To Kill A Mockingbird
Jean Louise “Scout” Finch - Thenarrator and protagonist of the story. Scout lives with her father, Atticus,her brother, Jem, and their black cook, Calpurnia, in Maycomb. She isintelligent and, by the standards of her time and place, a tomboy. Scout has acombative streak and a basic faith in the goodness of the people in hercommunity. As the novel progresses, this faith is tested by the hatred andprejudice that emerge during Tom Robinson’s trial. Scout eventually develops amore grown-up perspective that enables her to appreciate human goodness withoutignoring human evil.
Atticus Finch - Scout and Jem’s father, alawyer in Maycomb descended from an old local family. A widower with a drysense of humor, Atticus has instilled in his children his strong sense ofmorality and justice. He is one of the few residents of Maycomb committed toracial equality. When he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man chargedwith raping a white woman, he exposes himself and his family to the anger ofthe white community. With his strongly held convictions, wisdom, and empathy,Atticus functions as the novel’s moral backbone.
Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch - Scout’sbrother and constant playmate at the beginning of the story. Jem is somethingof a typical American boy, refusing to back down from dares and fantasizingabout playing football. Four years older than Scout, he gradually separateshimself from her games, but he remains her close companion and protectorthroughout the novel. Jem moves into adolescence during the story, and hisideals are shaken badly by the evil and injustice that he perceives during thetrial of Tom Robinson.
Arthur “Boo” Radley - Arecluse who never sets foot outside his house, Boo dominates the imaginationsof Jem, Scout, and Dill. He is a powerful symbol of goodness swathed in aninitial shroud of creepiness, leaving little presents for Scout and Jem andemerging at an opportune moment to save the children. An intelligent childemotionally damaged by his cruel father, Boo provides an example of the threatthat evil poses to innocence and goodness. He is one of the novel’s“mockingbirds,” a good person injured by the evil of mankind.
Bob Ewell - A drunken, mostlyunemployed member of Maycomb’s poorest family. In his knowingly wrongfulaccusation that Tom Robinson raped his daughter, Ewell represents the dark sideof the South: ignorance, poverty, squalor, and hate-filled racial prejudice.
Charles Baker “Dill” Harris - Jem and Scout’s summer neighbor and friend. Dill is a diminutive, confident boywith an active imagination. He becomes fascinated with Boo Radley andrepresents the perspective of childhood innocence throughout the novel.
Miss Maudie Atkinson - The Finches’neighbor, a sharp-tongued widow, and an old friend of the family. Miss Maudieis almost the same age as Atticus’s younger brother, Jack. She shares Atticus’spassion for justice and is the children’s best friend among Maycomb’s adults.
Aunt Alexandra - Atticus’ssister, a strong-willed woman with a fierce devotion to her family. Alexandrais the perfect Southern lady, and her commitment to propriety and traditionoften leads her to clash with Scout.
Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose - Anelderly, ill-tempered, racist woman who lives near the Finches. Although Jembelieves that Mrs. Dubose is a thoroughly bad woman, Atticus admires her forthe courage with which she battles her morphine addiction.
Nathan Radley - Boo Radley’solder brother. Scout thinks that Nathan is similar to the deceased Mr. Radley,Boo and Nathan’s father. Nathan cruelly cuts off an important element of Boo’srelationship with Jem and Scout when he plugs up the knothole in which Booleaves presents for the children.
Mr. Dolphus Raymond - Awealthy white man who lives with his black mistress and mulatto children.Raymond pretends to be a drunk so that the citizens of Maycomb will have anexplanation for his behavior. In reality, he is simply jaded by the hypocrisyof white society and prefers living among blacks.
Mr. Walter Cunningham - Apoor farmer and part of the mob that seeks to lynch Tom Robinson at the jail.Mr. Cunningham displays his human goodness when Scout’s politeness compels himto disperse the men at the jail.
The story is narrated by a young girl namedJean Louise Finch, who is almost always called by her nickname, Scout. Scoutstarts to explain the circumstances that led to the broken arm that her olderbrother, Jem, sustained many years earlier; she begins by recounting her familyhistory. The first of her ancestors to come to America was a fur-trader andapothecary named Simon Finch, who fled England to escape religious persecutionand established a successful farm on the banks of the Alabama River. The farm,called Finch’s Landing, supported the family for many years. The first Finchesto make a living away from the farm were Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, whobecame a lawyer in the nearby town of Maycomb, and his brother, Jack Finch, whowent to medical school in Boston. Their sister, Alexandra Finch, stayed to runthe Landing.
