The chapter opens with the introduction of the narrator, Scout (Jean Louise) Finch, her older brother Jem (Jeremy), and their friend and neighbor, Dill (Charles Baker Harris). Next, Lee provides an overview of Finch family history. Their ancestor, a Methodist named Simon Finch, fled British persecution and eventually settled in Alabama, where he trapped animals for fur and practiced medicine. Having bought several slaves, he established a largely self-sufficient homestead and farm, Finch’s Landing, near Saint Stephens.
The family lost its wealth in the Civil War.
Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, studied law in Montgomery while supporting his brother, John “Jack” Hale Finch, who was in medical school in Boston. Their sister Alexandra remained at Finch’s Landing. Atticus began his law practice in Maycomb, the county seat of Maycomb County, where his “office in the courthouse contained little more than a hat rack, a spittoon, a checkerboard, and an unsullied Code of Alabama. ” His first case entailed defending two men who refused to plead guilty for second-degree murder.
They instead pled not guilty for first-degree murder, and were hanged, marking “probably the beginning of my father’s profound distaste for criminal law. ” Scout then describes Depression-era Maycomb, “an old tired town when I first knew it”, summer heat and slow pace of life. She notes, “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”. Scout describes as her father as entirely “satisfactory,” and her family’s black cook, Calpurnia, as strict and “tyrannical. Scout and Jem’s mother died of a heart attack when Scout was two and she has no memories of her. However, Jem can remember his mother and Scout notices that he is occasionally nostalgic about her. The novel takes begins during the summer. Scout is almost six, and Jem is almost ten. Once this background picture is complete, the real narrative begins with the first meeting of Scout, Jem, and “Dill”, a feisty, imaginative boy who is nearly seven but very small for his age Dill defends his height saying, “I’m little but I’m old”.
From Meridian, Mississippi, Dill will be spending the summer at the nearby house of Miss Rachel Haverford, his aunt. He impresses the Finch children with his dramatic recounting of the movie Dracula, which wins him their respect and friendship. The three engage in summertime play activities of improving the Finch tree and acting out the plots of several of their favorite books. Scout notes that Dill proves to be, “a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies. By late summer, having exhausted these pursuits, the children turn their thoughts to the mysterious Radley place, down the block from the Finch house. The Radley house is said to contain a “malevolent phantom” by the name of Boo Radley. Though the children have never seen him, rumors abound that he is over six feet tall, has rotten yellow teeth, popping eyes and a drool, and eats raw animals. Whenever strange things happen in the neighborhood, Boo is often blamed. Boo’s story is an extension of the strange Radley family, who have always disregarded local custom by “keeping to themselves. ” Prior to his death, Mr.
Radley, Boo’s father, had only been seen on his daily trip to collect groceries from 11:30am-12pm, and the family worshipped together in their own home on Sundays. Their youngest son, Arthur, who the children call Boo, apparently mixed with “the wrong crowd,” a gang of boys who were finally arrested and brought to court after driving an old car through the town square and locking Maycomb’s beadle in an outhouse. Though the other boys were sent to industrial school for punishment, and ironically received excellent educations, Arthur Radley’s family preferred to keep him hidden inside the home.
After fifteen years living at home, the thirty-three-year-old Boo is rumored to have stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors and then quietly continued about his business of cutting out newspaper articles. Refusing to permit his son to be deemed insane or charged with criminal behavior, Mr. Radley allowed Boo to be locked up in the courthouse basement: “the sheriff hadn’t the heart to put him in jail alongside Negroes”. Boo was eventually brought back to the Radley home. After Mr. Radley’s death, his older brother Nathan arrived to continue to watch over Boo and keep him inside and out of sight.
