To Kill a Mockingbird
|Genre(s)||Historical novel, Social Issues|
|Media Type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||336 (Hardcover 40th Anniversary edition)|
|ISBN||0060194995 (Hardcover 40th Anniversary edition)|
To Kill a Mockingbird is a 1960 novel by Harper Lee, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. A coming-of-age story, it is told from the point of view of Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, the young daughter of Atticus Finch, an educated lawyer in Maycomb, Alabama, a fictional small town in the Deep South of the United States. She is accompanied by her brother Jem and their mutual friend Dill.
Scout Finch lives with her brother, Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus, in the sleepy Alabama county of Maycomb. Maycomb is suffering through the Great Depression, but Atticus is a prominent lawyer and the Finch family is reasonably well off in comparison to the rest of society. One summer, Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill, who has come to live in their neighborhood for the summer, and the trio acts out stories together. Eventually, Dill becomes fascinated with the spooky house on their street called the Radley Place. The house is owned by Mr. Nathan Radley, whose brother, Arthur (nicknamed Boo), has lived there for years without venturing outside in daylight.
Scout goes to school for the first time that fall and detests it. She and Jem find gifts apparently left for them in a knothole of a tree on the Radley property. Dill returns the following summer, and he, Scout, and Jem begin to act out the story of Boo Radley. Atticus puts a stop to their antics, urging the children to try to see life from another person’s perspective before making judgments. But, on Dill’s last night in Maycomb for the summer, the three sneak onto the Radley property, where Nathan Radley shoots at them. Jem loses his pants in the ensuing escape. When he returns for them, he finds them mended and hung over the fence. The next winter, Jem and Scout find more presents in the tree, presumably left by the mysterious Boo. Nathan Radley eventually plugs the knothole with cement. Shortly thereafter, a fire breaks out in another neighbor’s house, and during the fire someone slips a blanket on Scout’s shoulders as she watches the blaze. Convinced that Boo did it, Jem tells Atticus about the mended pants and the presents.
To the consternation of Maycomb’s racist white community, Atticus agrees to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell. Because of Atticus’s decision, Jem and Scout are subjected to abuse from other children, even when they celebrate Christmas at the family compound on Finch’s Landing. Calpurnia, the Finches’ black cook, takes them to the local black church, where the warm and close-knit community largely embraces the children.
Atticus’s sister, Alexandra, comes to live with the Finches the next summer. Dill, who is supposed to live with his “new father” in another town, runs away and comes to Maycomb. Tom Robinson’s trial begins, and when the accused man is placed in the local jail, a mob gathers to lynch him. Atticus faces the mob down the night before the trial. Jem and Scout, who have snuck out of the house, soon join him. Scout recognizes one of the men, and her polite questioning about his son shames him into dispersing the mob.
At the trial itself, the children sit in the “colored balcony” with the town’s black citizens. Atticus provides clear evidence that the accusers, Mayella Ewell and her father, Bob, are lying: in fact, Mayella propositioned Tom Robinson, was caught by her father, and then accused Tom of rape to cover her shame and guilt. Atticus provides impressive evidence that the marks on Mayella’s face are from wounds that her father inflicted; upon discovering her with Tom, he called her a whore and beat her. Yet, despite the significant evidence pointing to Tom’s innocence, the all-white jury convicts him. The innocent Tom later tries to escape from prison and is shot to death. In the aftermath of the trial, Jem’s faith in justice is badly shaken, and he lapses into despondency and doubt.
Despite the verdict, Bob Ewell feels that Atticus and the judge have made a fool out of him, and he vows revenge. He menaces Tom Robinson’s widow, tries to break into the judge’s house, and finally attacks Jem and Scout as they walk home from a Halloween party. Boo Radley intervenes, however, saving the children. Atticus believes that Jem fatally stabbed Mr. Ewell in the struggle. Boo carries the wounded Jem back to Atticus’s house, where the sheriff, in order to protect Boo (who probably did stab Mr. Ewell), insists that Ewell tripped over a tree root and fell on his own knife. After sitting with Scout for a while, Boo is walked to his home by Scout. While standing on the Radley porch Scout feels sorry for Boo because she and Jem never gave him a chance, and never repaid him for the gifts that he gave them.
Later, Scout feels as though she can finally imagine what life is like for Boo. He has become a human being to her at last. With this realization, Scout embraces her father’s advice to practice sympathy and understanding and demonstrates that her experiences with hatred and prejudice will not sully her faith in human goodness.