A successful lawyer, Atticus makes a solidliving in Maycomb, a tired, poor, old town in the grips of the GreatDepression. He lives with Jem and Scout on Maycomb’s main residential street.Their cook, an old black woman named Calpurnia, helps to raise the children andkeep the house. Atticus’s wife died when Scout was two, so she does notremember her mother well. But Jem, four years older than Scout, has memories oftheir mother that sometimes make him unhappy.
In the summer of 1933, when Jem is nearly tenand Scout almost six, a peculiar boy named Charles Baker Harris moves in nextdoor. The boy, who calls himself Dill, stays for the summer with his aunt, MissRachel Haverford, who owns the house next to the Finches’. Dill doesn’t like todiscuss his father’s absence from his life, but he is otherwise a talkative andextremely intelligent boy who quickly becomes the Finch children’s chiefplaymate. All summer, the three act out various stories that they have read.When they grow bored of this activity, Dill suggests that they attempt to lureBoo Radley, a mysterious neighbor, out of his house.
Arthur “Boo” Radley lives in the run-downRadley Place, and no one has seen him outside it in years. Scout recounts how,as a boy, Boo got in trouble with the law and his father imprisoned him in thehouse as punishment. He was not heard from until fifteen years later, when hestabbed his father with a pair of scissors. Although people suggested that Boowas crazy, old Mr. Radley refused to have his son committed to an asylum. Whenthe old man died, Boo’s brother, Nathan, came to live in the house with Boo.Nevertheless, Boo continued to stay inside.
Dill is fascinated by Boo and tries toconvince the Finch children to help him lure this phantom of Maycomb outside.Eventually, he dares Jem to run over and touch the house. Jem does so,sprinting back hastily; there is no sign of movement at the Radley Place,although Scout thinks that she sees a shutter move slightly, as if someone werepeeking out.
Summary: Chapter 2
September arrives, and Dill leaves Maycomb toreturn to the town of Meridian. Scout, meanwhile, prepares to go to school forthe first time, an event that she has been eagerly anticipating. Once she isfinally at school, however, she finds that her teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher,deals poorly with children. When Miss Caroline concludes that Atticus must havetaught Scout to read, she becomes very displeased and makes Scout feel guiltyfor being educated. At recess, Scout complains to Jem, but Jem says that MissCaroline is just trying out a new method of teaching.
Miss Caroline and Scout get along badly inthe afternoon as well. Walter Cunningham, a boy in Scout’s class, has notbrought a lunch. Miss Caroline offers him a quarter to buy lunch, telling himthat he can pay her back tomorrow. Walter’s family is large and poor—so poorthat they pay Atticus with hickory nuts, turnip greens, or other goods whenthey need legal help—and Walter will never be able to pay the teacher back or bringa lunch to school. When Scout attempts to explain these circumstances, however,Miss Caroline fails to understand and grows so frustrated that she slapsScout’s hand with a ruler.
Summary: Chapter 3
At lunch, Scout rubs Walter’s nose in thedirt for getting her in trouble, but Jem intervenes and invites Walter to lunch(in the novel, as in certain regions of the country, the midday meal is called“dinner”). At the Finch house, Walter and Atticus discuss farm conditions “liketwo men,” and Walter puts molasses all over his meat and vegetables, to Scout’shorror. When she criticizes Walter, however, Calpurnia calls her into thekitchen to scold her and slaps her as she returns to the dining room, tellingher to be a better hostess. Back at school, Miss Caroline becomes terrifiedwhen a tiny bug, or “cootie,” crawls out of a boy’s hair. The boy is BurrisEwell, a member of the Ewell clan, which is even poorer and less respectablethan the Cunningham clan. In fact, Burris only comes to school the first day ofevery school year, making a token appearance to avoid trouble with the law. Heleaves the classroom, making enough vicious remarks to cause the teacher tocry.
At home, Atticus follows Scout outside to askher if something is wrong, to which she responds that she is not feeling well.She tells him that she does not think she will go to school anymore andsuggests that he could teach her himself. Atticus replies that the law demandsthat she go to school, but he promises to keep reading to her, as long as shedoes not tell her teacher about it.