Dill develops an insatiable curiosity about Boo, and wants to lay eyes on this strange “phantom,” who is said to walk about at night looking in windows. Dill dares Jem to go inside the boundary of the Radleys’ front gate. After three days of hedging, Jem’s fear of Boo succumbs to his sense of honor when Dill revises his terms, daring Jem to only touch the house. Jem finally agrees to do this. He runs, touches the house, and the three scramble back to the Finches’ porch, where looking down the street to the Radley house “we thought we saw an inside of a shutter move. Flick – and the house was still. Chapter 2 The summer is over, and September has arrived. Dill has returned to his family in Meridian, and Scout eagerly awaits her first day of school. She is excited about the prospect of finally starting school, but her first day of first grade leaves her extremely disappointed. Her teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, is 21 years old and new to the Maycomb County schools. Miss Caroline is from the richer and more cultured North Alabama, and does not understand the country ways of Maycomb. To begin the day, Miss Caroline reads a saccharine children’s story about cats, which leaves the children feeling restless.
Scout explains, “Miss Caroline seemed unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted and flour-sack-skirted first graders were immune to imaginative literature. ” Half of these children had failed first grade the year before. Therefore, when Miss Caroline writes the alphabet on the board and Scout reads it through easily, then reads from her reader and from the local paper, Miss Caroline forbids Scout to let Atticus teach her to read anymore. Rather than congratulating Scout on her knowledge, Miss Caroline believes Scout is being taught incorrectly and tells her not to read at home anymore.
Scout explains she doesn’t remember learning how to read, but it seems she always knew how. When Miss Caroline forbids her to continue reading, she realizes how important it is to her: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. ” At recess, Jem listens to Scout’s complaints and tries to reassure her, explaining that Miss Caroline is introducing a new teaching technique which he calls the Dewey Decimal System. Back in class, Scout gets bored and starts writing a letter to Dill, but is criticized again by her teacher for knowing how to write in script when she’s only supposed to print in first grade.
Scout blames Calpurnia for teaching her how to write in script on rainy days. At lunchtime, Miss Caroline asks everyone who isn’t going home for lunch to show her their lunch pails. One boy, Walter Cunningham, has no pail and refuses to accept Miss Caroline’s loan of a quarter to buy something with. Miss Caroline doesn’t understand his refusal, and a classmate asks Scout to help explain. Scout tells Miss Caroline that Walter is a Cunningham, and thinks that explanation should be enough.
After realizing Miss Caroline doesn’t know what that means, Scout explains that the Cunninghams don’t accept other people’s help, and just try to get by with what little they have. Scout mentally recollects how Mr. Cunningham, when entailed, repaid Atticus for his legal services by giving the Finch family hickory nuts, stove wood, and other farm produce. The Cunninghams are farmers who don’t have actual money now that the Depression is on. Many professionals in the town charge their country clients in farm produce rather than monetary currency.
When Scout explains that Walter can’t pay back the lunch money Miss Caroline offered, the teacher taps Scout’s hand with a ruler and makes her stand in the corner of the room. Scout and the children are puzzled by this very unthreatening form of “whipping,” and the entire class laughs until a locally-born sixth grade teacher arrives and announces that she’ll “burn up everybody” in the room if they aren’t quiet. The first half of the day ends, and on her way out of the classroom, Scout sees Miss Caroline bury her head in her arms as the children leave the room.
However, Scout doesn’t feel sorry for her considering her unfriendly treatment that morning. Chapter 3 Jem invites Walter Cunningham over for lunch when he finds out that the boy doesn’t have any food. Walter hesitates but then takes Jem up on the friendly offer. At the Finch house, Atticus and Walter discuss farming, and Scout is overwhelmed by their adult speech. Walter asks for some molasses and proceeds to pour it all over his meat and vegetables. Scout rudely asks him what he’s doing and Calpurnia gives her a lecture in the kitchen about how to treat guests – even if they’re from a family like the Cunninghams.
