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.
Summary: Chapter 2
September arrives, and Dill leaves Maycomb to return to the town of Meridian. Scout, meanwhile, prepares to go to school for the first time, an event that she has been eagerly anticipating. Once she is finally at school, however, she finds that her teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, deals poorly with children. When Miss Caroline concludes that Atticus must have taught Scout to read, she becomes very displeased and makes Scout feel guilty for being educated. At recess, Scout complains to Jem, but Jem says that Miss Caroline is just trying out a new method of teaching.
Miss Caroline and Scout get along badly in the afternoon as well. Walter Cunningham, a boy in Scout's class, has not brought a lunch. Miss Caroline offers him a quarter to buy lunch, telling him that he can pay her back tomorrow. Walter's family is large and poor—so poor that they pay Atticus with hickory nuts, turnip greens, or other goods when they need legal help—and Walter will never be able to pay the teacher back or bring a lunch to school. When Scout attempts to explain these circumstances, however, Miss Caroline fails to understand and grows so frustrated that she slaps Scout's hand with a ruler.
Summary: Chapter 3
At lunch, Scout rubs Walter's nose in the dirt for getting her in trouble, but Jem intervenes and invites Walter to lunch (in the novel, as in certain regions of the country, the midday meal is called “dinner”). At the Finch house, Walter and Atticus discuss farm conditions “like two men,” and Walter puts molasses all over his meat and vegetables, to Scout's horror. When she criticizes Walter, however, Calpurnia calls her into the kitchen to scold her and slaps her as she returns to the dining room, telling her to be a better hostess. Back at school, Miss Caroline becomes terrified when a tiny bug, or “cootie,” crawls out of a boy's hair. The boy is Burris Ewell, a member of the Ewell clan, which is even poorer and less respectable than the Cunningham clan. In fact, Burris only comes to school the first day of every school year, making a token appearance to avoid trouble with the law. He leaves the classroom, making enough vicious remarks to cause the teacher to cry.
At home, Atticus follows Scout outside to ask her if something is wrong, to which she responds that she is not feeling well. She tells him that she does not think she will go to school anymore and suggests that he could teach her himself. Atticus replies that the law demands that she go to school, but he promises to keep reading to her, as long as she does not tell her teacher about it.
You never really understand a person until you . . . climb into his skin and walk around in it.
(See Important Quotations Explained) Analysis: Chapters 2–3
Scout's unpleasant first day of school has a threefold purpose: it locates the reader's sympathies firmly with the narrator; it offers a further introduction to Maycomb's tortured social ladder; and it provides sharp social commentary on the theme of children and education, one of the book's most important themes. In her interactions with Miss Caroline, Scout is victimized by her teacher's inexperience; Scout means well but receives only punishment in return. The rigid, impersonal protocols demanded by the law and by Miss Caroline's method of teaching are shown to be insufficient and irrational—Burris Ewell can keep the law happy by coming to school only one day a year, while Scout incurs her teacher's wrath simply by learning to read at an early age. This topsy-turvy educational outlook fails catastrophically to meet the needs of either student. Scout, who is commonsensical enough to perceive this failure immediately, is frustrated by her inability to understand why her teacher acts as she does, and why she, Scout, continually incurs disfavor for well-intentioned actions.
Throughout these chapters, Scout's well-meaning missteps (telling the teacher about Walter's poverty, criticizing Walter for putting molasses on his meat and vegetables) earn harsh rebukes from the adult world, emphasizing the contrast between the comfortable, imaginative childhood world that Scout occupies in Chapter 1 and the more grown-up world she is now expected to occupy. This interaction sets a pattern for the book and for the basic development of Scout as a character: whether dealing with adults or with other children, Scout always means well, and her nature is essentially good. Her mistakes are honest mistakes, and while there is evil all around her in the novel, it does not infect her, nor does injustice disillusion her, as it does Jem. At the end of Chapter 2, Scout, acting on her best intentions (as always), tries to explain the Cunninghams to Miss Caroline.
Young Walter Cunningham is the first glimpse we get of the Cunningham clan, part of the large population of poor farmers in the land around Maycomb. Walter's poverty introduces the very adult theme of social class into the novel. Scout notes in Chapter 1 that Maycomb was a run-down town caught up in the Great Depression, but so far, we have seen only the upper-class side of town, represented by relatively successful and comfortable characters such as Atticus. Now, however, we begin to see the rest of Maycomb, represented by the struggling Cunninghams and the dirt-poor Ewells. Jem later divides Maycomb into four social classes, placing the Cunninghams a level beneath the other families in the town (Walter's fondness for molasses on all of his food illustrates the difference in status between his family and the Finches).
A correlation between social status and moral goodness becomes evident as the novel progresses. At the top of this pyramid rests Atticus, a comparatively wealthy man whose moral standing is beyond reproach. Beneath him are the poor farmers such as the Cunninghams. The Ewells are below even the Cunninghams on the social ladder, and their unapologetic, squalid ignorance and ill tempers quickly make them the villains of the story. We do not encounter them again until Part Two, but Burris's vicious cruelty in this section foreshadows the later behavior of his father, Bob Ewell.