Summary: Chapter 4
The rest of the school year passes grimly forScout, who endures a curriculum that moves too slowly and leaves her constantlyfrustrated in class. After school one day, she passes the Radley Place and seessome tinfoil sticking out of a knothole in one of the Radleys’ oak trees. Scoutreaches into the knothole and discovers two pieces of chewing gum. She chewsboth pieces and tells Jem about it. He panics and makes her spit it out. On thelast day of school, however, they find two old “Indian-head” pennies hidden inthe same knothole where Scout found the
Summer comes at last, school ends, and Dillreturns to Maycomb. He, Scout, and Jem begin their games again. One of thefirst things they do is roll one another inside an old tire. On Scout’s turn,she rolls in front of the Radley steps, and Jem and Scout panic. However, thisincident gives Jem the idea for their next game: they will play “Boo Radley.”As the summer passes, their game becomes more complicated, until they areacting out an entire Radley family melodrama. Eventually, however, Atticuscatches them and asks if their game has anything to do with the Radleys. Jemlies and Atticus goes back into the house. The kids wonder if it’s safe to playtheir game anymore.
Summary: Chapter 5
Jem and Dill grow closer, and Scout begins tofeel left out of their friendship. As a result, she starts spending much of hertime with one of their neighbors: Miss Maudie Atkinson, a widow with a talentfor gardening and cake baking who was a childhood friend of Atticus’s brother,Jack. She tells Scout that Boo Radley is still alive and it is her theory Boois the victim of a harsh father (now deceased), a “foot-washing” Baptist whobelieved that most people are going to hell. Miss Maudie adds that Boo wasalways polite and friendly as a child. She says that most of the rumors abouthim are false, but that if he wasn’t crazy as a boy, he probably is by now.
Meanwhile, Jem and Dill plan to give a noteto Boo inviting him out to get ice cream with them. They try to stick the notein a window of the Radley Place with a fishing pole, but Atticus catches themand orders them to “stop tormenting that man” with either notes or the “BooRadley” game.
Summary: Chapter 6
Jem and Dill obey Atticus until Dill’s lastday in Maycomb, when he and Jem plan to sneak over to the Radley Place and peekin through a loose shutter. Scout accompanies them, and they creep around thehouse, peering in through various windows. Suddenly, they see the shadow of aman with a hat on and flee, hearing a shotgun go off behind them. They escapeunder the fence by the schoolyard, but Jem’s pants get caught on the fence, andhe has to kick them off in order to free himself.
The children return home, where theyencounter a collection of neighborhood adults, including Atticus, Miss Maudie,and Miss Stephanie Crawford, the neighborhood gossip. Miss Maudie informs themthat Mr. Nathan Radley shot at “a Negro” in his yard. Miss Stephanie adds thatMr. Radley is waiting outside with his gun so he can shoot at the next sound hehears. When Atticus asks Jem where his pants are, Dill interjects that he wonJem’s pants in a game of strip poker. Alarmed, Atticus asks them if they wereplaying cards. Jem responds that they were just playing with matches. Late thatnight, Jem sneaks out to the Radley Place, and retrieves his pants.
Summary: Chapter 7
A few days later, after school has begun forthe year, Jem tells Scout that he found the pants mysteriously mended and hungneatly over the fence. When they come home from school that day, they findanother present hidden in the knothole: a ball of gray twine. They leave itthere for a few days, but no one takes it, so they claim it for their own.
Unsurprisingly, Scout is as unhappy in secondgrade as she was in first, but Jem promises her that school gets better thefarther along one goes. Late that fall, another present appears in theknothole—two figures carved in soap to resemble Scout and Jem. The figures arefollowed in turn by chewing gum, a spelling bee medal, and an old pocket watch.The next day, Jem and Scout find that the knothole has been filled with cement.When Jem asks Mr. Radley (Nathan Radley, Boo’s brother) about the knothole thefollowing day, Mr. Radley replies that he plugged the knothole because the treeis dying.
Summary: Chapter 8
For the first time in years, Maycomb enduresa real winter. There is even light snowfall, an event rare enough for school tobe closed. Jem and Scout haul as much snow as they could from Miss Maudie’syard to their own. Since there is not enough snow to make a real snowman, theybuild a small figure out of dirt and cover it with snow. They make it look likeMr. Avery, an unpleasant man who lives down the street. The figure’s likenessto Mr. Avery is so strong that Atticus demands that they disguise it. Jemplaces Miss Maudie’s sunhat on its head and sticks her hedge clippers in itshands, much to her chagrin.
