To Kill a Mockingbird
Scout and Jem Finch are growing up in the tired old Alabama town of Maycomb. Their father, Atticus, is the local lawyer and as a single parent tries to raise his children with honor and respect to their individualism. With the Depression on times are hard, and there is no money to be found anywhere in town.
To amuse themselves Scout, Jem, and their best friend Dill begin a relentless campaign during their summertimes to get Boo Radley, their reclusive, legendary neighbor, to come out of his house. They concoct endless schemes and even go so far as to create a play that details Boo's life. Atticus forbids them to have anything to do with Mr. Radley, urging them to let the poor man be.
Atticus is a good man, and one day takes on a case that affects him personally. A black man, Tom Robinson, is accused of beating and raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Most of the county is convinced immediately that Tom is guilty of the crime, and begin to look at Atticus in a very negative way for actually defending him and trying to do right by him. Scout and Jem begin to get tormented over their father at school, and Atticus begs them not to get riled up over the town's prejudice.
As the trial begins it becomes apparent to Scout and Jem that there is no way that Tom Robinson could have beaten and raped Mayella Ewell, as his left hand is crippled. Atticus proves that to the jury, and Scout and Jem are astonished when Tom is slapped with a guilty verdict anyway. They begin to realize that many people in town are very prejudiced against blacks, and their hearts are saddened by it. It is hard for them to understand how people can be so mean to each other, and they both begin to see that, even in court where things are supposed to be unbiased, men's hearts bring in their own hatreds.
It isn't much longer that Tom is shot and killed for trying to escape while in prison. Jem especially takes the whole affair hard, and it takes him a long time to come to grips with the jury's decision, and Tom's death.
After the trial has died down Bob Ewell, Mayella's father, begins threatening Atticus for embarrassing him in court, and resolves that he'll get him back one way or another. Atticus is convinced that he's all talk, and passes it off as such.
Time crawls past, and finally Bob Ewell is good to his word and attacks the children Halloween night with a knife. He breaks Jem's arm and almost kills Scout, but Boo Radley, of all people, comes to their rescue and saves them. The sheriff, Heck Tate, hushes the whole thing over so Boo Radley will not be dragged into the spotlight, and Scout is thrilled to finally get to meet the man they for so long fantasized about. As she walks him back home, she realizes that all this time he was watching them from his front porch windows, and just for a little while she is able to stand in his shoes.
Jean Louise “Scout” Finch - The narrator and protagonist of the story. Scout lives with her father, Atticus, her brother, Jem, and their black cook, Calpurnia, in Maycomb. She is intelligent and, by the standards of her time and place, a tomboy. Scout has a combative streak and a basic faith in the goodness of the people in her community. As the novel progresses, this faith is tested by the hatred and prejudice that emerge during Tom Robinson's trial. Scout eventually develops a more grown-up perspective that enables her to appreciate human goodness without ignoring human evil. Scout (In-Depth Analysis)
Atticus Finch - Scout and Jem's father, a lawyer in Maycomb descended from an old local family. A widower with a dry sense of humor, Atticus has instilled in his children his strong sense of morality and justice. He is one of the few residents of Maycomb committed to racial equality. When he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man charged with raping a white woman, he exposes himself and his family to the anger of the white community. With his strongly held convictions, wisdom, and empathy, Atticus functions as the novel's moral backbone. Atticus (In-Depth Analysis)
Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch - Scout's brother and constant playmate at the beginning of the story. Jem is something of a typical American boy, refusing to back down from dares and fantasizing about playing football. Four years older than Scout, he gradually separates himself from her games, but he remains her close companion and protector throughout the novel. Jem moves into adolescence during the story, and his ideals are shaken badly by the evil and injustice that he perceives during the trial of Tom Robinson. Jem (In-Depth Analysis)
Arthur “Boo” Radley - A recluse who never sets foot outside his house, Boo dominates the imaginations of Jem, Scout, and Dill. He is a powerful symbol of goodness swathed in an initial shroud of creepiness, leaving little presents for Scout and Jem and emerging at an opportune moment to save the children. An intelligent child emotionally damaged by his cruel father, Boo provides an example of the threat that evil poses to innocence and goodness. He is one of the novel's “mockingbirds,” a good person injured by the evil of mankind.