Back at school, there’s a big scene when Miss Caroline screams upon seeing a louse (“cootie”) crawl off of the head of one of the boys in the class. This boy, Burris Ewell, comes from a family so poor that Atticus says they “live like animals. ” Their children come to school on the first day of the year and then are never seen again. The children inform their teacher of this, explaining that “He’s one of the Ewells. ” Miss Caroline wants Burris to go home and take a bath, but before he leaves the room for the rest of the year, he yells crude insults at her and makes her cry.
The children comfort her and she reads them a story. Scout feels discouraged returning home from school. After dinner she tells Atticus she doesn’t want to go back. Atticus asks her to understand the situation from Miss Caroline’s point of view – Miss Caroline can’t be expected to know what to do with her students when she doesn’t know anything about them yet. Scout wants to be like Burris Ewell and not have to go to school at all. As Atticus explains, the town authorities bend the law for the Ewells because they’ll never change their ways – for instance, Mr.
Ewell can hunt out of season because everyone knows he spends his relief checks on whiskey and his children won’t eat if he doesn’t hunt. Atticus teaches Scout about compromise: if she goes to school, Atticus will let her keep reading with him at home. Scout agrees and Atticus reads to her and Jem from the papers. Chapter 4 School continues; the year goes by. Scout doubts that the new educational system is really doing her any good – she finds school boring and wishes the teacher would allow her to read and write, rather than ask the children to do silly activities geared toward “Group Dynamics” and “Good Citizenship. One afternoon, as she runs past the Radley house, she notices something in the knot-hole of one of the oak trees in the front yard. She investigates further and finds two pieces of chewing gum. Scout is careful, but eventually decides to chew them. Upon learning she is chewing found gum, Jem makes her spit it out. Later, toward the end of the school year, Jem and Scout find two polished Indian-head pennies, good luck tokens, inside the same knothole. The children don’t know if the knothole is someone’s hiding place or if the pennies are a gift, but decide to take them and keep them safely at the bottom of Jem’s trunk.
Dill comes to Maycomb for the summer again, full of stories about train rides and his father, whom he claims to have finally seen. The three try to start a few games, but quickly get bored. Jem rolls Scout inside an old tire, but he pushes so hard that it ends up in the Radley’s yard. Terrified, Scout runs back home, but leaves the tire behind. Jem has to run into the yard and retrieve the tire. Dill thinks Boo Radley died and Jem says they stuffed his body up the chimney. Scout thinks maybe he’s still alive. They invent a new game about Boo Radley. Jem plays Boo, Dill plays Mr.
Radley, and Scout plays Mrs. Radley. They polish it up over the summer into a little dramatic reenactment of all the gossip they’ve heard about Boo and his family, including a scene using Calpurnia’s scissors as a prop. One day Atticus catches them playing the game and asks them if it has anything to do with the Radley family. They deny it, and Atticus replies, “I hope it doesn’t. ” Atticus’s sternness forces them to stop playing, and Scout is relieved because she’s worried for another reason: she thought she heard the sound of someone laughing inside the Radley house when her tire rolled into their yard.
Chapter 5 Jem and Dill have become closer friends, and Scout, being a girl, finds herself often excluded from their play. Dill, in childish fashion, has decided to get engaged to Scout, but now he and Jem play together often and Scout finds herself unwelcome. Instead of playing with the boys, Scout often sits with their neighbor, the avid gardener Miss Maudie Atkinson, watches the sun set on her front steps, or partakes of Miss Maudie’s fine homemade cake. Miss Maudie is honest in her speech and her ways, with a witty tongue, and Scout considers her a trusted friend.
Scout asks her one day about Boo Radley, and Miss Maudie says that he’s still alive, he just doesn’t like to come outside. She also says that most of the rumors about him aren’t true. Miss Maudie explains that the Radleys are foot-washing Baptists – they believe all pleasure is a sin against God, and stay inside most of the time reading the Bible. She says that Arthur was a nice boy when she used to know him. The next day, Jem and Dill hatch a plan to leave a note for Boo in the Radley’s window, using a fishing line.