That night, Atticus wakes Scout and helps herput on her bathrobe and coat and goes outside with her and Jem. Miss Maudie’shouse is on fire. The neighbors help her save her furniture, and the fire truckarrives in time to stop the fire from spreading to other houses, but MissMaudie’s house burns to the ground. In the confusion, someone drapes a blanketover Scout. When Atticus later asks her about it, she has no idea who put itover her. Jem realizes that Boo Radley put it on her, and he reveals the wholestory of the knothole, the presents, and the mended pants to Atticus. Atticustells them to keep it to themselves, and Scout, realizing that Boo was justbehind her, nearly throws up.
Despite having lost her house, Miss Maudie ischeerful the next day. She tells the children how much she hated her old homeand that she is already planning to build a smaller house and plant a largergarden. She says that she wishes she had been there when Boo put the blanket onScout to catch him in the act.
Summary: Chapter 9
At school, Scout nearly starts a fight with aclassmate named Cecil Jacobs after Cecil declares that “Scout Finch’s daddydefends niggers.” Atticus has been asked to defend Tom Robinson, a black manaccused of raping a white woman. It is a case he cannot hope to win, but hetells Scout that he must argue it to uphold his sense of justice andself-respect.
At Christmastime, Atticus’s brother, Jack,comes to stay with Atticus for a week during the holidays. Scout generally getsalong well with Uncle Jack, but when he arrives in Maycomb, she begins cursingin front of him (a habit that she has recently picked up). After supper, Jackhas Scout sit on his lap and he warns her not to curse in his presence. OnChristmas Day, Atticus takes his children and Jack to Finch’s Landing, arambling old house in the country where Atticus’s sister, Alexandra, and herhusband live. There, Scout endures Francis, Alexandra’s grandson, who had beendropped off at Finch’s Landing for the holiday. Scout thinks Francis is themost “boring” child she has ever met. She also has to put up with the prim andproper Alexandra, who insists that Scout dress like a lady instead of wearingpants.
One night, Francis tells Scout that Dill is arunt and then calls Atticus a “nigger-lover.” Scout curses him and beats himup. Francis tells Alexandra and Uncle Jack that Scout hit him, and Uncle Jackspanks her without hearing her side of the story. After they return to Maycomb,Scout tells Jack what Francis said and Jack becomes furious. Scout makes himpromise not to tell Atticus, however, because Atticus had asked her not tofight anyone over what is said about him. Jack promises and keeps his word.Later, Scout overhears Atticus telling Jack that Tom Robinson is innocent butdoomed; since it’s inconceivable that an all-white jury would ever acquit him.
Summary: Chapter 10
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but makemusic for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s asin to kill a mockingbird.”
Atticus, Scout says, is somewhat older thanmost of the other fathers in Maycomb. His relatively advanced age oftenembarrasses his children—he wears glasses and reads, for instance, instead ofhunting and fishing like the other men in town. One day, however, a mad dogappears, wandering down the main street toward the Finches’ house. Calpurnia callsAtticus, who returns home with Heck Tate, the sheriff of Maycomb. Heck brings arifle and asks Atticus to shoot the animal. To Jem and Scout’s amazement,Atticus does so, hitting the dog with his first shot despite his considerabledistance from the dog. Later, Miss Maudie tells Jem and Scout that, as a youngman, Atticus was the best shot in the county—“One-shot Finch.” Scout is eagerto brag about this, but Jem tells her to keep it a secret, because if Atticuswanted them to know, he would have told them.
Summary: Chapter 11
On the way to the business district inMaycomb is the house of Mrs. Dubose, a cantankerous old lady who always shoutsat Jem and Scout as they pass by. Atticus warns Jem to be a gentleman to her,because she is old and sick, but one day she tells the children that Atticus isnot any better than the “niggers and trash he works for,” and Jem loses histemper. Jem takes a baton from Scout and destroys all of Mrs. Dubose’s camelliabushes. As punishment, Jem must go to her house every day for a month and readto her. Scout accompanies him and they endure Mrs. Dubose’s abuse and peculiarfits, which occur at the end of every reading session. Each session is longerthan the one before. Mrs. Dubose dies a little more than a month after Jem’spunishment ends. Atticus reveals to Jem that she was addicted to morphine andthat the reading was part of her successful effort to combat this addiction.Atticus gives Jem a box that Mrs. Dubose had given her maid for Jem; in it liesa single white camellia.