The title of the book is taken from Atticus's advice to his children about firing their air rifles at birds: "Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird". The blue jay is a very common bird, and is often perceived as a bully and a pest (and in folklore, is also associated with the Devil), whereas mockingbirds do nothing but "sing their hearts out for us". Metaphorically, several of the book's characters can be seen as "mockingbirds" (Tom Robinson and Boo Radley), because they are constantly attacked despite doing nothing but good. The mockingbird represents innocence, and to kill one is to metaphorically kill innocence. Note that the protagonists are also named after birds: Tom Robinson and the Finch family. However, "Finch" was also Lee's mother's maiden name.
Characters in "To Kill a Mockingbird"
Jean Louise "Scout" Finch is the protagonist and narrator of the story. She is a 9 year old girl and a tomboy, possibly due to her closeness with her older brother. Her tomboyish traits include her not liking to wear dresses as well as participating in playground fights. She is also quite intelligent; she could read since she was a toddler and takes advanced math and science courses at school, although she is held back by her teacher's teaching methods. It is stated that she has bangs (a fringe) and wears overalls. She enjoys playing with her brother Jem and protected him when they were attacked by Bob Ewell. Perhaps Scout Finch's most recognised phrase in the novel was "I was to be a Ham". This came about because of a state fair which was occuring at the time. When Scout and Jem were attacked by Bob Ewell, Scout was wearing her "Ham Suit" because the classroom where she had gotten changed was locked, and she was only wearing her undergarments.
Jeremy Atticus "Jem" Finch is Scout's older brother. Jem undergoes crucial transformations in the work as he becomes a man. The trial of Tom Robinson is Jem's first real encounter with injustice, and the realization of its existence drives him into a sullen state. Prior to this, he had viewed the world innocently, thinking of people as one-sided. He viewed Boo Radley, for example, as a frightening figure. Jem was able to overcome his sullenness due to the strong presence of Atticus in his life, and became a bigger person as he achieved a greater understanding of the world and how to view and treat other human beings. He also grew distant from Scout, as opposed to their closeness at the begining of the novel, who he often asked to act more like a lady as the book progresses.
Atticus Finch is the father of Scout and Jem, and a lawyer who defends Tom Robinson, a black man being tried for rape. He does this because he feels that not doing so would make him a hypocrite, and that he should try his best to try to save Tom Robinson from unfair persecution. Atticus serves as a guiding light for his children, always calm and patient. He teaches them that one should not dwell on the fact that evil exists, but that they should instead realize that the existence of this evil is a sign that there is work to do, and progress to make. He provides a strong influence on his children, informing and preparing them on the harsh realities of the world. Atticus provides the moral backbone of the story. He is not only a very effective and just lawyer, but holds kindness and empathy as the highest traits a person can have. Scout calls Atticus by his first name instead of an honorific title such as "father," "dad," "papa," "pop," etc.
Lee has taken care in choosing her characters' names. Atticus was the name of a Roman philospher, Titus Pomponius Atticus, who never took sides in arguments.
Arthur "Boo" Radley symbolizes destroyed innocence. Having been involved in a petty gang as a teenager, his father ensured that he stayed at home rather than be sent to the State Industrial School by the judge. However, this led him to be isolated from the outside world. A gentle creature, he is viewed with fear by the children, who do not come to a better understanding of him until the end of the work. He does several heroic things, including giving Scout a blanket during a neighborhood fire, and saving the children from an assault. His misconceived good nature testifies to the message of the story, one of kindness and the notion that people should not make judgments on others, since human beings are not that simple. Arthur Radley is one of the "mockingbirds" in the story.
Tom Robinson is important to the novel for many different reasons. Firstly, he acts as a scapegoat in the novel — allowed to take the blame for something he didn't do (raping Mayella). He represents the 'mockingbird,' doing nothing but good (helping Mayella with various tasks and expecting no payment in return). In addition, his case shows that many White people are prejudiced against the Black people of Maycomb. Although Scout is too young to understand the basic principle of racism, her description of the trial of Tom lets the readers know that the author is against racism. The book is Bildungsroman — showing how she and Jem are growing up.
Robert 'Bob' Ewell is the father of a number of children, including Mayella and Burris Ewell. He is a racist character who spits on Atticus after Tom Robinson's court case. Bob Ewell and his family are the town embarrassment. In an attempt at revenge, he tries to kill Atticus's children, but is presumably killed by Boo Radley.