Miss Caroline's teaching methods, meanwhile, facilitate Lee's subtle critique of educational orthodoxy. Miss Caroline cannot accept that Scout already knows how to read and write, because it confounds the teaching formula that she has been taught to implement. She adheres strictly to a “method” that she learned from adults, instead of learning from her experiences in the classroom and adapting her teaching accordingly. To Scout, this method is dull; to the reader, it exemplifies how well-meaning but rigid thinking can fail. Just as Atticus encourages Scout to place herself in another person's position before she judges that person, Miss Caroline would do better to try to think like her students and respond to their needs rather than simply trying to impose an external system on their education. Throughout the novel, Atticus's moral position of sympathy and understanding is contrasted with rigid, impersonal systems such as Miss Caroline's that fail to account for individual necessities. In this sense, Miss Caroline's behavior in the schoolhouse foreshadows the courtroom scenes later in the novel, when the system that fails is not an educational technique but the law.
Summary: Chapter 4
The rest of the school year passes grimly for Scout, who endures a curriculum that moves too slowly and leaves her constantly frustrated in class. After school one day, she passes the Radley Place and sees some tinfoil sticking out of a knothole in one of the Radleys' oak trees. Scout reaches into the knothole and discovers two pieces of chewing gum. She chews both pieces and tells Jem about it. He panics and makes her spit it out. On the last day of school, however, they find two old “Indian-head” pennies hidden in the same knothole where Scout found the gum and decide to keep them.
Summer comes at last, school ends, and Dill returns to Maycomb. He, Scout, and Jem begin their games again. One of the first things they do is roll one another inside an old tire. On Scout's turn, she rolls in front of the Radley steps, and Jem and Scout panic. However, this incident gives Jem the idea for their next game: they will play “Boo Radley.” As the summer passes, their game becomes more complicated, until they are acting out an entire Radley family melodrama. Eventually, however, Atticus catches them and asks if their game has anything to do with the Radleys. Jem lies, and Atticus goes back into the house. The kids wonder if it's safe to play their game anymore.
Summary: Chapter 5
Jem and Dill grow closer, and Scout begins to feel left out of their friendship. As a result, she starts spending much of her time with one of their neighbors: Miss Maudie Atkinson, a widow with a talent for gardening and cake baking who was a childhood friend of Atticus's brother, Jack. She tells Scout that Boo Radley is still alive and it is her theory Boo is the victim of a harsh father (now deceased), a “foot-washing” Baptist who believed that most people are going to hell. Miss Maudie adds that Boo was always polite and friendly as a child. She says that most of the rumors about him are false, but that if he wasn't crazy as a boy, he probably is by now.
Meanwhile, Jem and Dill plan to give a note to Boo inviting him out to get ice cream with them. They try to stick the note in a window of the Radley Place with a fishing pole, but Atticus catches them and orders them to “stop tormenting that man” with either notes or the “Boo Radley” game.
Summary: Chapter 6
Jem and Dill obey Atticus until Dill's last day in Maycomb, when he and Jem plan to sneak over to the Radley Place and peek in through a loose shutter. Scout accompanies them, and they creep around the house, peering in through various windows. Suddenly, they see the shadow of a man with a hat on and flee, hearing a shotgun go off behind them. They escape under the fence by the schoolyard, but Jem's pants get caught on the fence, and he has to kick them off in order to free himself.
The children return home, where they encounter a collection of neighborhood adults, including Atticus, Miss Maudie, and Miss Stephanie Crawford, the neighborhood gossip. Miss Maudie informs them that Mr. Nathan Radley shot at “a Negro” in his yard. Miss Stephanie adds that Mr. Radley is waiting outside with his gun so he can shoot at the next sound he hears. When Atticus asks Jem where his pants are, Dill interjects that he won Jem's pants in a game of strip poker. Alarmed, Atticus asks them if they were playing cards. Jem responds that they were just playing with matches. Late that night, Jem sneaks out to the Radley Place, and retrieves his pants.
Analysis: Chapters 4–6
These chapters serve primarily as a record of Jem and Scout's childhood adventures with Dill and the specter of Boo Radley. Even as the children play the “Radley game,” make their attempts to give a message to Boo, and peek through his shutters, Boo's character is transformed from a monster into a human being. Although Boo's relevance to the main plot of the novel is still unknown, the compelling human story that these chapters weave around Boo keeps the reader interested in him, even if he serves only as a diversion to the young Finch children at this point.
Boo makes his presence felt in these chapters in a number of ways. First, the presents begin to appear in the Radley tree, and, though Scout does not realize who has been putting them there, the reader can easily guess that it is Boo. Second, Miss Maudie offers insight into the origins of Boo's reclusiveness and a sympathetic perspective on his story. Miss Maudie has only contempt for the superstitious view of Boo: he is no demon, and she knows that he is alive, because she hasn't seen him “carried out yet.” From her point of view, Boo was a nice boy who suffered at the hands of a tyrannically religious family. He is one of many victims populating a book whose title, To Kill a Mockingbird, suggests the destruction of an innocent being. In fact, as a sweet, young child apparently driven mad by an overbearing father obsessed with sin and retribution, Boo epitomizes the loss of innocence that the book, as a whole, dramatizes. For the children, who first treat him as a superstition and an object of ridicule but later come to view him as a human being, Boo becomes an important benchmark in their gradual development of a more sympathetic, mature perspective.
In these chapters, the first person other than Atticus to display a sympathetic attitude toward Boo is Miss Maudie, who, like Boo, emerges as an important character in this section. Miss Maudie is one of the book's strongest, most resilient female characters. One of the few people in the town who shares Atticus's sense of justice, she is also Scout's closest friend and confidante among the local women. Atticus's wife is dead, leaving Scout with Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra as her principal maternal figures. Whereas the latter provides a vision of proper womanhood and family pride, the former offers Scout understanding instead of criticizing her for wearing pants and not being ladylike. Miss Maudie is a stronger role model for Scout: she serves as a conscience for the town's women, just as Atticus does for the men, and her sharp tongue and honesty make her the opposite of vapid gossips like Stephanie Crawford.