The note will ask him to come out sometimes and tell them what he’s doing inside, and that they won’t hurt him and will buy him ice cream. Dill says he wants Boo to come out and sit with them for a while, as it might make the man feel better. Dill and Scout keep watch in case anyone comes along, and Jem tries to deliver the note with the fishing pole, but finds that it’s harder to maneuver than he expected. As he struggles, Atticus arrives and catches them all. He tells them to stop tormenting Boo, and lectures them about how Boo has a right to his privacy, and that they shouldn’t go near the house unless they’re invited.
He accuses them of putting Boo’s life history on display for the edification of the neighborhood. Jem says that he didn’t say they were doing that, and thus inadvertently admits that they were doing just that. Atticus caught him with “the oldest lawyer’s trick on record. ” Chapter 6 It is Dill’s last summer night in Maycomb. Jem and Scout get permission to go sit with him that evening. Dill wants to go for “a walk,” but it turns into something more: Jem and Dill want to sneak over to the Radley place and peek into one of their windows.
Scout doesn’t want them to do it, but Jem accuses her of being girlish, an insult she can’t bear, and she goes along with it. They sneak under a wire fence and go through a gate. At the window, Scout and Jem hoist Dill up to peek in the window. Dill sees nothing, only curtains and a small faraway light. The boys want to try a back window instead, despite Scout’s pleas to leave. As Jem is raising his head to look in, the shadow of a man appears and crosses over him. As soon as it’s gone, the three children run as fast as they can back home, but Jem loses his pants in the gate. As they run, they hear a shotgun sound somewhere behind them.
When they return, Mr. Radley is standing inside his gate, and Atticus is there with various neighbors. They hear that Mr. Radley was shooting at a “white Negro” in his backyard, and has another barrel waiting if he returns. Dill makes up a story about playing strip poker to explain Jem’s missing pants, and Jem says they were playing with matches rather than cards, which would be considered unforgivable. Dill says goodbye to them, and Jem and Scout go to bed. Jem decides to go back and get his pants late that night. Scout tries to persuade him that it would be better to get whipped by Atticus than to be shot and killed by Mr.
Radley, but Jem insists on going. Jem explains that he’s never been whipped by Atticus and doesn’t want to be. Jem is gone for a little while, but returns with the pants, trembling. Chapter 7 Jem is “moody and silent” after the pants incident. The new school year starts, and Scout finds second grade just as boring as first. One day, she and Jem are walking home together when Jem reveals that when he found his pants that night, they were all folded up, and the tears had been crudely sewn up, as if someone knew that he would be coming back for them. He finds this highly eerie.
Then, they find a ball of twine in the Radley oak tree knothole. Again, they aren’t sure if it is a gift for them or not, so they leave it for a few days. When it remains in the hole for a few days, they take it, and decide that anything left there is okay to take. Jem is excited about sixth grade, because he is going to learn about ancient Egypt. Jem tells Scout that school will get better for her. One day in October they find two little figures in their secret knothole, a boy and a girl, carved artfully out of soap. Upon closer examination, they realize that the figures are images of themselves.
They wonder who could have done it – maybe Mr. Avery, a neighbor who whittles wood. In a couple of weeks, they find a package of chewing gum, an old spelling bee medal, a broken pocket watch on a chain, and an aluminum knife. Jem can’t get it the watch to work, but he and Scout decide to write a letter thanking the mystery person who is leaving them these gifts. They write a note of thanks and leave it in the oak tree. The next day, they are horrified to discover that someone has filled their hole up with cement. They ask Mr. Radley about it, and he claims the tree is dying and filling the knothole with cement will keep it alive.
Jem is suspicious, and when he asks Atticus about it, Atticus says the tree looks very healthy, but that Mr. Radley must have a good reason for plugging up the hole. Jem thinks on Atticus’s statement and about who might be leaving the gifts. He stands out on the porch by himself for a long time. When he comes inside, Scout thinks it looks like he has been crying. Chapter 8 Winter arrives in Maycomb and it is unexpectedly harsh. Mr. Avery blames the children for causing the bad weather, saying that disobedient children make the seasons change. Mrs. Radley dies, and Atticus goes to the Radley house to pay his respects.
