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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2008
Type of Work
.......To 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.
Date of Publication
.......Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird between 1957 and 1960, and J. B. Lippincott & Co. published it on July 11, 1960.
.......The 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).
.......Harper 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 Harris (Dill).
.......The 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.. Narration
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 of blacks.
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
Calpurnia: 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 of Alexandra.
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 a sin.
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
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."
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 Tribune.
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.
Walter Cunningham: Head of a poor white family that refuses to accept charity. When Atticus does legal work for him, Cunningham pays with
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
Sophy: Mrs. Merriweather's cook.
Agnes Boone: Student dressed as a butterbean for the Halloween pageant.
Henry Hancock: Son of Jimmy and Alexandra Hancock.
Francis 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.
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 children.
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 outhouse.
Dolphus Raymond: 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 mistress.
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 Taylor's wife.
Jessie: Mrs. Dubose's maid.
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 Robinson.
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).
Gertrude Farrow: Member of the Maycomb Missionary Society.
.......As 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.
By Michael J. Cummings...©
.......To 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.
.......When 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.
.......Atticus 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
.......In 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.
.......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
.......Having 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.
.......The 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.
.......One 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
A New Pastime
.......By 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.
.......However, 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 The 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.”
.......When 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.
.......“The sheriff hadn’t the heart to put him in jail alongside Negroes,” Scout paraphrases Miss Crawford as saying.
.......When 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.
.......One 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.
difference between him and his father was their ages,” Scout says.
.......Like 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.
.......When 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 runs out.
Scout Starts School
.......In 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, we print.”
.......At 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.
.......Miss Caroline then declares Scout a troublemaker and whacks her on the hand with a ruler.
.......When 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.
.......“They 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.”
.......When 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
.......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.”
.......He 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.”
.......During 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.
.......After 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.
.......On 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.”
.......After 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.
.......“It 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.”
.......Sometimes 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 says.
.......She doesn’t know exactly why Arthur remains inside but notes that he always spoke politely to her when he was a boy.
.......The 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 that man.”
.......But 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.
.......After 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.
.......When 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.
.......Jem 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.”
.......When 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.
.......The 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.
.......That 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.
.......At 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.”
.......When 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 this time.”
.......At 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 away.
.......The 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, eight.
.......When 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 again.”
.......When 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 her.
.......“What 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 Mockingbird"
.......Back 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.
.......“Uncle 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.
.......“I’d 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.”
.......Miss 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.”
.......Scout 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.”
.......“Like what?” Scout says.
.......Scratching her head, Calpurnia answers, “I don’t rightly know.”
.......Scout 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 the Baptists.
.......One 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.
.......A 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.”
.......“Jem and I nearly fainted,” Scout says.
.......But Atticus tells the sheriff to do the shooting. Tate says, “Mr. Finch, this is a one-shot job,” indicating that Atticus is a superior
.......“In a fog, Jem and I watched our father take the gun and walk out into the middle of the street,” Scout says.
.......Atticus 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?”
.......Calpurnia’s son, Zeebo, later removes the carcass in his garbage truck.
Mrs. Dubose Taunts the Children
.......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.”
.......Jem is furious.
.......When 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.
.......When 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.
.......Jem 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.”
.......When 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.
.......Meanwhile, 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?”
.......“It’s the same God, ain’t it?” Calpurnia says.
.......However, 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.
.......When 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.
.......“We 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
.......When 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. . . . .”
.......When 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.”
.......Jem 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.
.......Later, 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.”
.......As 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 aunt.
.......Meanwhile, 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.
.......On 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.
.......“Heck Tate’s around somewhere,” Atticus says.
....... But another man says the sheriff and his men are deep in the
.......“Called ‘em off on a snipe hunt,” he says.
Children Stand With Atticus
.......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
.......Atticus 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
.......“Don’t you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I’m Jean Louise Finch. You brought us some hickory nuts one time, don’t you remember?”
.......Scout 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.”
.......The 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.”
.......After they leave, a soft voice from a window above asks, “They gone?”
.......“They’ve gone," Atticus says. "Get some sleep, Tom. They won’t bother you anymore.”
.......A 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.
.......On 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:
It 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. .......Sitting 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
.......Under 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.
.......Bob 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.
.......Gilmer 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.
......."He 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
.......But 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 . . . ."
.......While 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."
.......Robinson 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.
......."She 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 count."
Deas Supports Robinson
.......When 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.
.......When 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]f 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."
.......After 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........Atticus 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
.......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 at them."
Ewell Seeks Revenge
.......Across 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 chew tobacco."
.......In 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 and earworms."
.......But 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
.......Just 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.
.......After 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."
.......In an editorial, Underwood declares that the only crime committed in Maycomb was the murder of Tom Robinson.
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 bother her.
Ewell Attacks Children
.......On 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 stays home.
.......When 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.
.......On 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.
.......Atticus calls Dr. Reynolds, then the sheriff, telling him, "Someone's been after my children."
.......Dr. 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 be okay.
.......When 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."
.......Meanwhile, 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.
.......After the sheriff leaves, Scout tells Atticus she understands the sheriff's decision, saying "Mr. Tate was right."
......."What do you mean?" Atticus asks.
.......To do otherwise, she says, "Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?"
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 again.
.......Although 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 house:
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." .......Another 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—" .......Other 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.
Structure and Style
.......Harper 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.
.......Examples 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.
.......Lee 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.
.......Lee 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 literature.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?" 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 different.
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 and mighty."
.......In 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.
.......Prejudice 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.
.......Atticus 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."
.......While 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
.......The 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.
.......To 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.
.......In 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
.......Upright 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 him.
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.
Courthouse Pillars: 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: The 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: Jem's treehouse may symbolize that Jem shares with Boo Radley a
desire to escape from the world.
Allusions 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 14, 1066. Climax
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
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
Ivanhoe: Allusion 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 children.
Philippic: Allusion 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.
.......The 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.
Depression-Era Terms for African-Americans
.......In 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 nigger (a corruption of Negro) to refer to such a person. During the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, the terms black, African-American, 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 African-American or black as a more
respectful term. Unfortunately, though, some Americans continue to use the ugly noun nigger for black Americans. The Real-Life Dill Harris
.......Harper 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
.......Nelle 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..
Study Questions and Essay Topics
1....What is the most important lesson Scout learns?
2....In your opinion, why does Boo Radley remain indoors?
3....To what extent does the novel validate the adage "experience is the best teacher"?
4....Who is the most admirable adult male character in the novel?
5....Who is the most admirable adult female character?
6....Which character do you pity the most?
7....If 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
8....Except 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. Why?
9....Write 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.
10...Write 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 on.
11...Harper Lee modeled Dill after the real-life Truman Capote, a famous American who was one of her best childhood friends. Who was Truman Capote?
12...How difficult would it be for Tom Robinson to get a fair trial in modern America?
13...Write an essay explaining why Maycomb is a good example of