Summary: Chapter 7
A few days later, after school has begun for the year, Jem tells Scout that he found the pants mysteriously mended and hung neatly over the fence. When they come home from school that day, they find another present hidden in the knothole: a ball of gray twine. They leave it there for a few days, but no one takes it, so they claim it for their own.
Unsurprisingly, Scout is as unhappy in second grade as she was in first, but Jem promises her that school gets better the farther along one goes. Late that fall, another present appears in the knothole—two figures carved in soap to resemble Scout and Jem. The figures are followed in turn by chewing gum, a spelling bee medal, and an old pocket watch. The next day, Jem and Scout find that the knothole has been filled with cement. When Jem asks Mr. Radley (Nathan Radley, Boo's brother) about the knothole the following day, Mr. Radley replies that he plugged the knothole because the tree is dying.
Summary: Chapter 8
For the first time in years, Maycomb endures a real winter. There is even light snowfall, an event rare enough for school to be closed. Jem and Scout haul as much snow as they could from Miss Maudie's yard to their own. Since there is not enough snow to make a real snowman, they build a small figure out of dirt and cover it with snow. They make it look like Mr. Avery, an unpleasant man who lives down the street. The figure's likeness to Mr. Avery is so strong that Atticus demands that they disguise it. Jem places Miss Maudie's sunhat on its head and sticks her hedge clippers in its hands, much to her chagrin.
That night, Atticus wakes Scout and helps her put on her bathrobe and coat and goes outside with her and Jem. Miss Maudie's house is on fire. The neighbors help her save her furniture, and the fire truck arrives in time to stop the fire from spreading to other houses, but Miss Maudie's house burns to the ground. In the confusion, someone drapes a blanket over Scout. When Atticus later asks her about it, she has no idea who put it over her. Jem realizes that Boo Radley put it on her, and he reveals the whole story of the knothole, the presents, and the mended pants to Atticus. Atticus tells them to keep it to themselves, and Scout, realizing that Boo was just behind her, nearly throws up.
Despite having lost her house, Miss Maudie is cheerful the next day. She tells the children how much she hated her old home and that she is already planning to build a smaller house and plant a larger garden. She says that she wishes she had been there when Boo put the blanket on Scout to catch him in the act.
Analysis: Chapters 7–8
Originally portrayed as a freak and a lunatic, Boo Radley continues to gain the sympathy of the children in these chapters. Lee uses an elliptical technique in telling Boo's story—she hints and implies at what is happening without ever showing the reader directly. The reader must read between the lines—inferring, for instance, that it was Boo Radley who mended Jem's pants and placed the presents in the tree, since Scout does not realize that Boo's hand is at work until Jem explains things to Atticus after the fire.
In comparison to Scout's still very childish perspective, Jem's more mature understanding of the world is evident here, along with his strong sense of justice. When Nathan Radley plugs up the hole in the tree, Scout is disappointed but hardly heartbroken, seeing it as merely the end of their presents. Jem, on the other hand, is brought to tears, because he grasps that Boo's brother has done something cruel: he has deprived Boo of his connection to the wider world and has broken up his brother's attempt at friendship. This incident, which the reader must detect behind the scenes of Scout's narrative, plays into the novel's broad theme of suffering innocence, and Jem's anger at this injustice foreshadows his later fury concerning Tom Robinson's trial. While Scout retains her innocence and optimism throughout the book, Jem undergoes severe disillusionment as part of his “growing up,” and the Boo Radley incident in this chapter is an important early step toward that disillusionment.
The implicit comparison between Boo's soap figures and Jem and Scout's snowman reveals the difference in how each party interacts with others. Whereas Boo carves his figures out of a desire to connect with the two kids, Jem and Scout craft their snowman out of a dislike for Mr. Avery. Further, Boo doesn't make his carvings for himself; rather, he offers them as presents. Jem and Scout, on the other hand, make the snowman purely for their own enjoyment. Boo interacts with others on their terms, while the children, not yet mature, interact with others on their own terms.
Critic Claudia Durst Johnson has argued that To Kill a Mockingbird contains many Gothic elements, from the legends and secrets surrounding Boo Radley to Dill's imaginative stories and the children's superstitions. The unseasonable snow and the fire at Miss Maudie's, as well as the later appearance of a mad dog, can be seen as contributing to a sense of supernatural foreboding leading up to the injustice that pervades Tom Robinson's trial. This interpretation, however, is balanced by the fact that both the snow and the fire bring out the best in people—school is canceled, Scout and Jem build a fine snowman, the neighbors help save Miss Maudie's belongings, and Miss Maudie perseveres after her house is destroyed. Even when she sees her prize flowers ruined, the brave old woman does not despair; instead, she offers a cheerful comment about wanting a smaller house and a larger garden. This interweaving of dramatic, Gothic atmospherics and good-hearted small-town values epitomizes To Kill a Mockingbird and mirrors the novel's main theme. In a world in which innocence is threatened by injustice, cruelty, prejudice, and hatred, goodness can prevail in the form of sympathy, understanding, and common sense, as evidenced by how the townspeople's affectionate willingness to help one another enables them to overcome the intrusion of these Gothic elements into their simple small-town lives.
Summary: Chapter 9
At school, Scout nearly starts a fight with a classmate named Cecil Jacobs after Cecil declares that “Scout Finch's daddy defends niggers.” Atticus has been asked to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. It is a case he cannot hope to win, but he tells Scout that he must argue it to uphold his sense of justice and self-respect.