Bob Ewell - A drunken, mostly unemployed member of Maycomb's poorest family. In his knowingly wrongful accusation that Tom Robinson raped his daughter, Ewell represents the dark side of the South: ignorance, poverty, squalor, and hate-filled racial prejudice.
Charles Baker “Dill” Harris - Jem and Scout's summer neighbor and friend. Dill is a diminutive, confident boy with an active imagination. He becomes fascinated with Boo Radley and represents the perspective of childhood innocence throughout the novel.
Miss Maudie Atkinson - The Finches' neighbor, a sharp-tongued widow, and an old friend of the family. Miss Maudie is almost the same age as Atticus's younger brother, Jack. She shares Atticus's passion for justice and is the children's best friend among Maycomb's adults.
Calpurnia - The Finches' black cook. Calpurnia is a stern disciplinarian and the children's bridge between the white world and her own black community.
Aunt Alexandra - Atticus's sister, a strong-willed woman with a fierce devotion to her family. Alexandra is the perfect Southern lady, and her commitment to propriety and tradition often leads her to clash with Scout.
Mayella Ewell - Bob Ewell's abused, lonely, unhappy daughter. Though one can pity Mayella because of her overbearing father, one cannot pardon her for her shameful indictment of Tom Robinson.
Tom Robinson - The black field hand accused of rape. Tom is one of the novel's “mockingbirds,” an important symbol of innocence destroyed by evil.
Link Deas - Tom Robinson's employer. In his willingness to look past race and praise the integrity of Tom's character, Deas epitomizes the opposite of prejudice.
Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose - An elderly, ill-tempered, racist woman who lives near the Finches. Although Jem believes that Mrs. Dubose is a thoroughly bad woman, Atticus admires her for the courage with which she battles her morphine addiction.
Nathan Radley - Boo Radley's older brother. Scout thinks that Nathan is similar to the deceased Mr. Radley, Boo and Nathan's father. Nathan cruelly cuts off an important element of Boo's relationship with Jem and Scout when he plugs up the knothole in which Boo leaves presents for the children.
Heck Tate - The sheriff of Maycomb and a major witness at Tom Robinson's trial. Heck is a decent man who tries to protect the innocent from danger.
Mr. Underwood - The publisher of Maycomb's newspaper. Mr. Underwood respects Atticus and proves his ally.
Mr. Dolphu Raymond - A wealthy white man who lives with his black mistress and mulatto children. Raymond pretends to be a drunk so that the citizens of Maycomb will have an explanation for his behavior. In reality, he is simply jaded by the hypocrisy of white society and prefers living among blacks.
Mr. Walter Cunningham - A poor farmer and part of the mob that seeks to lynch Tom Robinson at the jail. Mr. Walter Cunningham displays his human goodness when Scout's politeness compels him to disperse the men at the jail.
Walter Cunningham - Son of Mr. Walter Cunningham and classmate of Scout. Walter cannot afford lunch one day at school and accidentally gets Scout in trouble.
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
Part One, Chapter 1
The story is narrated by a young girl named Jean Louise Finch, who is almost always called by her nickname, Scout. Scout starts to explain the circumstances that led to the broken arm that her older brother, Jem, sustained many years earlier; she begins by recounting her family history. The first of her ancestors to come to America was a fur-trader and apothecary named Simon Finch, who fled England to escape religious persecution and established a successful farm on the banks of the Alabama River. The farm, called Finch's Landing, supported the family for many years. The first Finches to make a living away from the farm were Scout's father, Atticus Finch, who became a lawyer in the nearby town of Maycomb, and his brother, Jack Finch, who went to medical school in Boston. Their sister, Alexandra Finch, stayed to run the Landing.