Summary: Chapter 12
By this time, Jem has reached the age oftwelve, and he begins to demand that Scout “stop pestering him” and act morelike a girl. Scout becomes upset and looks forward desperately to Dill’sarrival in the summer. To Scout’s disappointment, however, Dill does not cometo Maycomb this year. He sends a letter saying that he has a new father(presumably, his mother has remarried) and will stay with his family inMeridian. To make matters worse, the state legislature, of which Atticus is amember, is called into session, forcing Atticus to travel to the state capitalevery day for two weeks.
Calpurnia decides to take the children to herchurch, a “colored” church, that Sunday. Maycomb’s black church is an oldbuilding, called First Purchase because it was bought with the first earningsof freed slaves. One woman, Lula, criticizes Calpurnia for bringing whitechildren to church, but the congregation is generally friendly, and ReverendSykes welcomes them, saying that everyone knows their father. The church has nomoney for hymnals, and few of the parishioners can read, so they sing byechoing the words that Zeebo, Calpurnia’s eldest son and the town garbagecollector, reads from their only hymnal. During the service, Reverend Sykestakes up a collection for Tom Robinson’s wife, Helen, who cannot find work nowthat her husband has been accused of rape. After the service, Scout learns thatTom Robinson has been accused by Bob Ewell and cannot understand why anyonewould believe the Ewells’ word. When the children return home, they find AuntAlexandra waiting for them.
Summary: Chapter 13
Aunt Alexandra explains that she should staywith the children for a while, to give them a “feminine influence.” Maycombgives her a fine welcome: various ladies in the town bake her cakes and haveher over for coffee, and she soon becomes an integral part of the town’s sociallife. Alexandra is extremely proud of the Finches and spends much of her timediscussing the characteristics of the various families in Maycomb. This “familyconsciousness” is an integral part of life in Maycomb, an old town where thesame families have lived for generations, where every family has its quirks andeccentricities. However, Jem and Scout lack the pride that Aunt Alexandra considerscommensurate with being a Finch. She orders Atticus to lecture them on thesubject of their ancestry. He makes a valiant attempt but succeeds only inmaking Scout cry.
Summary: Chapter 14
The impending trial of Tom Robinson andAtticus’s role as his defense lawyer make Jem and Scout the objects of whispersand glances whenever they go to town. One day, Scout tries to ask Atticus what“rape” is, and the subject of the children’s trip to Calpurnia’s church comesup. Aunt Alexandra tells Scout she cannot go back the next Sunday. Later, shetries to convince Atticus to get rid of Calpurnia, saying that they no longerneed her. Atticus refuses. That night, Jem tells Scout not to antagonizeAlexandra. Scout gets angry at being lectured and attacks Jem. Atticus breaksup the fight and sends them to bed. Scout discovers something under her bed.She calls Jem in and they discover Dill hiding there.
Dill has run away from home because hismother and new father did not pay enough attention to him. He took a train fromMeridian to Maycomb Junction, fourteen miles away, and covered the remainingdistance on foot and on the back of a cotton wagon. Jem goes down the hall andtells Atticus. Atticus asks Scout to get more food than a pan of cold cornbread for Dill, before going next door to tell Dill’s aunt, Miss Rachel, of hiswhereabouts. Dill eats, then gets into Jem’s bed to sleep, but soon climbs overto Scout’s bed to talk things over.
Summary: Chapter 15
A week after Dill’s arrival, a group of menled by the sheriff, Heck Tate, come to Atticus’s house in the evening. As histrial is nearing, Tom Robinson is to be moved to the Maycomb jail, and concernsabout the possibility of a lynch mob have arisen. Later, Jem tells Scout thatAlexandra and Atticus have been arguing about the trial; she nearly accused himof bringing disgrace on the family. The following evening, Atticus takes thecar into town. At about ten o’clock, Jem, accompanied by Scout and Dill, sneaksout of the house and follows his father to the town center. From a distance,they see Atticus sitting in front of the Maycomb jail, reading a newspaper. Jemsuggests that they not disturb Atticus and return home.
At that moment, four cars drive into Maycomband park near the jail. A group of men gets out, and one demands that Atticusmove away from the jailhouse door. Atticus refuses, and Scout suddenly comesracing out of her hiding place next door, only to realize that this group ofmen differs from the group that came to their house the previous night. Jem andDill follow her, and Atticus orders Jem to go home. Jem refuses, and one of themen tells Atticus that he has fifteen seconds to get his children to leave.