At Christmastime, Atticus's brother, Jack, comes to stay with Atticus for a week during the holidays. Scout generally gets along well with Uncle Jack, but when he arrives in Maycomb, she begins cursing in front of him (a habit that she has recently picked up). After supper, Jack has Scout sit on his lap and he warns her not to curse in his presence. On Christmas Day, Atticus takes his children and Jack to Finch's Landing, a rambling old house in the country where Atticus's sister, Alexandra, and her husband live. There, Scout endures Francis, Alexandra's grandson, who had been dropped off at Finch's Landing for the holiday. Scout thinks Francis is the most “boring” child she has ever met. She also has to put up with the prim and proper Alexandra, who insists that Scout dress like a lady instead of wearing pants.
One night, Francis tells Scout that Dill is a runt and then calls Atticus a “nigger-lover.” Scout curses him and beats him up. Francis tells Alexandra and Uncle Jack that Scout hit him, and Uncle Jack spanks her without hearing her side of the story. After they return to Maycomb, Scout tells Jack what Francis said and Jack becomes furious. Scout makes him promise not to tell Atticus, however, because Atticus had asked her not to fight anyone over what is said about him. Jack promises and keeps his word. Later, Scout overhears Atticus telling Jack that Tom Robinson is innocent but doomed, since it's inconceivable that an all-white jury would ever acquit him.
Summary: Chapter 10
Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.
(See Important Quotations Explained) Atticus, Scout says, is somewhat older than most of the other fathers in Maycomb. His relatively advanced age often embarrasses his children—he wears glasses and reads, for instance, instead of hunting and fishing like the other men in town. One day, however, a mad dog appears, wandering down the main street toward the Finches' house. Calpurnia calls Atticus, who returns home with Heck Tate, the sheriff of Maycomb. Heck brings a rifle and asks Atticus to shoot the animal. To Jem and Scout's amazement, Atticus does so, hitting the dog with his first shot despite his considerable distance from the dog. Later, Miss Maudie tells Jem and Scout that, as a young man, Atticus was the best shot in the county—“One-shot Finch.” Scout is eager to brag about this, but Jem tells her to keep it a secret, because if Atticus wanted them to know, he would have told them.
Summary: Chapter 11
On the way to the business district in Maycomb is the house of Mrs. Dubose, a cantankerous old lady who always shouts at Jem and Scout as they pass by. Atticus warns Jem to be a gentleman to her, because she is old and sick, but one day she tells the children that Atticus is not any better than the “niggers and trash he works for,” and Jem loses his temper. Jem takes a baton from Scout and destroys all of Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes. As punishment, Jem must go to her house every day for a month and read to her. Scout accompanies him and they endure Mrs. Dubose's abuse and peculiar fits, which occur at the end of every reading session. Each session is longer than the one before. Mrs. Dubose dies a little more than a month after Jem's punishment ends. Atticus reveals to Jem that she was addicted to morphine and that the reading was part of her successful effort to combat this addiction. Atticus gives Jem a box that Mrs. Dubose had given her maid for Jem; in it lies a single white camellia.
Analysis: Chapters 9–11
The fire in which the previous section culminated represents an important turning point in the narrative structure of To Kill a Mockingbird. Before the fire, the novel centers on Scout's childhood world, the games that she plays with Jem and Dill, and their childhood superstitions about Boo Radley. After the fire, Boo Radley and childhood pursuits begin to retreat from the story, and the drama of the trial takes over. This shift begins the novel's gradual dramatization of the loss-of-innocence theme, as adult problems and concerns begin disrupting the happy world of the Finch children.
The occasion for the adult world to intrude on Scout's life is the trial of Tom Robinson. Because Robinson is a black man accused of raping a white woman, the white residents of Maycomb are furious that Atticus, the town's best lawyer, would choose to help his cause. The townspeople are unwilling to limit their displays of anger to Atticus himself; Scout and Jem become targets as well. The town of Maycomb, whose inhabitants have been presented thus far in a largely positive light, suddenly turns against the Finches, as the ugly, racist underbelly of Southern life exposes itself. Even members of Atticus's own family—Alexandra and her obnoxious grandson—condemn his decision to defend Tom Robinson. Chapter 9 marks Alexandra's first appearance in the story, and her portrayal is mostly negative; only later will she develop into a sympathetic character.
The adversity faced by the family reveals Atticus's parenting style, his focus on instilling moral values in Jem and Scout. Particularly important to Atticus are justice, restraint, and honesty. He tells his children to avoid getting in fights, even if they are verbally abused, and to practice quiet courage instead. When he gives Jem and Scout air rifles as presents, he advises them that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. This idea is, of course, the source of the novel's title, and it reflects the book's preoccupation with injustices inflicted upon innocents. In different ways, Jem and Scout, Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson are all “mockingbirds.”
The incident with the mad dog demonstrates Atticus's courage and symbolizes the town's dependence upon his protection from both the rabid animal and the worst evil within themselves. That Scout, in particular, is so impressed with the masculine prowess with which she associates his marksmanship symbolizes how much she has to learn about courage. For, in Atticus's mind, true bravery has nothing to do with weapons. The subsequent events surrounding Mrs. Dubose give him an opportunity to show Jem what he considers real courage. Mrs. Dubose, in many ways, represents everything wrong with Maycomb: she is unforgivably racist, raining curses on the children and denigrating Atticus for representing a black man. Yet the darkness in her is balanced by her bravery and determination, and just as Atticus loves Maycomb despite its flaws, he respects Mrs. Dubose for possessing “real courage,” which he explains as “when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” This attitude, of course, fittingly describes Atticus's approach to the Tom Robinson case. Atticus puts into practice every moral idea that he espouses, which is the key to his importance in Maycomb and his heroism in the novel.
