Kill a Mockingbird
is a coming-of-age novel (bildungsroman)
that contains elements of the Gothic genre.
It centers primarily on the psychological and moral development of the
protagonist, Jean Louise (Scout) Finch, who is nearing age six at the beginning
of the novel. As she progresses from innocence to experience in a small
southern town, she gradually learns important lessons about life from her
family and neighbors. In so doing, she discovers the underlying prejudice,
hypocrisy, and other evils of people she perceived as upright. She also
discovers the surprising strength, decency, and courage of people she perceived
as vile or gruff. Author Harper Lee based many of the events in the novel
on her experiences as she was growing up in Monroeville, Alabama.
Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird between 1957 and 1960, and J. B.
Lippincott & Co. published it on July 11, 1960.
story takes place (1) in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, a fictional
community based on the author’s hometown, Monroeville, in southwest Alabama
between Mobile and Montgomery; (2) in the Quarters, a Negro community just
beyond the southern boundary of the town; and (3) at Finch’s Landing, the
ancestral home of the Finch family twenty miles west of Maycomb. Monroeville
today has a population of about 7,000. The story begins just before the
inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on March 4, 1933, according
to an allusion in Chapter 1: “Maycomb County had recently been told that
it had nothing to fear but fear itself." During his inaugural address,
Roosevelt attempted to hearten a nation in the throes of the Great Depression
with the words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Scout
notes that her brother, Jem, was almost ten at that time. The action ends
in 1936, when Jem is thirteen. The narration by the adult Scout takes place
between 1957 and 1960 (if one regards the novel as semi-autobiographical).
Lee based To Kill a Mockingbird primarily on her own childhood experiences
growing up in Monroeville, Alabama, where she was born in 1926. Like the
fictional Atticus Finch, her father was a lawyer who served in the state
legislature. And like the fictional Scout, Lee was a tomboy. One of her
playmates was Truman Capote, the model for Lee's fictional Charles Baker
trial portion of the novel appears to have been based in part on the trial
of nine young black men arrested in Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1931 after
two white girls accused them of rape. Eight of the young men received death
sentences and one, age thirteen, received life imprisonment even though
physicians testified that their examinations found no evidence of rape.
One of the girls later retracted her testimony. The U.S. Supreme Court
overturned the convictions in 1932. An Alabama court retried and re-convicted
one of the "Scottsboro boys," as they were called, but the U.S. Supreme
Court overturned that conviction in 1935. There were new trials and convictions
and more appeals. Those appeals, along with public outrage, resulted in
freedom for five of the accused. The others received prison sentences.
All received paroles by 1946 except one of the men, Heywood Patterson,
who was sentenced to seventy-five years. He escaped to Michigan in 1948
and was not extradited.
Scout (Jean Louise) Finch:
Scout is the main character, or protagonist. As an adult first-person narrator,
she tells the story of her childhood experiences, beginning just before
her sixth birthday. Scout is intelligent, curious, outspoken, and feisty.
A tomboy, she prefers pants to dresses, beats up boys, and grows up playing
the same games as her constant male companions—her brother, Jem, and her
neighbor's nephew, Dill. Scout also loves books and is an avid reader even
before she enters first grade..
Atticus Finch: Scout's
father, a widower. He is a compassionate, fair-minded, self-educated attorney
who takes the time to instill moral values and common sense in Scout and
her brother. One of the most important lessons he teaches them is that
they must learn to walk in the shoes of other people before attempting
to criticize or analyze them. At times, he tells them, it may be necessary
to bend the law to accommodate individual differences in people. He incurs
the wrath of the community after he decides to defend a Negro, Tom Robinson,
who is accused of raping a white girl. His office is in the Maycomb Bank
building. Except for his defense of Tom Robinson, Finch plays no active
role (other than setting a good example) in activities to improve the lot
Jeremy Atticus (Jem)
Finch: Scout's brother, who is four years older than she. Like Scout,
he is intelligent and curious. Though congenial and understanding, he can
be a fierce defender of his family's honor. He helps in Scout's maturation
by passing along to her advice and insights he has received from Atticus
and others. After the jury finds Tom Robinson guilty of rape, Jem experiences
deep disillusionment in society's fair-mindedness and becomes moody and
irritable for a time.
Charles Baker (Dill)
Harris: Nephew of the Finch family's next-door neighbor Rachel Haverford.
During his summer vacations in Maycomb, he becomes good friends with Scout
and Jeremy and a partner in their childhood adventures. Harper Lee modeled
him after her childhood friend, author Truman Capote. Dill exaggerates
the accomplishments of his family and sometimes tells outright lies in
order bolster his self-esteem and ingratiate himself with Scout and Jem.
He is especially curious about the mysterious and reclusive Boo Radley
and concocts several schemes to get Boo to come out of his house and show
Loyal and level-headed Negro cook for Atticus Finch. In addition to her
kitchen duties, Calpurnia watches over Scout and Jem and scolds Scout for
improper behavior whenever necessary. She is a few years older than Atticus.
Alexandra Finch Hancock:
Sister of Atticus. She comes to Maycomb to live with him to help tomboy
Scout learn ladylike behavior. Her gentility and knowledge of the social
graces endears her with Maycomb society, but Scout regards her as a pain
in the neck.
Jimmy Hancock: Husband
Dr. John Hale (Jack)
Finch: Younger brother of Atticus and uncle of Scout. Atticus helped
put him through medical school. Scout looks up to him because of his genial
manner and willingness to listen to her views, although he doesn't hesitate
to correct her when he sees the need.
Arthur (Boo) Radley:
Maycomb man who remains inside his home, just down the street from the
Finch residence. When he was about sixteen, he made friends with a rowdy
group and repeatedly got into trouble. One night, police arrested the whole
gang of them for causing a ruckus. Boo was locked in the courthouse basement
for a considerable time. Eventually, he was released into his father's
custody and remained confined to the Radley home for seventeen years. One
day, he became the subject of town talk after he stabbed his father in
the leg with scissors, inflicting a deep wound. When Scout and Jem are
growing up, townfolk tell stories about him that strike fear into everyone's
Mr. Radley: Boo's
father, whom Calpurnia regards as the meanest man in town. According to
Maudie Atkinson, he is a very strict Baptist who regards any form of pleasure
Mrs. Radley: Mr.
Radley's wife. Although she does not mingle with others in the community,
she occasionally goes outside to water her flowers.
Tom Robinson: Twenty-five-year-old
Negro wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. At his trial, Atticus
defends him with arguments making plain that he could not have committed
the crime. However, a jury of white males finds him guilty. Later, when
he attempts to escape, he is shot and killed.
Miss Caroline Fisher:
Scout's inexperienced first-grade teacher.
Robert E. Lee (Bob) Ewell:
Cruel, spiteful, evil-minded head of the Ewell family. Because he spends
most of his money on liquor, his family lives in squalor. When his daughter,
Mayella, makes advances toward Tom Robinson, Ewell witnesses her behavior,
then beats her. He then tells the sheriff that Robinson raped her. At the
trial, he testifies that "I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin' on my
Mayella Ewell: Bob
Ewell's nineteen-year-old daughter. Because of her father's alcoholism,
she virtually runs the Ewell household, looking after the children and
doing the chores.
Burris Ewell: Bob
Ewell's son, a mean boy who calls Miss Fisher a "snot-nosed whore."
Helen Robinson: Wife
of Tom Robinson and mother of three children. Bob Ewell harasses her after
Tom Robinson's trial.
Miss Maudie Atkinson:
Amiable neighbor of the Finch family who is about the same age as Atticus
and shares his admirable moral values. She is a good friend of Scout and
Jem, treating them as her equals. She provides them information about Atticus
in his younger days, before Scout and Jem were born. When her house burns
down, she does not dwell on her misfortune but instead looks forward to
building anew. Maudie likes to bake and saves tasty samples of her concoctions
for Scout, Jem, and Dill. She also likes to garden, a practice that rigid
Baptists tell her is sinful.
Miss Rachel Haverford:
Next-door neighbor of the Finch family with whom Dill Harris lives during
the summer. Miss Haverford, the sister of Dill's mother, is a secret tippler,
according to Dill.
Miss Stephanie Crawford:
Maycomb's town gossip. After fire burns Maudie Atkinson's house, Maudie
stays with Stephanie.
Mrs. Henry Lafayette
Dubose: Old woman who lives two houses north of the Finches. Depicted
by Scout as a malicious, ill-tempered hag, she sharply criticizes Scout
and her brother when they walk past her house. After her death, Scout learns
from Atticus that Mrs. Dubose suffered from a painful terminal disease
requiring her to take morphine to gain relief. However, in her last days,
she stopped taking the painkiller in order to die drug-free, with dignity.
Atticus holds her up to Scout and Jem as an example of a courageous woman.
Heck Tate: Forty-three-year-old
sheriff of Maycomb County.
John Taylor: Elderly
judge who asks Atticus to defend Tom Robinson in an effort to give Robinson
the best defense possible. Taylor presides at the Robinson's trial.
Horace Gilmer: Prosecuting
attorney in Tom Robinson's trial.