Upon Scout’s questioning, he sternly states that he did not see Boo there. A snowstorm arrives, and it is the first snow Scout and Jem have ever seen. School is canceled and Jem and Scout decide to make a snowman. However, there is only a little snow, and Jem and Scout aren’t even sure how a snowman is made. Determined, they decide to make a snowman using soil and snow collected from their yard and from Miss Maudie’s. The snowman looks quite like Mr. Avery. Atticus admires their work, but suggests they disguise the identity of their creation to avoid offending their neighbor.
Jem gives the snowman Miss Maudie’s hat and pruning shears, and Miss Maudie laughs at the impersonation. The night following the snowfall is bitterly cold. Scout wakes up in the middle of the night with Atticus over her telling her she must get up and go outside. Miss Maudie’s house is on fire. Three fire trucks are trying to put out the flames, but they are hampered by the cold, and one of the hoses bursts. Atticus makes the two children wait by the Radley house so they are well out of the way. In front of the Radley yard, they shiver and hope that the flames won’t come too near their own house.
Miss Maudie’s house collapses and her tin roof helps put out the flames. Scout understands that Miss Maudie will have to live at Miss Stephanie’s house for a while. Back at home, Atticus notices that Scout has a blanket wrapped around her shoulders and scolds her for straying from the one spot he told her to stay in. Scout explains that neither she nor Jem left the Radley yard and that they don’t know where the blanket came from. They realize that Boo Radley must have slipped the blanket over Scout while she and Jem were engrossed by the fire. Mr.
Radley, his brother, had been busy helping everyone else at Miss Maudie’s house, so Boo is the only person that could have given Scout the blanket. Scout is amazed that she was so close to Boo and didn’t even know it. Miss Maudie is unexpectedly cheery about her house being burnt down and says she wanted a smaller house anyway, because she always wanted a bigger garden. She also notes that the fire probably started because she kept a fire going that night to keep her potted plants warm. Chapter 9 A boy at school, Cecil Jacobs, teases Scout, saying that her father “defends niggers”.
Scout will not accept insults about her father and fights Cecil. Later, she asks Atticus what the phrase means, and he explains that he has decided to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who lives in a settlement behind the town dump. Atticus says many of the town people think he ought not defend Tom because he is black. Scout asks why he’s still doing it if people don’t want him to, and Atticus responds that if he didn’t take the case, he wouldn’t be able to “hold up my head in town,” represent his county in the legislature, or even tell his children what to do.
Atticus explains that every lawyer gets at least one case in a lifetime that affects them personally, and that this one is his. He tells Scout to keep her cool no matter what anyone says, and fight with her head, not her hands. Scout asks if he’s going to win the case and Atticus says no, but “simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win. ” He tells her that no matter what happens, the people of Maycomb are still their friends, and this is still their town.
Back at school, Scout works hard not to fight. Uncle Jack comes to stay with them in Maycomb for a week, which Scout enjoys, because he has a good sense of humor, even though he’s a doctor. Scout has been trying out swear words on the theory that Atticus won’t make her go to school if he finds out she learned them there, but after dinner Uncle Jack tells her not to use them in his presence unless she’s in an extremely provoking situation. For Christmas, Jem and Scout both get air rifles and are extremely pleased.
Atticus and the children go Finch’s Landing, a large house with a special staircase leading to the rooms of Simon Finch’s four daughters that once allowed Finch to keep track of their comings and goings. Scout hates going here, because her Aunt Alexandra always tells her that she should be more ladylike – she should wear dresses and not pants, and that she should play with girls’ toys like tea sets and jewelry. Aunt Alexandra hurts Scout’s feeling and makes her sit at the little table in the dining room at dinner instead of the grown-up table, where Jem and Francis are sitting.