The camellia that Mrs. Dubose leaves Jem constitutes a distillation of what Atticus considers her essential goodness. She has sloughed off her mortal persona, one that is racist and irritable, and the whiteness of the flower symbolizes the purity of soul that Atticus attributes to everyone. Jem's initial rejection of the gift symbolizes his inability to see this goodness. Whereas Mrs. Dubose's gesture seems to imply an appreciation of Jem, Jem has not yet matured enough to realize that good and evil can coexist within the same person; he thus remains unwilling to accept that Mrs. Dubose could represent anything good.
Part Two, Chapters 12–13
Summary: Chapter 12
By this time, Jem has reached the age of twelve, and he begins to demand that Scout “stop pestering him” and act more like a girl. Scout becomes upset and looks forward desperately to Dill's arrival in the summer. To Scout's disappointment, however, Dill does not come to Maycomb this year. He sends a letter saying that he has a new father (presumably, his mother has remarried) and will stay with his family in Meridian. To make matters worse, the state legislature, of which Atticus is a member, is called into session, forcing Atticus to travel to the state capital every day for two weeks.
Calpurnia decides to take the children to her church, a “colored” church, that Sunday. Maycomb's black church is an old building, called First Purchase because it was bought with the first earnings of freed slaves. One woman, Lula, criticizes Calpurnia for bringing white children to church, but the congregation is generally friendly, and Reverend Sykes welcomes them, saying that everyone knows their father. The church has no money for hymnals, and few of the parishioners can read, so they sing by echoing the words that Zeebo, Calpurnia's eldest son and the town garbage collector, reads from their only hymnal. During the service, Reverend Sykes takes up a collection for Tom Robinson's wife, Helen, who cannot find work now that her husband has been accused of rape. After the service, Scout learns that Tom Robinson has been accused by Bob Ewell and cannot understand why anyone would believe the Ewells' word. When the children return home, they find Aunt Alexandra waiting for them.
Summary: Chapter 13
Aunt Alexandra explains that she should stay with the children for a while, to give them a “feminine influence.” Maycomb gives her a fine welcome: various ladies in the town bake her cakes and have her over for coffee, and she soon becomes an integral part of the town's social life. Alexandra is extremely proud of the Finches and spends much of her time discussing the characteristics of the various families in Maycomb. This “family consciousness” is an integral part of life in Maycomb, an old town where the same families have lived for generations, where every family has its quirks and eccentricities. However, Jem and Scout lack the pride that Aunt Alexandra considers commensurate with being a Finch. She orders Atticus to lecture them on the subject of their ancestry. He makes a valiant attempt but succeeds only in making Scout cry.
Analysis: Chapters 12–13
Dill's absence from Maycomb coincides appropriately with the continued encroachment of the adult world upon Scout's childhood, as Dill has represented the perspective of childhood throughout the novel. Scout's journey to Calpurnia's church is the reader's first glimpse of the black community in Maycomb, which is portrayed in an overwhelmingly positive light. An air of desperate poverty hangs over the church—the building is unpainted, they cannot afford hymnals, and the congregation is illiterate—yet the adversity seems to bring the people closer together and creates a stronger sense of community than is found in Scout's own church. The devotion of the black church contrasts starkly with the hypocrisy of the white ladies' missionary circle that Scout attends in Chapter 24. There, one of the missionary ladies, Mrs. Merriweather, bemoans the plight of the oppressed indigenous people of Africa at the same time that she complains about how moody Maycomb's blacks are.
In addition, Lee introduces the black community at a crucial moment in the narrative—just as race relations in Maycomb are thrown into crisis by the trial of Tom Robinson. By emphasizing the goodness and solidarity of the black community, Lee casts the racism rampant among Maycomb's whites in an extremely harsh and ugly light. One of the main moral themes of the novel is that of sympathy and understanding, Atticus's tenet that Scout should always try to put herself in someone else's shoes before she judges them. Lee enables us to identify with the black community in a way that makes the townspeople's unwillingness to do so seem mean-spirited and stubborn. Simply because of their racial prejudice, the townspeople are prepared to accept the word of the cruel, ignorant Bob Ewell over that of a decent black man. If the novel's main theme involves the threat that evil and hatred pose to innocence and goodness, it becomes clear that ignorant, unsympathetic racial prejudice will be the predominant incarnation of evil and hatred, as the childhood innocence of Scout and Jem is thrown into crisis by the circumstances of the trial.
The visit to the church brings Calpurnia to center stage in the novel. Her character serves as the bridge between two worlds, and the reader develops a sense of her double life, which is split between the Finch household and the black community. When she goes to church, her language changes; she speaks in a “colored” dialect rather than the proper, precise language that she uses in Atticus's household. Jem asks her why, and she explains that the churchgoers would think she was “puttin' on airs fit to beat Moses” if she spoke “white” in church. This speech demonstrates the gulf between blacks and whites in Maycomb: not only do class distinctions and bigotry divide the two races, but language does as well.