Braxton Bragg Underwood:
Owner, editor, typesetter, and printer of the local newspaper, The Maycomb
Zeebo: Maycomb garbage
collector and son of Calpurnia. He leads the singing of hymns at Calpurnia's
church. When Calpurnia brings Scout and Jem to Sunday services, he welcomes
Dr. Reynolds: Town
doctor who attends Mr. Radley when he is dying. A good friend of the Finches,
he delivered both Jem and Scout at birth. After Bob Ewell attacks Jem,
Dr. Reynolds treats his injuries.
Link Deas: Tom Robinson's
fair-minded boss at a Maycomb business. At the trial, he rises in the audience
to tell everyone in the courtroom about the uprightness of Tom's character.
He later employs Helen Robinson in his business. When Bob Ewell harasses
her, Deas scares him off with a threat to have him arrested.
Crazy Addie: Perpetrator
of gruesome crimes—the mutilation of chickens and household pets—for which
Boo Radley receives the blame. Crazy Addie later drowns himself.
Sam Levy: Jewish
resident of Maycomb in 1920. He is referred to as having shamed members
of the Ku Klux Klan when they came to his house.
Head of a poor white family that refuses to accept charity. When Atticus
does legal work for him, Cunningham pays with food.
Young Walter Cunningham:
Boy in Scout's first-grade class who brings no lunch to school because
he cannot afford it. When his teacher, Miss Fisher, offers to lend him
a quarter to buy lunch, he refuses it because he knows he cannot pay it
back. In the school yard later, Jem invites him to lunch at the Finch home.
Mrs. Grace Merriweather:
Composer of the Halloween pageant who is prominent in social circles. As
a member of the Missionary Society, she laments the living conditions of
certain African people but snidely criticizes the blacks in her own community.
Sophy: Mrs. Merriweather's
Agnes Boone: Student
dressed as a butterbean for the Halloween pageant.
Henry Hancock: Son
of Jimmy and Alexandra Hancock.
Son of Henry Hancock. Scout beats him up after he tells her that Atticus
is a "nigger lover."
Cecil Jacobs: Schoolchild
who walks a mile out of his way each day to avoid passing in front of the
Radley house and the Dubose house. He taunts Scout for Atticus's defense
of a Negro.
Chuck Little: Classmate
of Scout who tries to calm Miss Fisher when a "cootie" (louse) from the
hair of Burris Ewell frightens her.
D. C.: First-grader
in Scout's class.
Miss Blount: Sixth-grade
teacher who comes to the door of Miss Fisher's classroom to quiet the unruly
Mr. Avery: Elderly
man who boards in Miss Maudie Atkinson's house.
Mr. Conner: Law officer
at the time when Boo Radley was a teenager who befriended a group of rowdy
boys. When Conner attempted to arrest them, they locked him the courthouse
Wealthy Maycomb man who prefers the company of blacks to whites.
Miss Spender: Fiancée
of Dolphus Raymond. She killed herself after learning that he had a black
Ruth Jones: Employee
of the welfare office in Maycomb. After the WPA (Works Progress Administration)
fires Bob Ewell, he tells her Atticus caused the loss of his job. It is
a lie. She informs Atticus of his accusation.
Bert: Court reporter
at the Robinson trial.
Mrs. Taylor: Judge
Jessie: Mrs. Dubose's
Ike Finch: Only surviving
Confederate soldier in Maycomb County.
Lily Brooke: Relation
of Scout to whom Aunt Alexandra introduces her.
Joshua S. St. Clair:
Cousin of Scout who had written a book.
Tensaw Jones: Spectator
at the trial who voted the straight Prohibition ticket.
Emily David: Spectator
at the trial who uses snuff in private.
Byron Waller: Spectator
at the trial. He plays the violin.
Jake Slade: Spectator
at the trial.
X. Billups: Spectator
at the trial.
Estelle: Hotel employee
who sends food to Atticus to express her gratitude for his defense of Tom
Maxwell Green: Inexperienced
attorney who would normally have been appointed by Judge Taylor to defend
Tom Robinson. However, Taylor, wanting to give Robinson every advantage
possible, appoints the more experienced Atticus instead.
Sarah and Frances Barber:
Spinster sisters who are the only Maycomb residents with a cellar in their
house. One Halloween, pranksters steal into their house while they are
asleep and move all of their furniture into the cellar.
Mrs. Crenshaw: Local
seamstress who fashions Scout's ham costume for the Halloween pageant.
Eunice Ann Simpson:
Child whom Scout and her churchgoing companions tied to a chair in the
furnace room of the church. During the sermon, she began banging on radiator
pipes. When rescued, she declared that she no longer wanted to act the
part of Shadrach (Daniel: Chapter 3, Verses 12-27).
Member of the Maycomb Missionary Society.
an adult, Jean Louise Finch—nicknamed Scout—narrates the story of her childhood
experiences in first-person point of view. Although she appears to be a
reliable narrator, the accuracy of her narration depends on how well she
remembers those experiences and whether, as a child, her lively imagination
and immaturity distorted what actually took place.
Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age novel (bildungsroman).
Jean Louise Finch, the main character, narrates the novel in first-person
point of view from the perspective of an adult looking back on her childhood
days in Maycomb, Alabama, when she answered to the nickname Scout. She
begins the narrative by recalling an episode in which her brother—Jeremy
Atticus Finch, nicknamed Jem—badly broke his arm.
he was thirteen, Jem broke his left arm at the elbow, leaving it noticeably
shorter than his right arm. The injury did not prevent him from playing
football, however, and the slight deformity did not make him self-conscious.
But years later the episode did generate disagreement on the events that
led up to it. Scout said it all started with the Ewells, but Jem said it
went back further. When they asked their father, Atticus Finch, for his
opinion, he said they were both right.
was a descendant of Simon Finch, an apothecary and fur trapper. A Methodist,
Simon came to America to escape religious bigotry, first living in Philadelphia,
then Jamaica, and finally Alabama. After making a good deal of money practicing
medicine, he bought three slaves, established himself in a homestead on
the banks of the Alabama River, married, reared a family, and died rich.
Later generations of his family lived on his estate, Finch’s Landing, raising
the twentieth century, Atticus broke with tradition to study law. His younger
brother by ten years, John Hale Finch, studied medicine, receiving financial
support from Atticus.
established a law practice in Maycomb, Alabama, and met his future wife—a
Graham from Montgomery—while serving in the state legislature. Their first
year of marriage produced Jem. Four years later, Scout was born. When Scout
was two, her mother died.
provided the reader the necessary background about her family, the narrator
then begins to tell the main story, which begins when she was “almost six"
and Jem was “almost ten." Here is the account.
time is summer. Scout and Jem live with their father in a house on the
main street of Maycomb. The family’s Negro cook, Calpurnia, is like a member
of the family, although she resides in her own home. When out playing,
Scout and Jem must remain within calling distance of Calpurnia’s voice,
which means they may not stray beyond Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose’s home
two houses north and the Radley home three houses south.
day, Scout and Jem make friends with seven-year-old Charles Baker Harris,
nicknamed Dill, of Meridian, Miss. Dill, who is very small for his age,
is the nephew of Miss Rachel Haverford, the sister of his mother, Mrs.
Harris, and the next-door neighbor of the Finches. Dill is staying at her
house for the entire summer. Scout, Jem, and Dill spend their days playing
games and staging their own productions of plays based on the works of
various writers, including Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan books.
A New Pastime
August, when boredom sets in, Dill suggests that they embark on a new pastime:
getting Boo Radley to come out of his house.
As a teenager, Boo fraternized
with the wrong crowd, the Cunninghams, roaming aimlessly and causing mischief
that became the subject of Sunday sermons. The boys attended dances at
a gambling hall and even dared to experiment with stumphole whiskey. One
night, when they were causing a ruckus, “they resisted arrest by Maycomb’s
ancient beadle, Mr. Conner, and locked him in the courthouse outhouse."
Their unruly behavior earned the boys a tenure in the state industrial
school—all the boys, that is, except Boo. He escaped the sentence of the
court after his father promised the judge that his son henceforth would
cause no trouble. Thereafter, the door of the Radley house was always closed,
and Boo was not seen or heard from for the next seventeen years.
one day he became the talk of the town, according to Miss Stephanie Crawford,
the town gossip. She said that Boo, then 33, was cutting articles from
Maycomb Tribune to save in his scrapbook when he drove his scissors
into the leg of Mr. Radley as he was walking by. After yanking them out,
he wiped the blood off and continued paging through the newspaper. His
father ran into the street shouting that Boo “was killing them all."
the sheriff responded, Boo was still clipping articles. Local officials
later suggested that Boo be sent to an asylum in Tuscaloosa, but Mr. Radley
opposed the idea. So the sheriff locked him in the courthouse basement
for a time.
sheriff hadn’t the heart to put him in jail alongside Negroes," Scout paraphrases
Miss Crawford as saying.
the dampness in the basement threatened his health, the county asked his
father to assume custody of him. So old Radley took him home. Boo now remains
confined to the house. Mrs. Radley also stays indoors, although she occasionally
goes outside to water flowers. Mr. Radley walks to town once a day. Whenever
Scout and Jem see him, they greet him politely, but he only coughs in reply.
day, Mr. Radley becomes ill and the house is quarantined. The only outsider
who visits him is Dr. Reynolds After several days, Radley dies. When
his body is removed from the house, Calpurnia says, “There goes the meanest
man God ever blew breath into." Radley’s other son, Nathan, comes over
from Pensacola, Florida, and takes charge of the Radley Place.
only difference between him and his father was their ages," Scout says.
his father, Nathan is in the cotton trade, meaning that no one knows what
he does for a living or whether he does anything at all.