Meanwhile, Scout looks around the group andrecognizes Mr. Cunningham, the father of her classmate Walter Cunningham. Shestarts talking to him about his legal entailments and his son, and asks him totell his son “hey.” All of the men stare at her. Mr. Cunningham, suddenlyashamed, squats down and tells Scout that he will tell his son “hey” for her,and then tells his companions to clear out. They depart, and Mr. Underwood, theowner of the newspaper, speaks from a nearby window where he is positioned witha double-barreled shotgun: “Had you covered all the time, Atticus.” Atticus andMr. Underwood talk for a while, and then Atticus takes the children home.
Summary: Chapter 16
The trial begins the next day. People fromall over the county flood the town. Everyone makes an appearance in thecourtroom, from Miss Stephanie Crawford to Mr. Dolphus Raymond, a wealthyeccentric who owns land on a river bank, lives near the county line, isinvolved with a black woman, and has mulatto children. Only Miss Maudie refusesto go, saying that watching someone on trial for his life is like attending aRoman carnival.
The vast crowd camps in the town square toeat lunch. Afterward, Jem, Scout, and Dill wait for most of the crowd to enterthe courthouse so that they can slip in at the back and thus prevent Atticusfrom noticing them. However, because they wait too long, they succeed ingetting seats only when Reverend Sykes lets them sit in the balcony where blackpeople are required to sit in order to watch the trial. From these seats, theycan see the whole courtroom. Judge Taylor, a white-haired old man with a reputationfor running his court in an informal fashion, presides over the case.
Summary: Chapter 17
The prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer, questions HeckTate, who recounts how, on the night of November 21, Bob Ewell urged him to goto the Ewell house and told him that his daughter Mayella had been raped. WhenTate got there, he found Mayella bruised and beaten, and she told him that TomRobinson had raped her. Atticus cross-examines the witness, who admits that nodoctor was summoned, and tells Atticus that Mayella’s bruises were concentratedon the right side of her face. Tate leaves the stand, and Bob Ewell is called.
Bob Ewell and his children live behind thetown garbage dump in a tin-roofed cabin with a yard full of trash. No one issure how many children Ewell has, and the only orderly corner of the yard isplanted with well-tended geraniums rumored to belong to Mayella. An extremelyrude little man, Ewell testifies that on the evening in question he was comingout of the woods with a load of kindling when he heard his daughter yelling.When he reached the house, he looked in the window and saw Tom Robinson rapingher. Robinson fled, and Ewell went into the house, saw that his daughter wasall right, and ran for the sheriff. Atticus’s cross-examination is brief: he asksMr. Ewell why no doctor was called (it was too expensive and there was noneed), and then has the witness write his name. Bob Ewell, the jury sees, isleft-handed—and a left-handed man would be more likely to leave bruises on theright side of a girl’s face.
Summary: Chapter 18
The trial continues, with the whole townglued to the proceedings. Mayella, who testifies next, is a reasonably clean—bythe Ewells’ standards—and obviously terrified nineteen-year-old girl. She saysthat she called Tom Robinson inside the fence that evening and offered him anickel to break up a dresser for her, and that once he got inside the house hegrabbed her and took advantage of her. In Atticus’s cross-examination, Mayellareveals that her life consists of seven unhelpful siblings, a drunken father,and no friends.
Atticus then examines her testimony and askswhy she didn’t put up a better fight, why her screams didn’t bring the otherchildren running, and, most important, how Tom Robinson managed the crime: howhe bruised the right side of her face with his useless left hand, which wastorn apart by a cotton gin when he was a boy. Atticus pleads with Mayella toadmit that there was no rape, that her father beat her. She shouts at him andyells that the courtroom would have to be a bunch of cowards not to convict TomRobinson; she then bursts into tears, refusing to answer any more questions. Inthe recess that follows, Mr. Underwood notices the children up in the balcony,but Jem tells Scout that the newspaper editor won’t tell Atticus about theirbeing there—although he might include it in the social section of thenewspaper. The prosecution rests, and Atticus calls only one witness—TomRobinson.
Summary: Chapter 19
Tom testifies that he always passed the Ewellhouse on the way to work and that Mayella often asked him to do chores for her.On the evening in question, he recounts, she asked him to come inside the houseand fix a door. When he got inside, there was nothing wrong with the door, andhe noticed that the other children were gone. Mayella told him she had savedher money and sent them all to buy ice cream. Then she asked him to lift a boxdown from a dresser. When Tom climbed on a chair, she grabbed his legs, scaringhim so much that he jumped down. She then hugged him around the waist and askedhim to kiss her. As she struggled, her father appeared at the window, callingMayella a whore and threatening to kill her. Tom fled.
