urban legend among the residents of Maycomb. He is rumored to have killed his father as a young man and now lives with his brother in their run-down house.
It is clear from the beginning that he is a good man (evidenced by the gifts and food that the children find in the knothole of the tree and finally, by him saving their lives in the end of the book) although he is perhaps slightly mentally handicapped and has trouble interacting with people.
It is insinuated that Boo was emotionally crippled by his cruel father and he serves as one of the novels examples of an innocent person that was corrupted by the evil of mankind.
Bob Ewell – the father of Maycomb’s poorest family and an unemployed drunk with more children than he can care for. Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of raping his daughter merely to avoid the shame of admitting that he was the one that beat her. His character is representative of the darker, racist side of the 1930’s south.
Tom Robinson – the black man accused of raping Mayella Ewell. Tom is painted by the novel as the innocent collateral damage of the town’s racist ways. He is another source of good in the novel that becomes corrupted by the ‘bad’ of the townspeople’s hate. In the end of the book, Robinson attempts to escape prison and is killed by the guards.