Later, all sorts of stories
surface about Boo. Miss Crawford says she awoke late one night to discover
him peering through a window at her.
Dill asks Jem what Boo is like, Jem says he’s about six-and-a-half feet
tall, eats raw squirrels and cats, has a scar on his face, and drools.
His curiosity further aroused, Dill says, “Let’s try to make him come out."
Jem says that if Dill even knocks on the door of the Radley place, Boo
will kill him. Dill challenges Jem, saying he is too scared even to put
his big toe in the front yard. Jem and Dill go back and forth on the matter
until Dill decides it will be enough if Jem touches the house. When they
go to the Radley house and Jem hesitates, Scout sneers at him. A moment
later, Jem opens the gate, dashes across the yard, touches the house, and
September, a week after Dill returns to Meridian, Scout enters first grade
at school, a milestone she had long looked forward to. However, one day
with her teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, turns her against formal education.
Scout can already read—and quite well, thanks part to sessions at home
in which she and Atticus delve into books—but Miss Fisher tells her to
cease her home sessions and begin learning her way: by flash cards that
say “cat," “rat," “you," and so on. Bored, Scout begins writing a letter
to Dill, but Miss Fisher tells her, “We don’t write in the first grade,
lunchtime, Miss Fisher discovers that another student, Walter Cunningham—who
has hookworm from walking bare-footed—has no lunch and no money. When Miss
Fisher offers him a quarter to buy food, he refuses it. Scout tells the
teacher that Walter comes from a family that does not accept handouts.
“You’re shamin’ him, Miss Caroline," she says.
Caroline then declares Scout a troublemaker and whacks her on the hand
with a ruler.
Jem finds out about Walter, he invites him home for lunch at noon. Walter
accepts the invitation and, when served his food, pours molasses over everything
and eats. Scout mocks him for doing so, but Calpurnia calls her aside and
corrects her severely for criticizing a guest.
the afternoon, Miss Caroline has a run-in with Burris Ewell, a mean boy
with head lice who doesn’t bathe. Miss Caroline orders him to go home to
wash his hair with lye and treat it with kerosene. Burris informs her that
he will not return after he leaves. All the Ewells quit school after the
first day, a class member explains.
come first day every year and then leave. The truant lady gets ‘em here
‘cause she threatens ‘em with the sheriff, but she’s give up tryin’ to
hold ‘em. She reckons she’s carried out the law just gettin’ their names
on the roll and runnin’ ‘m here the first day. You’re supposed to mark
‘em absent the rest of the year."
Miss Caroline asks about his parents, the student informs her he has no
mother “and their paw’s right contentious." Miss Caroline then orders Burris,
who is in his third year of attending the first day of class, to remain.
But he calls her a “snot-nosed slut" and leaves.
Atticus Advises Scout
later tells Atticus she does not want to return to school—especially because
of Miss Caroline's proscription against reading at home. Atticus tells
her, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better
with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you
consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin
and walk around in it."
then tells her, “If you’ll concede the necessity of going to school, we’ll
go on reading every night just as we always have." She accepts the bargain.
Atticus also tells her to keep their agreement a secret because “I have
a feeling that if you tell Miss Caroline we read every night she’ll get
after me, and I wouldn’t want her after me."
the rest of the school year, Scout plods on but says she learns more at
home by reading
Time magazine and anything else she can lay her
hands on. One day while returning home from school alone–her class dismisses
half an hour before Jem’s–she spies something wrapped in tinfoil in a knothole
of one of two oak trees on the edge of the Radley property. Standing on
tiptoes, she reaches in and withdraws two pieces chewing gum. At home,
she unwraps her treasure and stuffs it into her mouth—Wrigley’s Double-Mint.
Jem arrives home, he makes her spit the gum out, saying “Don’t eat things
you find." He also makes her gargle under a threat that he will tell Calpurnia
on her if she refuses to do so.
the last day of the school year, the teachers release Scout and Jem at
the same time. On their way home, they find another treasure in the knothole,
two Indian-head pennies in a box. Jem thinks they might belong to another
schoolchild but rules that it is all right to keep them until the following
school year. Then they will have a chance to ask around and possibly discover
the owner of them. Jem says Indian-head pennies are “real strong magic."
Dill arrives for the summer, the three children busy themselves rolling
tires, drinking Calpurnia’s lemonade, exchanging stories about the ability
to smell death–Dill claims an old lady taught him how to predict a person’s
death by smelling him–and the existence of Hot Steams (roaming spirits
that give off heat). They also compose and stage a play about Boo Radley.
was a melancholy little drama," the narrator says, “woven from bits and
scraps of gossip and neighborhood legend: Mrs. Radley had been beautiful
until she married Mr. Radley and lost all her money. She also lost most
of her teeth, her hair, and her right
forefinger . . . Boo bit
it off one night when he couldn’t find any cats and squirrels to eat."
Scout spends time at twilight sitting with a neighbor, Miss Maudie Atkinson,
a widow who likes to grow flowers. When Scout asks her whether she thinks
Boo Radley is still alive, she says, “His name’s Arthur and he’s alive."
She also says Arthur comes from a family of very strict Baptists who think
any form of pleasure is a sin. “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one
man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of [another man]," Maudie
doesn’t know exactly why Arthur remains inside but notes that he always
spoke politely to her when he was a boy.
following day, Jem, Dill, and Scout execute a scheme to contact Boo. After
Jem writes a note politely asking Boo why he never comes out, Jem attaches
it to the end of a bamboo fishing pole and attempts to poke the note through
a loose shutter and deposit it on a windowsill. Dill and Scout act as lookouts.
However, Atticus unexpectedly passes by and discovers the strange proceedings.
When he finds out what they are doing, he warns them to “stop tormenting
they ignore the warning. And, on Dill’s last night before he returns to
Meridian, they enter the Radley property by crawling under a wire fence.
While Jem is on the back porch peering through a window, Scout sees the
shadow of a man wearing a hat cross the porch. Dill raises his hands to
his face. Jem covers his head with his arms and keeps still. The shadow
turns and goes back across the porch, then moves to the side of the house
and disappears. The children run for their lives. A shotgun fires.
Jem holds up the bottom of the fence for Dill and Scout to crawl under,
he follows them but catches his pants on the wire. They tear. Unable to
pull them loose, he squirms out of them and they all return home. Attracted
by the sound of gunfire, a crowd gathers at the Radley place and, pretending
innocence, the children join the onlookers. According to Miss Stephanie,
Nathan Radley spied a trespasser and fired a warning shot. But if he sees
the culprit again, the “next time he won’t aim high . . . ," Miss
Stephanie quotes Radley as saying. At about 2 a.m., Jem returns by himself
to the Radley place and retrieves his pants.
The new school year begins. Scout dislikes second grade as much as she
did first grade. But now her class dismisses at the same time as Jem’s,
so they get to walk home together. One day on their way home, Jem reveals
information he had kept to himself about the night of the shotgun blast:
When he returned for his pants, he found them folded over the fence. The
tear had been mended. It was as if someone knew he would come back for
them—“like somebody was readin’ my mind," Jem says.
they walk past the oak tree, they find a ball of twine in the knothole.
A month or so later, the tree yields two soap dolls resembling Jem and
Scout. Two weeks afterward, they find a pack of chewing gum and, within
the next ten days, a medal won in a spelling bee and a pocket watch from
which an aluminum knife dangles on a chain.
decides to write a note thanking the anonymous benefactor for all the gifts.