Aunt Alexandra, meanwhile, takes over the Finch household and imposes her vision of social order. With her rigid notions of class and her habit of declaring what's best for the family, she naturally clashes with Calpurnia, whose presence she deems unnecessary, and Scout, who wants no part of what her aunt represents—namely, respectable Southern womanhood. The reader may side with Scout at this juncture and consider Aunt Alexandra inflexible and narrow-minded, but (like most of the book's characters) she has many redeeming qualities. She may not have her brother's fierce yearning for justice or his parenting abilities, but her eagerness to rear Jem and Scout properly and her pride in the Finch name demonstrate that she cares deeply about her family.
Summary: Chapter 14
The impending trial of Tom Robinson and Atticus's role as his defense lawyer make Jem and Scout the objects of whispers and glances whenever they go to town. One day, Scout tries to ask Atticus what “rape” is, and the subject of the children's trip to Calpurnia's church comes up. Aunt Alexandra tells Scout she cannot go back the next Sunday. Later, she tries to convince Atticus to get rid of Calpurnia, saying that they no longer need her. Atticus refuses. That night, Jem tells Scout not to antagonize Alexandra. Scout gets angry at being lectured and attacks Jem. Atticus breaks up the fight and sends them to bed. Scout discovers something under her bed. She calls Jem in and they discover Dill hiding there.
Dill has run away from home because his mother and new father did not pay enough attention to him. He took a train from Meridian to Maycomb Junction, fourteen miles away, and covered the remaining distance on foot and on the back of a cotton wagon. Jem goes down the hall and tells Atticus. Atticus asks Scout to get more food than a pan of cold corn bread for Dill, before going next door to tell Dill's aunt, Miss Rachel, of his whereabouts. Dill eats, then gets into Jem's bed to sleep, but soon climbs over to Scout's bed to talk things over.
Summary: Chapter 15
A week after Dill's arrival, a group of men led by the sheriff, Heck Tate, come to Atticus's house in the evening. As his trial is nearing, Tom Robinson is to be moved to the Maycomb jail, and concerns about the possibility of a lynch mob have arisen. Later, Jem tells Scout that Alexandra and Atticus have been arguing about the trial; she nearly accused him of bringing disgrace on the family. The following evening, Atticus takes the car into town. At about ten o'clock, Jem, accompanied by Scout and Dill, sneaks out of the house and follows his father to the town center. From a distance, they see Atticus sitting in front of the Maycomb jail, reading a newspaper. Jem suggests that they not disturb Atticus and return home.
At that moment, four cars drive into Maycomb and park near the jail. A group of men gets out, and one demands that Atticus move away from the jailhouse door. Atticus refuses, and Scout suddenly comes racing out of her hiding place next door, only to realize that this group of men differs from the group that came to their house the previous night. Jem and Dill follow her, and Atticus orders Jem to go home. Jem refuses, and one of the men tells Atticus that he has fifteen seconds to get his children to leave.
Meanwhile, Scout looks around the group and recognizes Mr. Walter Cunningham, the father of her classmate Walter Cunningham. She starts talking to him about his legal entailments and his son, and asks him to tell his son “hey.” All of the men stare at her. Mr. Cunningham, suddenly ashamed, squats down and tells Scout that he will tell his son “hey” for her, and then tells his companions to clear out. They depart, and Mr. Underwood, the owner of the newspaper, speaks from a nearby window where he is positioned with a double-barreled shotgun: “Had you covered all the time, Atticus.” Atticus and Mr. Underwood talk for a while, and then Atticus takes the children home.
Analysis: Chapters 14–15
If Aunt Alexandra embodies the rules and customs of the adult world, then the reappearance of Dill at this juncture offers Scout an opportunity to flee, at least for a short time, back into the comforts of childhood. However, Dill's return also emphasizes the growing gulf in development between Scout and Jem. In the previous section, we saw the twelve-year-old Jem indignantly urging Scout to act more like a girl, indicating his growing awareness of adult social roles and expectations. Here again, Jem proves clearly too old for the childhood solidarity that Dill's presence recalls. Scout relates that, upon seeing Dill under the bed, Jem “rose and broke the remaining code of our childhood” by telling Atticus. To Scout, this act makes Jem a “traitor,” though it is really an act of responsibility that marks Jem's maturation toward adulthood.
Dill's account of his family troubles reminds both Scout and the reader of the Finch household's good fortune. Atticus is a wonderful father, and Aunt Alexandra's faults result from caring too much rather than too little. Dill's parents have treated him with apathy and disregard, perhaps the greatest offense a parent can commit.
As Scout duly notes, the world of childhood fun that Dill represents can no longer stave off the adult reality of hatred and unfairness that Jem finds himself entering. Whereas, two years before, the Finch children's lives were dominated by games and friendship with Dill, their lives now focus on the adult world of Tom Robinson's trial. The now mature Jem leads Scout and Dill into town on the night that Atticus faces the lynch mob. Symbolically, this scene marks Jem's transition from boy to man, as he stands beside Atticus and refuses to “go home,” since only a child would do so. Though he disobeys his father, he does so not petulantly but maturely. He understands Atticus's difficult situation with regard to the case and consequently fears for Atticus's safety. Nevertheless, the confrontation is dominated by Scout's innocence, still sufficiently intact that she can chat with Mr. Cunningham about his son despite being surrounded by a hostile lynch mob.