Mayella Violet Ewell is Tom Robinson's 19 year old accuser. She is the eldest daughter of Bob Ewell and has to take care of her siblings since all Ewell children go to school only one day per school year. Mayella's mother died when Mayella was a child or adolescent and since the mother's untimely passing her daughter has become her widower's surrogate wife and children's mother. She was continuously physically abused by her father; Atticus politely and indirectly proves this by mentioning the bruises concentrated on her right side. Mayella cannot attend school because she must stay home, take care of her siblings, and clean. She is isolated from her peers and very lonely. She wants a better life for herself and lovingly grows red geraniums, but a change in her situation is unlikely. To get the human contact that she so craves, she attempts to seduce a black man, but her father sees this and beats her up, calling her a whore, then he finds the sheriff and tells him that his daughter has been raped. By testifying against Tom she contributes to the racism that divides the town and the situation escalates to the point where everyone is involved.
Aunt Alexandra is Atticus' proper sister, who comes to live with them to make a lady out of the tomboy Scout and restore proper Southern order to their home. Her views on Atticus' decision to have a "negro" in the house are made clear as she asks Atticus to 'get rid of her'. Alexandra is not in the film version.
Miss Maudie Atkinson lives across the street from the Finches. She enjoys baking and gardening. She is also considered by some to be a symbolic Mockingbird, as she is frequently harassed by devout Primitive Baptists who tell her that her enjoyment of gardening is sin. During the course of the novel her house burns down; this event does not take place in the film.
Calpurnia is the cook and maid to the Finch family. Calpurnia is much more than a cook and is deeply respected by Atticus; she can be described as a mother figure and refers to Scout and Jem as "her kids". In Scout's early life she provides discipline, instruction, and love. Calpurnia is one of the few Negros able to read and write, and teaches Scout to write prior to Scout's entry into school.
Charles Baker "Dill" Harris is one year older than Scout. He spends the summer with his aunt, Miss Rachel Haverford, in Maycomb. He lives for the rest of the year in Meridian, Mississippi. Dill has a crush on Jean Louise "Scout" Finch and wants to marry her in the future. This character is based on the author's close friend Truman Capote.
Mrs. Henry-Lafayette Dubose is an old lady who lives near the Finches. She shouts her opinion at all who pass, and is often extremely impolite. Dubose has many stereotypes that were common during the time period. She heavily critizes Jem and Scout's father Atticus for defending Tom Robinson. After this, Jem cuts the tops off of her camellias. He is then punished by his father. The punishment is he must help to replant her flowers and read to her. She dies soon after his punishment is over. Atticus reveals that the reading sessions were helping her to break her addiction to morphine, a goal she wanted to accomplish before she died. And for this Atticus shows a great deal of respect towards her.
Heck Tate is the sheriff of Maycomb. He is characterized as a neutral, fair-minded, but somewhat weak-willed character. However, his decision at the end of the novel to report the killing of Tom Ewell as a self-inflicted stabbing provides a measure of protection to Arthur Radley.
Mr. Horace Gilmer is a lawyer from Abbotsville. He is the man who presents prosecution against Tom Robinson.
Miss Rachel Haverford is Dill's aunt and lives next door to the Finches.
Miss Stephanie Crawford lives next door to the Finches and enjoys gossiping.
The Cunninghams are a poor family in Maycomb. The father is a part of the Old Sarum mob that tries to lynch Tom Robinson.
Nathan Radley is Arthur Radley's brother, who now is the head of the Radley house, since his father died. Like his father, he tries to isolate Arthur "Boo" Radley from the outside world.
Mr. Dick Avery is an unpleasant old man who rents a room from Miss Maudie until her house burns down.
Dr. Dolphus Raymond is a disliked white man who married a black woman. He pretends he is an alcoholic, but he only drinks Coca Cola out of a sack. He does this to put the people of Maycomb at ease, to give them a reason why he married a black woman. He knows they will not understand why he lives as he does, so by pretending he is a drunk, he makes life easier for himself (and for Maycomb).
Mr. Underwood writes the Maycomb Tribune. Although he is racist himself, he helps Atticus protect Tom Robinson from the mob. Following Tom's conviction, however, he writes an editorial proclaiming that killing a cripple is like killing a mockingbird.
Miss Caroline Fisher is Scout's first grade teacher and is new to Maycomb and its ways. She suffers an embarrassing event as Scout tries to teach her the ways of Maycomb County
Miss Gates is Scout's third grade teacher. She is nice, but ironically, is unable to see the prejudice that African Americans face in the US, as opposed to her hatred and understanding of the discrimination that Jews faced in Nazi Germany.
Reverend Sykes is the reverend of the First Purchase M.E. African Church in Maycomb County. This is the church where Tom Robinson attended. Reverend Sykes forces the congregation to donate $10 for Tom Robinson's family.