After he and Scout sign it, he puts it in an envelope. However, when they
arrive at the tree the next morning to put the envelope in the knothole,
they discover it filled with cement. The following day, when they see Nathan
Radley on the street and question him about the knothole, he says he cemented
it because the tree is dying. Later, they ask Atticus whether he thinks
the tree is dying. Pointing to the green leaves, he says, “That tree’s
as healthy as you are Jem."
cold weather arrives, old Mrs. Radley dies and Jem and Scout conclude that
her death was the work of Boo. But after Atticus pays his respects at the
Radley home, he tells them she died of natural causes.
next day, Scout and Jem awaken to a sight entirely new to them–a snowstorm–the
first in Maycomb since 1885. School is canceled, and Scout and Jem decide
to make a snowman in their front yard modeled after Mr. Avery, a boarder
in Miss Maudie's house. However, because there is only a thin layer of
snow on the ground, the children “borrow" snow from Miss Maudie’s yard,
hauling it away with a peach basket she lets them use. Next, they dig up
earth and build a body, then plaster their snow onto it. They use pieces
of wood for facial features and buttons. When Atticus sees it, he compliments
the children on their creation but suggests that they alter it because
it looks too much like Mr. Avery.
night, the thermometer falls to sixteen degrees. Shortly after 1 a.m.,
Atticus awakens the children to inform them that Miss Maudie’s house is
on fire. Depending on the wind direction, the fire could threaten the Finch
home. Atticus and other townspeople carry out furniture, and Mr. Avery
escapes through an upstairs window and slides down a pillar. The house
collapses and by dawn the fire peters out. But Miss Maudie is not at all
downcast. She tells Scout, “Why, I hated that old cow barn . . . I’ll build
me a little house and take a couple of roomers and—gracious, I’ll have
the finest yard in Alabama." While making plans for her new home,
she stays with Stephanie Crawford.
school, another inflammatory event takes place: Cecil Jacobs, Scout’s classmate,
taunts her because her “daddy defended niggers." It seems that word had
gotten out around town that Atticus Finch had decided to take the case
of twenty-five-year-old Tom Robinson, a Negro charged with raping a white
woman. At home, Scout tells Atticus about the incident, and he confirms
that he will be defending Robinson. He tells her that if he had not taken
the case “I couldn’t hold my head up in this town. . . . You might hear
some ugly talk at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just
hold your head high and keep those fists down."
he also tells her he probably won’t win the case, she says he sounds like
Cousin Ike Finch, Maycomb County’s only surviving Civil War Veteran. Scout
once heard him say to Atticus that “the Missouri Compromise was what licked
us, but if I had to go through it agin I’d walk every step of the way there
an’ every step back jist like I did before an’ furthermore we’d whip ‘em
school the next day, Jacobs again taunts Scout: “My folks said your daddy
was a disgrace an’ that nigger oughta hang from the water-tank." Scout’s
fists clench for a fight, but–remembering Atticus’s admonition–she walks
day before Christmas, Atticus’s brother, John Finch, M.D., arrives in Maycomb
by train with two packages–gifts from Atticus for Scout and Jem that Atticus
had asked his brother to purchase for him. On Christmas morning, when the
children open them, they find two air rifles. Later, everyone goes to Finch’s
Landing to celebrate with the rest of the family, including Aunt Alexandra,
Atticus’s sister; Uncle Jimmy, Alexandra’s son; and Jimmy’s son, Francis,
Scout and Francis are talking, the subject of Dill comes up. Francis refers
to him as a “little runt" who has no home, according to Alexanda, but “just
gets passed from relative to relative." He also says now that Atticus “has
turned out a nigger-lover we’ll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb
Francis refuses to let up, calling Atticus a “nigger-lover" three more
times, Scout can no longer contain her anger: “I split my knuckle to the
bone on his teeth." Uncle Jack intervenes, Aunt Alexandra wipes Francis’s
tears, and Scout gets the blame for the incident until she later explains
to Uncle Jack what happened. He then treats her hand injury and promises
to deal with Francis. Later, he talks with Atticus about Scout and admits
she was right when she told him that he didn’t understand children. Atticus,
in turn, tells his brother that Scout has been under pressure because of
the Robinson case but tries hard to live up to the standards he sets for
bothers me is that she and Jem will have to absorb some pretty ugly things
pretty soon. I’m not worried about Jem keeping his head, but Scout’d just
as soon jump on someone as look at him if her pride’s at stake."
"It's a Sin to Kill a
at home, Scout muses about Atticus and his shortcomings. He is nearly fifty–quite
old, she thinks. Although he plays football with Jem, there’s no tackling.
He does not hunt, play poker, or fish. He doesn’t even smoke or drink.
And he wears glasses and is almost blind in his left eye. When Scout and
Jem received their air rifles, Atticus wouldn’t teach them to shoot.
Jack instructed us in the rudiments thereof," Scout says. "He said Atticus
wasn’t interested in guns." However, one day Atticus admonishes Jem on
what to shoot.
rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after
birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember
it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird."
Maudie later backs him up, telling scout, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing
but make music for us to enjoy. They’d 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."
brings up the subject of Atticus’s abilities, saying he “can’t do anything."
But Miss Maudie says, “He can make somebody’s will so airtight can’t anybody
meddle with it." Moreover, she says, he’s the best checker player in town
and is one of the few people around who can play a Jew’s harp. When Scout
later asks Calpurnia about Atticus’s talents, she says, “Why, he can do
lots of things."
what?" Scout says.
her head, Calpurnia answers, “I don’t rightly know."
becomes all the more convinced of Atticus’s ineptitude when Jem asks him
to play touch football for the Methodists against the Baptists in a fund-raiser
to pay off the Methodists’ church mortgage. Atticus declines to participate
even though all the other fathers in town agree to play. To make matters
worse, on the day of the game Cecil Jabobs’s father scores touchdowns for
Saturday in February, Scout and Jem’s opinion of their father’s prowess
changes dramatically after they go out with their air rifles looking for
rabbits and squirrels. About a quarter-mile past the Radley place, they
see Tim Johnson, a bird dog owned by Harry Johnson, who lives in the southern
part of Maycomb. The dog slowly totters along, twitching and lurching.
The children run home and tell Calpurnia that the dog appears sick. When
Calpurnia goes with them to observe the animal, she recognizes the cause
of his symptoms: rabies. After taking the children home, she informs Atticus
of the situation, then contacts the telephone operator, Eula May, and tells
her to call everyone on the street to inform them that a mad dog is loose.
short while later, Atticus arrives with Sheriff Heck Tate, who has a rifle.
When Tim Johnson reaches the Radley place, the sheriff hands the gun to
Atticus, saying, “Take him, Mr. Finch."
and I nearly fainted," Scout says.
Atticus tells the sheriff to do the shooting. Tate says, “Mr. Finch, this
is a one-shot job," indicating that Atticus is a superior marksman.
a fog, Jem and I watched our father take the gun and walk out into the
middle of the street," Scout says.
removes his glasses, brings the rifle to his shoulder, and fires. The dog
leaps, then falls dead to the sidewalk. Neighbors come out of their houses
to view the scene. Scout and Jem are dumfounded. Miss Maudie tells Scout,
“Well now, Miss Jean Louise, still think your father can’t do anything?"
son, Zeebo, later removes the carcass in his garbage truck.
Mrs. Dubose Taunts the
day after Jem turns twelve, he decides to use his birthday money to buy
himself a model steam engine and Scout a baton. On their way to town, they
must pass the home of Mrs. Dubose, whom they think is the meanest woman
in town. To their horror, she is sitting on her porch when they reach her
house, and she immediately begins harassing them. First, she accuses them
of playing hooky even though it is Saturday. Then she accuses Jem of breaking
down an arbor on Maudie Atkinson’s property. She predicts he will end up
in reform school. Next, she tells Scout she should be in a dress and a
camisole (undergarment) instead of overalls and tells her she will end
up waiting on tables at the O.K Café. Finally, she criticizes Atticus
for “lawing for niggers" and adds, “Your father’s no better than the niggers
and trash he works for."
they return from town, the Dubose porch is empty. Jem then takes Scout’s
baton, runs into the old woman’s yard, and whacks off the tops of all her
camellia bushes. To complete his rampage, he breaks the baton over his
knee. When they reach home, Calpurnia senses that Jem is out of sorts,
and she gives him a hot buttered biscuit. As if remorseful for breaking
the baton, he shares the biscuit with Scout.
Atticus arrives home, he has the broken baton in one hand and camellia
buds in the other. He asks Jem, “Are you responsible for this?" Jem admits
his crime. For punishment, he must apologize to Mrs. Dubose. When he speaks
with her, she tells him he can make up for his wrongdoing by reading to
her after school for one month.
carries out the sentence. He notices, though, that Mrs. Dubose isn’t always
attentive and sometimes even lapses into a stupor, prompting her maid,
Jessie, to give her medicine and send Jem home. Not long after Jem’s last
session with Mrs. Dubose, she dies. Atticus then informs Jem that Mrs.
Dubose had a painful terminal disease requiring morphine to provide relief.
She had become addicted to the drug. But because she wanted to die with
dignity, she refused to take morphine during her last days, which accounted
for her inattentiveness and stupors. She bequeaths Jem a camellia in a
candy box. Atticus declares that she was “the bravest person I ever knew."
the next summer arrives, Scout and Jem learn that Dill will not be returning
to Maycomb. In a letter to Scout, Dill says he has a new father, a lawyer,
who wants Dill at his side while they construct a fishing boat. But Dill
says that one day he will come for Scout and marry her.
Atticus goes up to Montgomery for two weeks after the state legislature
convenes an emergency session to deal with strikes, bread lines, and poverty
resulting from the weak national economy. In his absence, Calpurnia takes
Scout and Jem to Sunday services at her church, First Purchase African
M.E. Upon their arrival at the door, one member of the congregation, Lula,
tells Calpurnia, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here—they
got their church, we got our’n. It is our church, ain’t it, Miss Cal?"
the same God, ain’t it?" Calpurnia says.