Francis is Aunt Alexandra’s grandson, and Scout calls him “the most boring child I ever met. ” Talking to Francis gives Scout the feeling of, “settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean. ” The only good thing about being at the Landing is Aunt Alexandra’s excellent cooking. After dinner, Francis and Scout are outside in the backyard. Francis says that Atticus is a “nigger-lover,” and that now Atticus will be the ruination of the family, who won’t even be able to walk the streets of Maycomb. Scout patiently awaits her chance, and then punches him squarely in the mouth.
Francis screams and everyone comes outside. Francis says Scout called him a “whore-lady” and jumped on him, which Scout does not deny. Uncle Jack tells her not to use that language and pins her when she tries to run away. Scout says that she hates him. Atticus says it’s high time they went home. Back at home, Scout runs to her room to be alone. Uncle Jack comes upstairs to have a talk with her about her language. Scout points out that he doesn’t understand children very well, since he never heard her side of the story. Uncle Jack asks her for her side and Scout tells him what Francis said about Atticus.
Uncle Jack is very concerned and wants to go talk with Alexandra right away, but Scout pleads with him not to tell Atticus, since she doesn’t want him to know that she broke her agreement not to fight anyone over the issue of Tom Robinson’s case. Scout overhears Uncle Jack and Atticus talking. Uncle Jack explains that he doesn’t want to have children because he doesn’t understand them well enough. Atticus muses that Scout needs to learn to keep her temper under control because in the next few months, there is going to be a lot in store for the family.
Jack asks how bad it will be, and Atticus says that it couldn’t be worse – the case comes down to a black man’s word against the word of the white Ewell family, and the jury couldn’t possibly take Tom’s word over the word of white people. Atticus just hopes that he can get his children through the ordeal without having them catch “Maycomb’s usual disease,” when “people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up. ” Atticus hopes that Jem and Scout will look to him for their answers rather than to the townspeople. Then he calls out Scout’s name and tells her to go to bed.
She runs back to her room. Years later, the narrator, an aged Scout, explains she eventually came to understand that Atticus wanted her to hear everything he said. Chapter 10 Scout doesn’t think her father can “do” anything besides be a lawyer – he doesn’t do hands-on physical work and he doesn’t play football. He’s much older than the parents of her peers, which makes it difficult for him to take part in such activities. In addition, Atticus wears glasses because he’s nearly blind in one eye. Instead of hunting, he sits and reads inside.
Scout is slightly ashamed of her father, because it seems like he can’t do anything noteworthy. Atticus tells Scout and Jem they can shoot their air guns at tins cans and bluebirds, but that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Miss Maudie affirms this, saying to Scout, “Your father’s right. Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. ” One day a dog named Tim Johnson appears in the neighborhood, down the street from the Finch house.
He looks strange appearance and walks slowly, with a twitch. The children tell Calpurnia, who takes one look at the dog and immediately calls Atticus to tell him that there’s a rabid dog in the neighborhood. Next Calpurnia gets the town operator to call everyone in the neighborhood to warn them. She even runs over to the Radley house and yells a warning to them. Atticus and the sheriff, Heck Tate, drive up, and the sheriff gives Atticus the gun. The dog is so close to the Radley house that a stray bullet might go into the building. Atticus reluctantly takes aim and shoots the dog.
The dog crumples into a heap. Jem is dumbstruck with the accuracy of his father’s shot. Miss Maudie tells the children that their father used to be known as “One-Shot Finch,” the best dead-shot in the county. She says he doesn’t shoot unless he has to, because he feels that when he holds a gun, God has given him an unfair advantage over living beings. Scout wants to tell everyone in school about the incident, but Jem tells her not to. Jem explains that he wouldn’t care if Atticus “couldn’t do a blessed thing,” because Atticus is a gentleman.
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