A successful lawyer, Atticus makes a solid living in Maycomb, a tired, poor, old town in the grips of the Great Depression. He lives with Jem and Scout on Maycomb's main residential street. Their cook, an old black woman named Calpurnia, helps to raise the children and keep the house. Atticus's wife died when Scout was two, so she does not remember her mother well. But Jem, four years older than Scout, has memories of their mother that sometimes make him unhappy.
In the summer of 1933, when Jem is nearly ten and Scout almost six, a peculiar boy named Charles Baker Harris moves in next door. The boy, who calls himself Dill, stays for the summer with his aunt, Miss Rachel Haverford, who owns the house next to the Finches'. Dill doesn't like to discuss his father's absence from his life, but he is otherwise a talkative and extremely intelligent boy who quickly becomes the Finch children's chief playmate. All summer, the three act out various stories that they have read. When they grow bored of this activity, Dill suggests that they attempt to lure Boo Radley, a mysterious neighbor, out of his house.
Arthur “Boo” Radley lives in the run-down Radley Place, and no one has seen him outside it in years. Scout recounts how, as a boy, Boo got in trouble with the law and his father imprisoned him in the house as punishment. He was not heard from until fifteen years later, when he stabbed his father with a pair of scissors. Although people suggested that Boo was crazy, old Mr. Radley refused to have his son committed to an asylum. When the old man died, Boo's brother, Nathan, came to live in the house with Boo. Nevertheless, Boo continued to stay inside.
Dill is fascinated by Boo and tries to convince the Finch children to help him lure this phantom of Maycomb outside. Eventually, he dares Jem to run over and touch the house. Jem does so, sprinting back hastily; there is no sign of movement at the Radley Place, although Scout thinks that she sees a shutter move slightly, as if someone were peeking out.
There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.
(See Important Quotations Explained) The story that constitutes almost the entirety of To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the time between Scout Finch's fifth and ninth birthdays, but Scout presumably commences the first-person narrative that opens the novel much later in her life. As a result, the narrative voice fluctuates between the child's point of view, chronicling the events as they happen, and the adult voice, looking back on her childhood many years later. The child's naïve voice dominates the central plot, allowing the reader to make connections and understand events in a way that the young Scout does not. At the same time, the narrative often digresses into anecdotes or descriptions presented retrospectively, like Scout's depiction of Maycomb in the first chapter: “Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. . . . Somehow, it was hotter then . . . [p]eople moved slowly then.” Here, Lee's language indicates an adult's recollection rather than a girl's experience.
Structurally, To Kill a Mockingbird is circular: the story begins where it ends. The first line of the novel introduces Jem's broken arm, and the novel then flashes back to cover the events leading up to his accident. The narrator uses this device to provide background for the Finch family, introducing the legendary Simon Finch and his three descendants. But at this stage of the novel, the family history is treated as background information, of secondary importance to the private world of the young Finch children. In this way, the first chapter provides only a brief sketch of Atticus, whose importance increases as the novel progresses. Jem and Scout are the center of the story, filling it with their world of imagination and superstition, centered on town myths such as the curious history of Boo Radley and imaginative diversions such as acting out stories from books.
Dill dominates this early part of the novel: he is only a summer visitor, with no connection to Maycomb's adult world. As this adult world asserts itself later in the novel, Dill fades from the story. For now, however, the novel appropriates Dill's childhood perspective and only hints at the darker, more adult problems that will intrude on Jem and Scout. One of the central themes of To Kill a Mockingbird is the process of growing up and developing a more mature perspective on life. Correspondingly, the narrative gradually comes to mirror a loss of innocence, as the carefree childhood of this first chapter is slowly replaced by a darker, more dangerous, and more cynical adult story in which the children are only minor participants.
Boo Radley becomes the focus of the children's curiosity in Chapter 1. As befits the perspective of childhood innocence, the recluse is given no identity apart from the youthful superstitions that surround him: Scout describes him as a “malevolent phantom” over six feet tall who eats squirrels and cats. Of course, the reader realizes that there must be more to Boo's story than these superstitions imply. Eventually, Boo will be transformed from a nightmare villain into a human being, and the children's understanding of him will reflect their own journey toward adulthood.