Zeebo steps forward and welcomes them. So does the rest of the congregation,
and the Rev. Sykes directs them to the front pew. Before the service begins,
Sykes announces that the collection for that day and the next three Sundays
will be for Tom Robinson’s wife, Helen, “to help her out at home." Zeebo
then leads the singing of hymns, after which Sykes preaches against alcohol,
gambling, and wayward women.
the churchgoers arrive home, Aunt Alexandra is sitting on the porch with
suitcases. Atticus, who will be returning in the afternoon, had invited
her to Maycomb.
decided that it would be best for you to have some feminine influence,"
she tells Scout, who is not thrilled with the idea. “It won’t be many years,
Jean Louise, before you become interested in clothes and boys—"
Alexandra Makes Friends
Atticus arrives, he asks Scout how she would like Aunt Alexandra to live
with them. Scout says she would approve, which is a lie. In the following
days, Maudie Atkinson, Stephanie Crawford, and Rachel Haverford all welcome
her, and Alexandra joins the Missionary Society and becomes secretary of
the Amanuensis Club. Maycomb recognizes her as “the last of her kind: she
had river-boat, boarding-school manners. . . . ."
she entertains guests, she calls to Scout, “Jean Louise, come speak to
these ladies." She introduces her to Lily Brooke, a cousin Scout had never
met, and points out bits of history about the Finch family. For example,
she shows Jem and Scout a book, Meditations of Joshua S. St. Clair,
telling them, “Your cousin wrote this. He was a beautiful character."
asks whether he was the same Cousin Joshua whose gun blew up in his hand
when he attempted to shoot the president. “Atticus said it cost the family
five hundred dollars to get him out of that one—," Jem says.
Atticus tells them, “Your aunt has asked me to try and impress upon you
and Jean Louise that you are not from run-of-the-mill people" and “you
must try to behave like the little lady and gentleman that you are."
the Robinson trial approaches, the children endure more snide remarks from
the community, but a bright spot suddenly appears in their lives one evening,
Dill, who ran away from home because no one there paid attention to him.
After stealing thirteen dollars from his mother’s purse, he says, he took
a bus to Maycomb Junction. Then he walked about ten of the fourteen miles
to Maycomb and clung to the back of a cotton wagon the rest of the way.
The Finches contact Dill’s mother and she agrees to let him stay with his
several friends of Atticus come to his home one Saturday to inform him
that a lynch mob may attempt to take the law into their own hands the following
day. Later, Jem overhears Aunt Alexandra telling Atticus that his decision
to defend Robinson is disgracing the family.
Sunday evening, Atticus excuses himself and drives off. Jem then tells
Scout he’s going out for a while even though the hour is late—ten o’clock.
He seems to sense that something is wrong. When he tries to prevent Scout
from going with him, he realizes it is futile. They leave by the back stairway.
Outside, Scout says Dill will want to come, so Jem whistles at his window.
Minutes later, he crawls out. .......When
they reach a square near the courthouse, they see Atticus’s car parked
in front the Maycomb Bank building, where he maintains his office. They
try the door but it is locked. Then they head toward the county jail. From
a distance, they see Atticus sitting at the door reading a newspaper. Moments
later, four cars pull up at the jail. The children post themselves nearby—at
the door of Tyndal’s Hardware store—to watch. After the car occupants get
out, one of them, Walter Cunningham, asks Atticus to move aside.
Tate’s around somewhere," Atticus says.
But another man says the sheriff and his men are deep in the woods.
‘em off on a snipe hunt," he says.
Stand With Atticus
thus, must face the lynch mob alone. But just then, Scout runs up to him,
followed by Jem and Dill. Atticus, trembling slightly, tells Jem to go
home with Scout and Dill. But Jem refuses. When a man grabs Jem by the
collar, saying, “I’ll send him home," Scout kicks him in the crotch and
he draws back in pain.
tries again to get Jem to leave, but Jem continues to refuse. Scout then
calls to Mr. Cunningham: “How’s your entailment gettin’ along?" She is
referring to a legal matter Atticus is handling for him. Cunningham clears
his throat and turns away.
you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I’m Jean Louise Finch. You brought us
some hickory nuts one time, don’t you remember?"
tells him she goes to school with his son, Walter. “He’s a good boy, a
real nice boy. We brought him home for dinner one time."
mob grows silent. Some of the men’s mouths are half-open. Then Cunningham
squats down in front of Scout and tells her he will tell his son hello
for her. Afterward, he turns to the mob and says, “Let’s get going, boys."
they leave, a soft voice from a window above asks, “They gone?"
gone," Atticus says. "Get some sleep, Tom. They won’t bother you anymore."
voice from across the street shouts, “You’re damn tootin’ they won’t."
It’s Mr. Braxton Bragg Underwood at the window of his newspaper, The
Maycomb Tribune, with a double-barreled shotgun.
the morning of the trial, people from all over the county converge on the
courthouse. When Atticus returns home for lunch at noon, he reports that
jury selection has been completed. Although Scout, Jem, and Dill are under
strict instruction to stay home, their curiosity gets the better of them
and, after Atticus leaves, they go to town. The adult Jean Louise Finch
describes the scene she recalls:
was a gala occasion. There was no room at the public hitching rail for
another animal, mules and wagons were parked under every available tree.
The courthouse square was covered with picnic parties sitting on newspapers,
washing down biscuit and syrup with warm milk from fruit jars. Some people
were gnawing on cold chicken and cold fried pork chops. The more affluent
chased their food with drugstore Coca-Cola in bulb-shaped soda glasses
. . . and babies lunched at their mothers’ breasts. In a far corner of
the square, the Negroes sat quietly in the sun, dining on sardines, crackers,
and the more vivid flavors of Nehi Cola.
with the Negroes is Dolphus Raymond, who prefers their company to that
of whites. As usual, he is drinking from a bottle in a paper bag. He lives
by himself but, Jem says, “he’s got a colored woman and all sorts of mixed
chillun." He’s a wealthy man who owns real estate on a riverbank. Talk
around town is that he was supposed to marry a Miss Spender, but before
the wedding, Jem says, she “blew her head off" with a shotgun after finding
out about Raymond's colored mistress. Thereafter, whenever he appeared
in town, he was always staggering and drinking from the bottle in the sack. .......After
entering the courthouse, the children discover that the courtroom—located
on the second floor—is so crowded that there are no seats and no standing
room. However, the Rev. Sykes invites them to the balcony, where colored
people must sit. Four blacks rise and yield their front-row seats to Sykes
and his guests.
the questioning Prosecutor Horace Gilmer and Atticus, Sheriff Tate testifies,
first noting that Robert E. Lee (Bob) Ewell summoned him on the night of
November 21. Tate describes what he saw at the scene and the nature and
location of Mayella Ewell's injuries.
Ewell then testifies that through a window from the outside he saw Robinson
raping his daughter. "The room was all slung about, like there was a fight,"
he says. When he ran around the house to enter the front door, he says,
Robinson ran off. Then Ewell ran to summon Sheriff Tate. When Atticus questions
the witness, he establishes that Ewell is left-handed. Then he points out
that the location of the bruises on Mayella Ewell's face indicates that
they had to have been inflicted by a left-hander.
next questions nineteen-year-old Mayella Ewell. She testifies that Tom
Robinson was walking by her home one day when she asked him to chop up
an old dresser to be used for kindling. She would pay him a nickel. But
After he entered the Ewell house, she says, he raped and beat her.
got me round the neck, cussin' me an' sayin' dirt—I fought 'n' hollered,
but he had me round the neck. He hit me agin an' agin—" Then, she says,
"[N]ext thing I knew Papa was in the room a'standin' over me hollerin'
who done it, who done it? Then I sorta fainted an' the next thing I knew
Mr. Tate was pulling' me up offa the floor and leadin' me to the water
Atticus raises serious doubts about her story, as well as her father's,
when he reminds the court that the bruises on one side of her face had
to have been inflicted by a left-hander. Tom Robinson could not have inflicted
them, he points out after having Tom stand up, because an accident years
ago had disabled his left arm. Scout's narration says, "His left arm was
fully twelve inches shorter than his right, and hung dead at his side.
It ended in a small shriveled hand . . . ." Rev. Sykes whispers to Jem,
"[He] got it caught . . . in Mr. Dolphus Raymond's cotton gin when he was
a boy . . . ."
Tom Robinson is testifying, Scout feels pity for Mayella Ewell: "White
people wouldn't have anything to do with her because she lived among pigs;
Negroes wouldn't have anything to do with her because she was white."
says that when he entered the Ewell yard, Mayella asked him to repair a
door that had fallen off its hinges. When he went inside and examined the
door, he found nothing wrong. She then closed the door. When he noticed
that no children were in the house, she told him they had all gone to town
for ice cream. When he was about to leave, she asked him to step on a chair
and get a box from the top of a dresser. After he did her bidding, she
grabbed him around the legs. He immediately got down and then she hugged
him and kissed him on the side of the face.
says she never kissed never kissed a grown man before an' might as well
kiss a nigger," Robinson testifies. "She says what her papa do to her don't
Deas Supports Robinson
he tried to leave, she blocked his way. At that moment, Mr. Ewell shouted
through a window, calling Mayella a whore. Tom then ran away. While Robinson
is concluding his testimony, Link Deas, his boss, rises in the seating
area and shouts out, "That boy's worked for me eight years an' I ain't
had a speck o' trouble outa him." The judge ejects Deas from the courtroom
and tells the court reporter not to include Deas's remarks in the record.