Mrs. Grace Merriweather is one of Scout's neighbors. She attended the Missionary Tea. She feels bad for the Mrunas who suffer because they don't act as a real family and have a poor social status in society and also supports the way that J. Grimes Everett is the only person who is willing to help the Mrunas. She, however, does not see how the blacks suffer and can also not see how Atticus is the only white in Maycomb who is willing to directly support Tom Robinson. By talking about this under Atticus's own roof, Mrs. Merriweather angers Miss Maudie. Mrs. Merriweather was also the leader of the Halloween Pageant where Scout was a ham.
Zeebo, Calpurnia's son, is the town garbage collector. He is one of only 4 in the church who can read.
Chapter 1 - Introduces the Finch family: widowed father Atticus, son Jem and daughter Scout. The Finches are neighbors with the Radleys, a reculusive family who's son, Boo, got into some trouble as a kid and was forced into seclusion by the family. Boo is a mystery to the Finch siblings and he is viewed as a sort of evil spirit by the local children.
Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science
Harper Lee stated, "To get the ideas for the book I used recent events in my time like the Scottsboro Trials." (Harper Lee, Book Review, 1964)
Literary significance & criticism
- Atticus Finch was voted the greatest hero of all time by the American Film Institute in their special feature AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains.
- Truman Capote frequently implied that he himself had written a considerable portion of this novel, and some have said he ghosted the entire novel. At least one person — Pearl Kazin Bell, an editor at Harper's — has gone on record as believing his assertions were true. However, Capote would likely have been much more aggressive in claiming credit for the novel's Pulitzer Prize had he been the real author, since he never achieved a Pulitzer for his own work. His persona was far more flamboyant than Lee's, and their writing styles reflect this difference. And a letter (dated July 9, 1959) from Capote to his aunt indicates that Harper Lee did indeed write the entire book herself . However, in one respect, his influence on the work is inescapable: he was the model for the character of Dill.
- The book is also commonly used in England as a piece of literature for the English Lit. GCSE examinations and in the Republic of Ireland in the Junior Cert examinations.
Allusions/references from other works
- The 2006 film Failure To Launch contains a subplot about killing a mockingbird. The book is specifically mentioned in the gun shop scene, and the "killing innocence" theme has obvious parallels with pushing middle-aged men out of their parents' homes.
- The character of Boo Radley — a mysterious neighbor who lives quietly in his dark house and is feared by the local children — gave his name to the British band The Boo Radleys.
- In the 2002 film Mr. Deeds, when the Winona Ryder character is telling Adam Sandler's character about her "hometown," she mentions breaking her arm after falling from "Boo Radley's" tree house.
- In the 2001 film Vanilla Sky, several images from the movie adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird are prominently featured. The movie adaptation is also one of director Cameron Crowe's all time favorite films
- In the TV Series, Everybody Loves Raymond, the title character buys his wife's favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird.
- In the TV series Get Smart, Maxwell Smart hunts down the Mexican artifact, the "Tequila Mockingbird".
- In a 2002 episode of Smallville called "Hug," Lex Luthor compares Clark Kent/Superman to Atticus Finch.
- In the DC Comics continuity, it has been established that To Kill a Mockingbird is Superman's favorite book.
- In 2005, the Seattle-based rock group Acceptance released an instrumental track on their album Phantoms titled "Ad Astra Per Aspera", after the Halloween pageant that Scout is in near the end of the book.
- In Issue 16 of Ex Machina, Mayor Hundred and his mother make a comparison of the mayor's father to Atticus Finch.
- In The Simpsons, episode "Lisa the Simpson", Lisa announces on TV that the citizens of Springfield should treasure their brains by not forgetting the literature classics like To Kill a Mockingbird
- Bruce Hornsby has a song on his 1998 release Spirit Trail entitled "Sneaking Up on Boo Radley" as told from Jem's point of view.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
- The book was made into the well-received and Academy Award-winning film with the same title, To Kill a Mockingbird, in 1962.
- Demi Moore and Bruce Willis named their daughter "Scout".
- American actor Jake Gyllenhaal named his German Shepherd "Atticus" and his Puggle "Boo Radley" after characters from the novel, as his favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird.
- In 2001, Blink-182 band members Tom Delonge and Mark Hoppus created the clothing line Atticus, named after the character in this book. Similarly, the female line of the brand is called Scout. The line's logo is a dead crow.
- The city of Monroeville, Alabama was the author's birthplace and is believed to be the source of the setting of "Maycomb" for the book; the town promotes itself as such.
- Stage and screen actress Kim Stanley serves as the uncredited narrator of the film. As such, she represents Jean Marie (Scout) Finch as an adult.