Link Deas, Tom’s white employer, stands upand declares that in eight years of work, he has never had any trouble fromTom. Judge Taylor furiously expels Deas from the courtroom for interrupting.Mr. Gilmer gets up and cross-examines Tom. The prosecutor points out that thedefendant was once arrested for disorderly conduct and gets Tom to admit thathe has the strength, even with one hand, to choke the breath out of a woman andsling her to the floor. He begins to badger the witness, asking about hismotives for always helping Mayella with her chores, until Tom declares that hefelt sorry for her. This statement puts the courtroom ill at ease—in Maycomb,black people aren’t supposed to feel sorry for a white person. Mr. Gilmerreviews Mayella’s testimony, accusing Tom of lying about everything. Dillbegins to cry, and Scout takes him out of the courtroom. Outside the courtroom,Dill complains to Scout about Mr. Gilmer’s rude treatment of Tom Robinsonduring the questioning. As they walk, Scout and Dill encounter Mr. DolphusRaymond, the rich white man with the colored mistress and mulatto children.
Summary: Chapter 20
Mr. Dolphus Raymond reveals that he isdrinking from a paper sack. He commiserates with Dill and offers him a drink ina paper bag. Dill slurps up some of the liquid and Scout warns him not to takemuch, but Dill reveals to her that the drink isn’t alcoholic—it’s onlyCoca-Cola. Mr. Raymond tells the children that he pretends to be a drunk toprovide the other white people with an explanation for his lifestyle, when, infact, he simply prefers black people to whites.
When Dill and Scout return to the courtroom,Atticus is making his closing remarks. He has finished going over the evidenceand now makes a personal appeal to the jury. He points out that the prosecutionhas produced no medical evidence of the crime and has presented only the shakytestimony of two unreliable witnesses; moreover, the physical evidence suggeststhat Bob Ewell, not Tom Robinson, beat Mayella. He then offers his own versionof events, describing how Mayella, lonely and unhappy, committed theunmentionable act of lusting after a black man and then concealed her shame byaccusing him of rape after being caught. Atticus begs the jury to avoid thestate’s assumption that all black people are criminals and to deliver justiceby freeing Tom Robinson. As soon as Atticus finishes, Calpurnia comes into thecourtroom.
Summary: Chapter 21
Calpurnia hands Atticus a note telling himthat his children have not been home since noon. Mr. Underwood says that Jemand Scout are in the colored balcony and have been there since just after onein the afternoon. Atticus tells them to go home and have supper. They beg to beallowed to hear the verdict; Atticus says that they can return after supper,though he knows that the jury will likely have returned before then.
Calpurnia marches Jem, Scout, and Dill home.They eat quickly and return to find the jury still out, the courtroom stillfull. Evening comes, night falls, and the jury continues to deliberate. Jem isconfident of victory, while Dill has fallen asleep. Finally, after eleven that night,the jury enters. Scout remembers that a jury never looks at a man it hasconvicted, and she notices that the twelve men do not look at Tom Robinson asthey file in and deliver a guilty verdict. The courtroom begins to empty, andas Atticus goes out, everyone in the colored balcony rises in a gesture ofrespect.
Summary: Chapter 22
That night, Jem cries, railing against theinjustice of the verdict. The next day, Maycomb’s black population delivers anavalanche of food to the Finch household. Outside, Miss Stephanie Crawford isgossiping with Mr. Avery and Miss Maudie, and she tries to question Jem andScout about the trial. Miss Maudie rescues the children by inviting them in forsome cake. Jem complains that his illusions about Maycomb have been shattered:he thought that these people were the best in the world, but, having seen thetrial, he doesn’t think so anymore. Miss Maudie points out that there werepeople who tried to help, like Judge Taylor, who appointed Atticus to the caseinstead of the regular public defender. She adds that the jury’s staying out solong constitutes a sign of progress in race relations. As the children leaveMiss Maudie’s house, Miss Stephanie runs over to tell them that Bob Ewellaccosted their father that morning, spat on him, and swore revenge.