Mr. Gilmer cross-examines Robinson, Dill becomes upset and begins crying.
Scout takes him outside, where they encounter Dolphus Raymond. Seeing that
Dill is distressed, he offers him a drink, saying, "Take a good sip, it'll
quieten you." When Dill drinks, Scout disapproves, telling Dill to "watch
out." But Dill says, "It's nothing but Coca-Cola." Raymond then tells them
he only pretends to be a drunk.
I weave a little and drink out of this sack, folks can say Dolphus Raymond's
in the clutches of whiskey—that's why he won't change his ways. He can't
help himself. That's why he lives the way he does."
Scout and Dill return to their seats, Atticus tells the jury:
The state has no
produced one iota of medical evidence to the effect that the crime Tom
Robinson is charged with every took place. It has relied instead upon the
testimony of two witnesses [Mayella and her father] whose evidence has
not only been called into serious question on cross-examination, but has
been flatly contradicted by the defendant. The defendant is not guilty,
but somebody in this courtroom is.
goes on to remind the jury of Robinson's testimony: that it was Mayella
Ewell who made advances—putting her arms around him and kissing him—and
not the other way around. After witnessing the encounter, Ewell mercilessly
beat Mayella, the evidence indicates, then forced her to implicate Robinson
as the attacker. .......But
the jury finds Robinson guilty anyway. Jem and Scout are stunned and deeply
disappointed in the justice system. Jem cries, saying, "It ain't right."
Atticus holds out hope for an appeal. .......The
next morning, Atticus sits down to a sumptuous breakfast of chicken and
rolls. When he asks Calpurnia where the food came from, she says Tom Robinson's
father sent the chicken and "Estelle down at the hotel" sent the rolls.
Then she shows him other items Negroes sent him in gratitude for his defense
of Robinson: salt pork, tomatoes, beans, a jar of pigs' knuckles, and scuppernongs
(yellowish-green grapes). Atticus is deeply touched. .......When
Scout and Jem visit Miss Maudie, she gives them cake and tries to cheer
up Jem, then tells him: "There are some men in this world who were born
to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father's one of them." .......Dill
appears and tells his companions, "I think I'll be a clown when I get grown.
Yes, sir, a clown. There ain't one thing in this world I can do about folks
except laugh, so I'm gonna join the circus and laugh my head off." ......."You
got it backwards, Dill," Jem says. "Clowns are sad, it's folks that laugh
Ewell Seeks Revenge
the street, Miss Stephanie and Miss Rachel are exchanging gossip when they
wave the children over. When they arrive, Miss Stephanie tells them news
spreading all over Maycomb: Bob Ewell stopped Atticus on a street in front
of the post office, spit in his face, and declared he would get his revenge
for being made to look like a fool at the trial. Atticus, unruffled, merely
wiped off his face and walked on, later remarking, "I wish Bob Ewell wouldn't
late August, Aunt Alexandra holds a meeting of the Missionary Society while
Jem is at Barker's Eddy to teach Dill how to swim before he returns to
Meridian the next day. Scout attends the entertainment portion of the meeting,
when refreshments are served, as part of Alexandra's "campaign to teach
me to be a lady." Scout is wearing a pink dress and petticoat. At the business
portion of the meeting Scout was in the kitchen when she heard Mrs. Grace
Merriweather say that the Mruna people of Africa "put women out in huts
when their time came . . . had no sense of family . . . subjected children
to terrible ordeals when they were thirteen . . . were crawling with yaws
while avowing to help the Mrunas, Mrs. Merriweather and Mrs. Gertrude Farrow
later in front of Scout criticize and whine about the Negroes in their
own town. Mrs. Farrow says, "We can educate 'em till we're blue in the
face, we can try till we drop to make Christians out of 'em, but there's
no lady safe in her bed these nights." Mrs. Merriweather says her cook
Sophy was so moody after the trial that if she "kept it up another day
I'd have let her go." Later, she says, "I think that . . . Mrs. Roosevelt's
lost her mind—just plain lost her mind coming down to Birmingham and tryin'
to sit with 'em."
Tom Robinson Dies
then, Atticus arrives home early. In the kitchen in the presence of Scout,
Calpurnia, Alexandra, and Miss Maudie he announces that Tom Robinson was
killed when he attempted to escape during an exercise period in the prison
yard. There were seventeen bullet holes in his body.
Dill returns to Meridian and Scout returns to school, race again becomes
an issue for Scout when her teacher, Miss Gates, conducts a class on Adolf
Hitler and his persecution of the Jews. Contrasting Nazi Germany with America,
she says, "Over here we don't believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution
comes from people who are prejudiced." At home later, Scout tells Jem what
she overhead Miss Gates say when she was leaving the courthouse after the
trial: "I heard her say it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were
gettin' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do
is marry us."
an editorial, Underwood declares that the only crime committed in Maycomb
was the murder of Tom Robinson.
Bob Ewell gets a Works Progress Administration (WPA) job with the government
but is fired for laziness after only a few days at work. When he picks
up his assistance check from Ruth Jones at the welfare office, he blames
Atticus for the loss of his job.
He later prowls at the home
of Judge Taylor and harasses Tom Robinson’s widow, following and cursing
her on the street when she goes to work. Link Deas, her boss, comes to
her defense, telling Ewell he will have him arrested if he continues to
Ewell Attacks Children
Halloween, Scout is to participate in a school pageant composed by Mrs.
Merriweather. Called Maycomb County: Ad Astra Per Aspera, it will
spotlight the agricultural heritage of the county. Cecil Jacobs will dress
as a cow, Agnes Boone as a butterbean, and Scout as a ham. Mrs. Crenshaw,
a local seamstress, had shaped the framework of Scout's costume from chicken
wire, covered it with brown cloth with two peepholes for Scout's eyes,
and painted it to resemble a cured ham. Jem accompanies Scout to the high
school auditorium. Atticus, who has just returned from Montgomery, is too
tired to attend. Aunt Alexandra, worn out from decorating the stage, also
the pageant gets under way, Mrs. Merriweather presents historical information
and calls the children to the stage one by one. After a pine tree and the
butterbean appear, Mrs. Merriweather calls out "Pork!"—Scout's cue to walk
onstage. But Scout has fallen asleep and doesn't enter until later, when
Mrs. Merriweather carries the state flag onto the stage. The audience roars
with laughter. Scout's faux pas appears to be the highlight of the evening,
but backstage Mrs. Merriweather tells her she ruined the pageant.
their way home in pitch darkness, Jem says, "Thought I heard something.
Stop a minute." They listen, then move a few more paces before Jem makes
her stop again to listen. Jem thinks someone is following them. After they
resume their journey, they stop again to listen and a few moments later
someone attacks Jem. He tells Scout to run, but she can't keep her balance
in her costume. A fierce struggle ensues between Jem and his assailant,
and "there came a dull crunching sound and Jem screamed." When Scout moves
toward Jem, the assailant pins her arms back and "slowly squeezed the breath
out of me." Suddenly someone jerks the assailant off Scout, and a moment
later the assailant begins coughing and staggering. He is no longer a threat.
Then Scout sees someone carrying Jem to her house and she quickly follows.
calls Dr. Reynolds, then the sheriff, telling him, "Someone's been after
Reynolds tends to Jem. He has a bump on the head, and his arm is badly
broken at the elbow. But the doctor says he will bounce back after convalescing.
The doctor also examines Scout, who has a small head bump but appears to
the sheriff arrives, he reports on his investigation of the scene of the
attack. He says he found Scout's pink dress, bits of her costume—and Bob
Ewell, dead, with a kitchen knife "stuck up under his ribs." Moments later,
in Jem's room, Scout comes face to face with the man who saved her and
Jeb—Boo Radley. Atticus, Sheriff Tate, Scout, and Boo all go out to the
porch. Scout says, "Won't you have a seat, Mr. Arthur. This rocking chair's
nice and comfortable."
Atticus says he realizes there will probably have to be an investigation
to discover exactly what happened. But the sheriff declares that Bob Ewell
fell on the knife and the matter ends there.
the sheriff leaves, Scout tells Atticus she understands the sheriff's decision,
saying "Mr. Tate was right."
do you mean?" Atticus asks.
do otherwise, she says, "Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird,
Boo is invited in again
to see Jem one more time. Then Scout walks with him to the Radley place,
hand in hand. After he opens the door and goes inside, she never sees him
primarily a bildungsroman, the novel
contains characteristics of the Gothic novel. The most notable of them
is the presence of a mysterious recluse, Boo Radley, living in a foreboding
The house . . .
was once white with a deep front porch and green shutters, but had along
ago darkened to the color of the slate-gray yard around it. Rain-rotted
shingles drooped over the eaves of the veranda; oak trees kept the sun
away. The remains of a picket drunkenly guarded the front yard. . . . Inside
the house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and
I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was
down, and peeped in windows. When people's azaleas froze in a cold snap,
it was because he had breathed on them. Any stealthy small crimes committed
in Maycomb were his work."
characteristic is the suggestion that supernatural powers are at work.