Some critics find Scout's performance and the dispersal of the mob in this scene unconvincing and pat, wondering how Scout can remain so blissfully unaware of what is really going on and how Mr. Cunningham can be persuaded by Scout's Southern courtesy to break up the drunken posse. Within the moral universe of To Kill a Mockingbird, the behavior of both characters makes perfect sense. As befits her innocence, Scout remains convinced of other people's essential goodness, a conviction that the novel shares. Rather than marking them as inherently evil, the mob members' racism only shrouds their humanity, their worthiness, and their essential goodness. Scout's attempt at politeness makes Mr. Cunningham realize her essential goodness, and he responds with civility and kindness. As Atticus says later, the events of that night prove that “a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they're still human.”
Summary: Chapter 16
The trial begins the next day. People from all over the county flood the town. Everyone makes an appearance in the courtroom, from Miss Stephanie Crawford to Mr. Dolphus Raymond, a wealthy eccentric who owns land on a river bank, lives near the county line, is involved with a black woman, and has mulatto children. Only Miss Maudie refuses to go, saying that watching someone on trial for his life is like attending a Roman carnival.
The vast crowd camps in the town square to eat lunch. Afterward, Jem, Scout, and Dill wait for most of the crowd to enter the courthouse so that they can slip in at the back and thus prevent Atticus from noticing them. However, because they wait too long, they succeed in getting seats only when Reverend Sykes lets them sit in the balcony where black people are required to sit in order to watch the trial. From these seats, they can see the whole courtroom. Judge Taylor, a white-haired old man with a reputation for running his court in an informal fashion, presides over the case.
Summary: Chapter 17
The prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer, questions Heck Tate, who recounts how, on the night of November 21, Bob Ewell urged him to go to the Ewell house and told him that his daughter Mayella had been raped. When Tate got there, he found Mayella bruised and beaten, and she told him that Tom Robinson had raped her. Atticus cross-examines the witness, who admits that no doctor was summoned, and tells Atticus that Mayella's bruises were concentrated on the right side of her face. Tate leaves the stand, and Bob Ewell is called.
Bob Ewell and his children live behind the town garbage dump in a tin-roofed cabin with a yard full of trash. No one is sure how many children Ewell has, and the only orderly corner of the yard is planted with well-tended geraniums rumored to belong to Mayella. An extremely rude little man, Ewell testifies that on the evening in question he was coming out of the woods with a load of kindling when he heard his daughter yelling. When he reached the house, he looked in the window and saw Tom Robinson raping her. Robinson fled, and Ewell went into the house, saw that his daughter was all right, and ran for the sheriff. Atticus's cross-examination is brief: he asks Mr. Ewell why no doctor was called (it was too expensive and there was no need), and then has the witness write his name. Bob Ewell, the jury sees, is left-handed—and a left-handed man would be more likely to leave bruises on the right side of a girl's face.
Analysis: Chapters 16–17
The trial is the most gripping, and in some ways the most important, dramatic sequence in To Kill a Mockingbird; the testimony and deliberations cover about five chapters with almost no digression. (Additionally, the courtroom scene, with Atticus picking apart the Ewells as the whole town watches, is the most cinematic portion of the narrative, and it is the centerpiece of the 1962 film version of the novel.) Though the trial targets Tom Robinson, in another sense it is Maycomb that is on trial, and while Atticus eventually loses the court case, he successfully reveals the injustice of a stratified society that confines blacks to the “colored balcony” and allows the word of a despicable, ignorant man like Bob Ewell to prevail without question over the word of a man who happens to be black. In the trial conducted in the courtroom, Atticus loses. In the trial conducted in the mind of the reader, it is the white community, wallowing in prejudice and hatred, that loses.
It is fitting that the children end up sitting in the “colored section” of the courthouse, just as it is fitting that Miss Maudie refuses to attend the trial. All three lack the racism that the crowd of white faces in the courtroom propagates. Jem, Scout, and Dill are segregated even from the other children, who have taunted Jem and Scout with cries of “nigger-lover” in the schoolyard.
That the trial scene creates such an atmosphere of suspense is testimony to the author's skill, because there is no real suspense; even Atticus knows that the verdict is a foregone conclusion. No matter what evidence is presented at the trial, the racist jury would never, under any circumstances, acquit a black man accused of raping a white woman. The reader knows that Tom Robinson will be found guilty, so Lee locates the tension and suspense elsewhere—in Atticus's slow but steady dismantling of the prosecution's case. Jem, still clinging to his youthful illusions about life working according to concepts of fairness, doesn't understand that his father's brilliant efforts will be in vain. He believes that the irrefutable implications of the evidence will clinch the case for Atticus. When Jem says, “We've got him,” after Bob Ewell is shown to be left-handed, the reader knows better. Atticus, like Mrs. Dubose in her battle with morphine, is “licked” before he begins.
Bob Ewell's real name is Robert E. Lee Ewell, a moniker that links him with the South's past and makes him absurd by comparison with his namesake, General Robert E. Lee, who fought valiantly for the Confederacy in the Civil War despite his opposition to slavery. If Robert E. Lee represents the idealized South, then Bob Ewell epitomizes its darker and less respectable side, dominated by thoughtless prejudice, squalor, and meanness. Atticus's admonition to Scout that she should increase her tolerance by stepping inside other people's shoes does not apply to Bob Ewell. When Atticus tries to do so later, he only underestimates the depth of this little man's wickedness. The irony, of course, is that Bob Ewell is completely unimportant; he is an arrogant, lazy, abusive fool, laughed at by his fellow townsfolk. Yet in the racist world of Maycomb, sadly, even he has the power to destroy an innocent man—perhaps the novel's most tragic example of the threat posed to innocence by evil.