For example, when Jem mentions the term Hot Steam and Dill asks
him to define it, Scout reports Jem's answer as follows:
"Haven't you ever
walked along a lonesome road at night and passed by a hot place?" Jem asked
Dill. "A Hot Steam's somebody who can't get to heaven, just wallows around
on lonesome roads an' if you walk through him, when you die you'll be one
too, an' you'll go around at night suckin' people's breath-- . . . If you
hafta go through one you say, 'Angel-bright, life-in-death; get off the
road, don't suck my breath.' That keeps 'em from wrapping around you—"
Gothic characteristics include a grotesque presence, such as the mad dog;
a seemingly unnatural occurrence, such as the snowstorm; ventures into
the unknown, such as the children's invasion of the Radley property on
a dark night; and a frightening encounter, such as the one the children
experience with Bob Ewell on Halloween night.
Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird in episodes resembling short stories
after introducing her family and recounting some of its history. However,
the central theme—focusing on the lessons a little girl learns about the
real world as she grows up in her own idyllic world—unites these episodes
into a single story. Smooth transitions link one episode to the next.
of episodes are Scout’s first day at school, the children’s invasion of
the Radley property, the snowstorm, the fire, Christmas at Finch’s landing,
the shooting of the rabid dog, the encounter with Mrs. Dubose, Sunday services
at Calpurnia’s church, the gathering of the lynch mob, the trial and verdict,
and Bob Ewell’s retaliation.
divides the story into two parts, the first centering on Scout’s adventures
and the lessons she learns from them and the second centering on the lessons
Scout learns from her exposure to racism and injustice during the rape
trial and its aftermath.
writes in easy-to-understand prose characterized by vivid descriptions
and wit, as in the following paragraph from Chapter 2 about her first day
of school in the first grade:
Miss Caroline began
the day by reading us a story about cats. The cats had long conversations
with one another, they wore cunning little clothes and lived in a warm
house beneath a kitchen stove. By the time Mrs. Cat called the drugstore
for an order of chocolate malted mice the class was wriggling like a bucketful
of catawba worms. Miss Caroline seemed unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted
and floursack-skirted first grade, most of whom had chopped cotton and
fed hogs from the time they were able to walk, were immune to imaginative
After discovering that Scout
is already quite literate—Scout gives a demonstration by reading the stock-market
quotations from The Mobile Register—Miss Caroline assumes her father
taught her and asks her to tell him not to teach her anymore because it
would interfere with her method: using flash cards that say "cat," "rat,"
and other one-syllable words. But Scout says her father "hasn't taught
me anything," then apologizes for her advanced skill in a paragraph that
further demonstrates the author's wit and vigorous style:
I mumbled that I
was sorry and retired meditating upon my crime. I never deliberately learned
to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers.
. . . Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was just something
that came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without
looking around, or achieving two bows from a snarl of shoelaces.
Lee also writes dialogue seasoned
skillfully with the patois of southern whites and blacks, as in the following
passage in which Calpurnia, the Finch family's black cook, scolds Scout
for poking fun at the way her classmate Walter Cunningham drenches his
food in molasses while eating lunch at the Finch house:
"There's some folks
who don't eat like us," she whispered fiercely, "but you ain't called on
to contradict 'em at the table when they don't. That boy's yo' comp'ny
and if he wants to eat up the tablecloth you let him, you hear?"
"He ain't company, Cal,
he's just a Cunningham—"
"Hush your mouth! Don't
matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house's yo' comp'ny, and
don't you let me catch you remarkin' on their ways like you was so high
Lee often uses such snippets
of dialogue to underscore a lesson Scout learns about life—in this case,
that people come in many varieties and have all kinds of likes and dislikes.
Pouring molasses on a plateful of food isn't wrong, she learns; it is just
her journey through childhood, Scout gradually peels away a veneer of misconceptions
overlaying her vision of reality, thanks to lessons she learns from Atticus,
Calpurnia, and Jem and lessons she learns from her own experiences. She
learns, for example, that her impressions of Mrs. Dubose, Boo Radley, and
even her own father are faulty.
in various forms is a major motif in To Kill a Mockingbird. One
form of it is the vicious, open racism of Bob Ewell. Another is the crazed,
communal prejudice of the lynch mob. Still another is the less strident
racism of Aunt Alexandra's social circle. Institutional, cultural, and
social prejudice against black Americans was deeply ingrained and widely
practiced in the United States until poets like Langston Hughes, enlightened
citizens like Rosa Parks, and novel writers like Harper Lee began challenging
and exposing racial injustice, setting the stage for the Rev. Martin Luther
King and other civil-rights activists to begin leading the nation in the
1960s to higher moral ground in race relations. Not all the prejudice in
the novel centers on race. For example, many Maycomb citizens prejudge
Boo Radley as a miscreant. In addition, some Maycomb descendants of Old
South gentry look down on lower-class whites. Finally, Maycomb County prohibits
women from serving on juries, as prescribed historically by Alabama law
in the 1930s.
enunciates this theme, related to the previous one, when he tells Scout
that before judging another person she must first "climb into his skin
and walk around in it."
professing tolerance and a desire to practice Christian charity toward
others, the women of the Missionary Society exhibit racism toward the Negroes
of the community.
Adventure and Exploration
spirit of adventure and exploration pervades the novel, as the name of
the main character, Scout, suggests. Scout, Jem, and Dill are curious children.
They spook about day and night to unravel the mystery of Boo Radley. They
also venture forth late in the evening because Jem "senses that something
isn't right" and end up thwarting a lynching.
Kill a Mockingbird underscores the effects of parental influence. Scout
and Jem, for example, are tolerant and compassionate, reflecting the values
of their father, Atticus. Burris Ewell is mean-spirited and vulgar, like
his father, and young Walter Cunningham exhibits the same reluctance to
accept charity as the elder Walter. Dill feels unloved because his mother
and his new father do not give him the time and attention that Atticus
devotes to Scout and Jem. Boo Radley suffers from a personality disorder
apparently triggered by his father, whom Calpurnia calls "the meanest man
God ever blew breath into." And Robert E. Lee (Bob) Ewell and many other
citizens of Maycomb cling to the racist outlook of a parent they all share,
the Old South.
the first chapter of the novel, the narrator alludes to the inaugural address
of President Franklin D. Roosevelt when she says,
“Maycomb County had recently
been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself." Roosevelt's exact
words were “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The sentence
was an attempt by Roosevelt to hearten a nation in the throes of the Great
Depression. However, it could apply specifically to Maycomb in the sense
that its people harbor fears where there is no danger: fear of Boo Radley,
for example, or fear generated by prejudice, ignorance, and superstition.
citizens of Maycomb—including Atticus, Maudie Atkinson, the Rev. Sykes,
Calpurnia, Zeebo, Judge Taylor, and Sheriff Tate—set an example for the
younger generation by what they do and say, thereby providing hope for
a better future.
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Atticus: As his name
suggests, he represents reason, restraint, tolerance, and democratic ideals.
Attica was a region of ancient Greece in which Athens was the principal
city. Since ancient times, Attica and Athens have always been associated
with the qualities Atticus exhibits.
Boo: As his name
suggests, Boo Radley represents the presence of an otherworldly creature
in a town of ordinary folk. In fact, Boo is otherworldly in the
sense that he is a good person who withdraws from the defective world around
Camellia: The camellia
Mrs. Dubose bequeaths to Jem represents an effort by a cantankerous, disease-ridden
old woman to make peace with the boy while pointing out that life in Alabama
can be as beautiful as the camellia, Alabama's state flower. The fact that
the camellia is in the evergreen family may suggest that she wishes Jem's
memory of her better side will last throughout his life.
The pillars of the Maycomb courthouse represent the traditions, mores,
and attitudes of the Old South, including racial prejudice and segregation.
The term Old South generally refers to the South before the Civil
War. Here is the passage identifying the pillars as symbols of the pre-Civil
War South: "The concrete pillars supporting its [the courthouse's] south
roof were too heavy for their light burden. The pillars were all that remained
standing when the original courthouse burned in 1856. Another courthouse
was built around them."
Fire: The fire that
burns Maudie Atkinson's house symbolizes the racism that has inflamed Maycomb.
Like the disease afflicting the mad dog, the fire threatens to spread.
Injury to Tom Robinson's
Arm: This appears to symbolize the racism that handicaps him as a black
and puts him at a disadvantage at his trial.
Knothole: The knothole
in the oak tree on the Radley property appears to symbolize Boo Radley's
good heart, inasmuch as he places gifts in it for the children. It may
also suggest his desire to communicate and connect with the world.
mockingbird symbolizes innocent characters perceived as enemies of society
or as easy prey for villainy. The most obvious "mockingbirds" are Boo Radley,
wrongfully regarded as a monster, and Tom Robinson, wrongfully convicted
of rape. A mockingbird, of course, is a mimic, capable of imitating the
songs of other birds and even certain nonhuman sounds. Boo Radley and Tom
Robinson do not mimic the actions of other human beings, but many residents
of Maycomb perceive them as if they did. To them, Boo executes the actions
of a fiend; Robinson, the actions of a rapist. Because Boo is shy and reclusive,
he does not defend himself against the false stories about him; because
Robinson is black, he cannot convince prejudiced townspeople of his innocence.
In other words, they are easy prey. Others who may be viewed as mockingbirds
are Scout and Jem because, as children of Atticus, they are perceived as
sharing his blame for defending a black and because they are easy prey
for Bob Ewell. In addition, blacks in general are depicted as mockingbirds.
Morphine: This powerful
painkiller, taken by terminally ill Mrs. Dubose, may represent the Old
South traditions and racism to which many Maycomb residents have become
"addicted." The fact that she breaks her morphine addiction in the last
month or so of her life, despite the severe pain her illness causes, suggests
that it is never too late to reform one's ways and redeem oneself.
Paper Bag: Everyone
assumes that Dolphus Raymond drinks whiskey from the bottle he carries
around in a paper bag. But the bottle contains Coca-Cola, not whiskey.
The paper bag thus symbolizes the danger and wrongfulness of judging a
person on appearances, without sufficient knowledge of what is behind the
appearances. In a way, the paper bag is like the skin color of a Negro.
Rabid Dog (Tim Johnson):
The mad dog called Tim Johnson represents the delirium and rage that grip
Maycomb after Mayella Ewell, a white woman, accuses Tom Robinson, a black
man, of raping her. Atticus kills the dog. He also attempts to kill the
vicious racism that sickens the town.
Scout: As her name
suggests, she apparently represents exploration. She learns by reading
voraciously, asking many questions, and eagerly participating in activities
that may satisfy her curiosity.
Snowman: The snowman
Scout and Jem build with a mixture of dirt and snow symbolizes the mixture
of good and bad in human beings. Atticus expresses this idea when speaking
of Mr. Cunningham: "[He's] basically a good man, he just has his blind
spots along with the rest of us."
treehouse may symbolize that Jem shares with Boo Radley a desire to escape
from the world.
and Direct References
Battle of Hastings:
Turning point in English history in which a claimant to the English throne—William,
duke of Normandy—defeated Harold II, the Saxon king of England on October
Bryan, William Jennings:
Politician and celebrated orator. Bryan (1860-1925) was the Democratic
candidate for president of the United States in 1896, 1900, and 1908.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice:
American author (1875-1950) of the Tarzan novels. The first one, Tarzan
of the Apes, was published in 1914.
Grit Paper: National
tabloid newspaper, GRIT, that
published positive, uplifting articles. The weekly publication was founded
in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in the 1880s. In the first three quarters
of the Twentieth Century, it became highly popular in America's small towns,
achieving a circulation of more than 1.5 million. After experiencing circulation
problems and changing ownership, its number of subscribers declined precipitously
thereafter. GRIT is referred
to in Chapter 26 when Scout mentions it in connection with a class on current
events: "[R]ural children . . . usually brought clippings from what they
called The GRIT Paper, a publication
spurious in the eyes of Miss Gates, our teacher. Why she frowned when a
child recited from The GRIT Paper
I never knew. . . ." The author of Cummings Study Guides, Michael
J. Cummings, was once the managing editor of GRIT.
to the romantic ideals exhibited in Ivanhoe, an 1819 novel by Sir
Walter Scott (1771-1832) set in Twelfth Century England. These romantic
ideals enjoyed a kind of renaissance in the Old South but became outmoded
after the Civil War. When Jem reads Ivanhoe to the terminally ill
Mrs. Dubose, she falls into a stupor, indicating that Old South romanticism
was losing its hold on southerners. The Old South, as Margaret Mitchell
observed, had become a "civilization gone with the wind." In the Twentieth
Century, its ideals were also being swept away.
Optic, Oliver: Pen
name of William Taylor Adams (1822-1897), author of adventure books for
to speeches by the ancient Athenian orator, Demosthenes, against King Philip
II of Macedonia when he began threatening Greek cities. He delivered his
first Philippic, as each speech came to be known, in 351 B.C. Over the
centuries, the word Philippic became a lower-cased noun referring any verbal
attack. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the word appears in reference
to Mrs. Dubose's tongue-lashing of Scout and Jem: "[W]e were followed up
the sidewalk by a philippic on our family's moral degeneration. . . ."
Shadrach: One of
three friends of the prophet Daniel who were cast into a fiery furnace
for spurning a command to worship an idol. Shadrach and the other two,
Abednego and Mesach, later emerged from the furnace unharmed (Daniel: Chapter
3, Verses 12-27).
Wesley, John: Anglican
clergyman who founded the Methodist Church.
climax of To Kill a Mockingbird occurs when the novel reveals Boo
Radley as a hero rather than a villain. This development underscores the
main theme of the novel and reinforces mini-climaxes—for example,
the high points of the Dubose and Robinson episodes—that
also reveal reality to callow Scout. In addition, the Boo Radley climax
presents a positive outcome, and hope, for a world gone wrong while also
answering the question posed on the first page of the novel, how Jem broke
his arm, thus helping to knit the narrative into a unified whole.
Terms for African-Americans
the 1930s, when To Kill a Mockingbird is set, whites generally used
the term Negro or colored person—and sometimes darky—to
refer to a dark-skinned American of African descent. (Negro is the
Spanish word for black. It entered the English language about six
hundred years ago when people began using it to refer to central and southern
Africans.) Not infrequently, whites also used the highly offensive term
(a corruption of Negro) to refer to such a person. During the civil-rights
movement of the 1960s, the terms black,
and Afro-American gained recognition as the proper terminology,
although many Americans continued to use the other terms. Between 1970
and the present, the term person of color—for a black American or
another non-white—also gained usage. Today, most Americans regard colored
person and Negro as unacceptable terms when writing or speaking
except when they are using them in a historical context. They usually choose
or black as a more respectful term. Unfortunately, though, some
Americans continue to use the ugly noun
nigger for black Americans.
Real-Life Dill Harris
Lee modeled the character Dill (Charles Baker Harris) on her friend Truman
Capote (1924-1984), who also became a famous author when he grew up. Among
his most popular works were Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) and In
Cold Blood (1966), books which both were made into films. Capote, whose
birth name was Truman Persons, was born in New Orleans. His mother, Lillie
Mae Faulk Persons, was a native of Monroeville, Alabama, the hometown of
Harper Lee. When he was very young, his mother sent him to live with her
relatives in Monroeville, where he befriended Miss Lee. His last name was
changed to Capote after his mother divorced her first husband and married
Joseph Capote, of New York City.
Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926, the daughter
of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee. She had a brother
and two sisters. After graduating from a Monroeville high school, she attended
Huntingdon College in Montgomery and the University of Alabama. She as
an airline reservation clerk in New York before pursuing a writing career.
To Kill a Mockingbird is her only major work. It won the Pulitzer Prize
for Fiction in 1961. Later in the sixties, she helped Truman Capote conduct
research for his "nonfiction novel," In Cold Blood. Nancy G. Anderson
and Bert Hitchcock, of Auburn University, wrote in The
Encyclopedia of Alabama that in a 1965 interview, she commented on
the activities of her early childhood:
We had to use our
own devices in our play, for our entertainment. We didn’t have much
money . . . . We didn’t have toys, nothing was done for us, so the
result was that we lived in our imagination most of the time. We
devised things; we were readers and we would transfer everything we had
seen on the printed page to the backyard in the form of high drama.
Questions and Essay Topics
is the most important lesson Scout learns?
your opinion, why does Boo Radley remain indoors?
what extent does the novel validate the adage "experience is the best teacher"?
is the most admirable adult male character in the novel?
is the most admirable adult female character?
character do you pity the most?
you had been a resident of Maycomb, Alabama, or Nazi Germany in the 1930s,
would you have spoken up publicly against the injustices against minority
citizens? Before answering this question, carefully consider whether you
are the type of person who passively accepts official policy.
for his defense of Tom Robinson, Atticus makes no attempts to improve the
lot of black people. Instead, he appears to accept conditions as they are.
a psychological profile of one of the key characters in the novel. Use
library, Internet, and other research sources to support your views. Also,
cite passages from the novel to lend your essay additional credibility.
an informative essay explaining the extent of racial segregation in the
South and other parts of the United States between 1930 and 1960. Take
into consideration such places as schools, buses, restaurants, restrooms,
theaters, military bases, offices, factories, libraries, parks, and so
Lee modeled Dill after the real-life Truman Capote, a famous American who
was one of her best childhood friends. Who was Truman Capote?
difficult would it be for Tom Robinson to get a fair trial in modern America?
an essay explaining why Maycomb is a good example of a microcosm.