Summary: Chapter 18
The trial continues, with the whole town glued to the proceedings. Mayella, who testifies next, is a reasonably clean—by the Ewells' standards—and obviously terrified nineteen-year-old girl. She says that she called Tom Robinson inside the fence that evening and offered him a nickel to break up a dresser for her, and that once he got inside the house he grabbed her and took advantage of her. In Atticus's cross-examination, Mayella reveals that her life consists of seven unhelpful siblings, a drunken father, and no friends.
Atticus then examines her testimony and asks why she didn't put up a better fight, why her screams didn't bring the other children running, and, most important, how Tom Robinson managed the crime: how he bruised the right side of her face with his useless left hand, which was torn apart by a cotton gin when he was a boy. Atticus pleads with Mayella to admit that there was no rape, that her father beat her. She shouts at him and yells that the courtroom would have to be a bunch of cowards not to convict Tom Robinson; she then bursts into tears, refusing to answer any more questions. In the recess that follows, Mr. Underwood notices the children up in the balcony, but Jem tells Scout that the newspaper editor won't tell Atticus about their being there—although he might include it in the social section of the newspaper. The prosecution rests, and Atticus calls only one witness—Tom Robinson.
Summary: Chapter 19
Tom testifies that he always passed the Ewell house on the way to work and that Mayella often asked him to do chores for her. On the evening in question, he recounts, she asked him to come inside the house and fix a door. When he got inside, there was nothing wrong with the door, and he noticed that the other children were gone. Mayella told him she had saved her money and sent them all to buy ice cream. Then she asked him to lift a box down from a dresser. When Tom climbed on a chair, she grabbed his legs, scaring him so much that he jumped down. She then hugged him around the waist and asked him to kiss her. As she struggled, her father appeared at the window, calling Mayella a whore and threatening to kill her. Tom fled.
Link Deas, Tom's white employer, stands up and declares that in eight years of work, he has never had any trouble from Tom. Judge Taylor furiously expels Deas from the courtroom for interrupting. Mr. Gilmer gets up and cross-examines Tom. The prosecutor points out that the defendant was once arrested for disorderly conduct and gets Tom to admit that he has the strength, even with one hand, to choke the breath out of a woman and sling her to the floor. He begins to badger the witness, asking about his motives for always helping Mayella with her chores, until Tom declares that he felt sorry for her. This statement puts the courtroom ill at ease—in Maycomb, black people aren't supposed to feel sorry for a white person. Mr. Gilmer reviews Mayella's testimony, accusing Tom of lying about everything. Dill begins to cry, and Scout takes him out of the courtroom. Outside the courtroom, Dill complains to Scout about Mr. Gilmer's rude treatment of Tom Robinson during the questioning. As they walk, Scout and Dill encounter Mr. Dolphus Raymond, the rich white man with the colored mistress and mulatto children.
Analysis: Chapters 18–19
Mayella Ewell is pitiable, and her miserable existence almost allows her to join the novel's parade of innocent victims—she, too, is a kind of mockingbird, injured beyond repair by the forces of ugliness, poverty, and hatred that surround her. Lee's presentation of Mayella emphasizes her role as victim—her father beats her and possibly molests her, while she has to deal with her unhelpful siblings. She has lacked kind treatment in her life to such an extent that when Atticus calls her Miss Mayella, she accuses him of making fun of her. She has no friends, and Scout seems justified in thinking that she “must have been the loneliest person in the world.” On the other hand, though, Scout's picture of Mayella as a victim is marred by her attempt to become a victimizer, to destroy Tom Robinson in order to cover her shame. We can have little real sympathy for Mayella Ewell—whatever her sufferings, she inflicts worse cruelty on others. Unlike Mr. Cunningham, who, in Chapter 15, is touched enough by Scout's human warmth to disperse the lynch mob, Mayella responds to Atticus's polite interrogation with grouchy snarls.
Pity must be reserved for Tom Robinson, whose honesty and goodness render him supremely moral. Unlike the Ewells, Tom is hardworking and honest and has enough compassion to make the fatal mistake of feeling sorry for Mayella Ewell. His story is the true version of events: because of both Tom's obviously truthful nature and Atticus's brilliant and morally scathing questioning of the Ewells, the story leaves no room for doubt. A number of critics have objected that the facts of the case are crafted to be—no pun intended—too black and white. But, as Atticus's awareness of his defeat as a foregone conclusion suggests, Lee was not interested in the believability of the trial. The exaggerated demarcation between good and bad renders the trial more important for its symbolic portrayal of the destruction of an innocent by evil. As clear as it is that Tom is innocent, it is equally clear that Tom is doomed to die.
Link Deas represents the diametric opposite of prejudice. The fact that Tom is black doesn't factor into Deas's assessment of him; rather, he is particularly conscientious about scrutinizing Tom only in respect to his individual character. However, just as the court refuses to accept the undeniable implications of the evidence that Atticus presents, so too does it refuse to accept the implications of Deas's validation of Tom's character. The judge expels Deas because his interjection during the proceedings threatens the integrity of the formal manner in which court proceedings are run; the grim irony, of course, is that the blatant prejudice of the trial does so as well, though the judge does nothing to alleviate this prejudice.
The reader is spared much of Mr. Gilmer's harsh cross-examination of Tom when Dill's crying takes Scout out of the courtroom. Dill is still a child, and he responds to wickedness with tears, much as the reader responds to Mr. Gilmer's unabashed prejudice with disgust. The small sample of his cross-examination that Scout and the reader do hear is enough. Calling Tom “boy” and accusing him at every turn, the racist Mr. Gilmer believes that Tom must be lying, must be violent, must lust after white women—simply because he is black.