Summary: Chapter 23
Bob Ewell’s threats are worrisome to everyoneexcept Atticus. Atticus tells Jem and Scout that because he made Ewell looklike a fool, Ewell needed to get revenge. Now that Ewell has gotten thatvengefulness out of his system, Atticus expects no more trouble. Aunt Alexandraand the children remain worried. Meanwhile, Tom Robinson has been sent toanother prison seventy miles away while his appeal winds through the courtsystem. Atticus feels that his client has a good chance of being pardoned. WhenScout asks what will happen if Tom loses, Atticus replies that Tom will go tothe electric chair, as rape is a capital offense in Alabama.
Jem and Atticus discuss the justice ofexecuting men for rape. The subject then turns to jury trials and to how alltwelve men could have convicted Tom. Atticus tells Jem that in an Alabama courtof law, a white man’s word always beats a black man’s, and that they were luckyto have the jury out so long. In fact, one man on the jury wanted toacquit—amazingly, it was one of the Cunninghams. Upon hearing this revelation,Scout announces that she wants to invite young Walter Cunningham to dinner, butAunt Alexandra expressly forbids it, telling her that the Finches do notassociate with trash.
Scout grows furious, and Jem hastily takesher out of the room. In his bedroom, Jem reveals his minimal growth of chesthair and tells Scout that he is going to try out for the football team in thefall. They discuss the class system—why their aunt despises the Cunninghams,why the Cunninghams look down on the Ewells, who hate black people, and othersuch matters. After being unable to figure out why people go out of their wayto despise each other, Jem suggests Boo Radley does not come out of his housebecause he does not want to leave it.
Summary: Chapter 24
One day in August, Aunt Alexandra invites hermissionary circle to tea. Scout, wearing a dress, helps Calpurnia bring in thetea, and Alexandra invites Scout to stay with the ladies. Scout listens to themissionary circle first discuss the plight of the poor Mrunas, a benightedAfrican tribe being converted to Christianity, and then talk about how theirown black servants have behaved badly ever since Tom Robinson’s trial. MissMaudie shuts up their prattle with icy remarks. Suddenly, Atticus appears andcalls Alexandra to the kitchen. There he tells her, Scout, Calpurnia, and MissMaudie that Tom Robinson attempted to escape and was shot seventeen times. Hetakes Calpurnia with him to tell the Robinson family of Tom’s death. Alexandraasks Miss Maudie how the town can allow Atticus to wreck himself in pursuit ofjustice. Maudie replies that the town trusts him to do right. They return withScout to the missionary circle, managing to act as if nothing is wrong.
Summary: Chapter 25
Septemberhas begun and Jem and Scout are on the back porch when Scout notices aroly-poly bug. She is about to mash it with her hand when Jem tells her not to.She dutifully places the bug outside. When she asks Jem why she shouldn’t havemashed it, he replies that the bug didn’t do anything to harm her. Scoutobserves that it is Jem, not she, who is becoming more and more like a girl.Her thoughts turn to Dill, and she remembers him telling her that he and Jemran into Atticus as they started home from swimming during the last two days ofAugust. Jem had convinced Atticus to let them accompany him to Helen Robinson’shouse, where they saw her collapse even before Atticus could say that herhusband, Tom, was dead. Meanwhile, the news occupies Maycomb’s attention forabout two days, and everyone agrees that it is typical for a black man to dosomething irrational like try to escape. Mr. Underwood writes a long editorialcondemning Tom’s death as the murder of an innocent man. The only othersignificant reaction comes when Bob Ewell is overheard saying that Tom’s deathmakes “one down and about two more to go.”
Summary: Chapter 26
School starts, and Jem and Scout again beginto pass by the Radley Place every day. They are now too old to be frightened bythe house, but Scout still wistfully wishes to see Boo Radley just once.Meanwhile, the shadow of the trial still hangs over her. One day in school, herthird-grade teacher, Miss Gates, lectures the class on the wickedness of Hitler’spersecution of the Jews and on the virtues of equality and democracy. Scoutlistens and later asks Jem how Miss Gates can preach about equality when shecame out of the courthouse after the trial and told Miss Stephanie Crawfordthat it was about time that someone taught the blacks in town a lesson. Jembecomes furious and tells Scout never to mention the trial to him again. Scout,upset, goes to Atticus for comfort.
Summary: Chapter 27
By the middle of October, Bob Ewell gets ajob with the WPA, one of the Depression job programs, and loses it a few dayslater. He blames Atticus for “getting” his job. Also in the middle of October,Judge Taylor is home alone and hears someone prowling around; when he goes toinvestigate, he finds his screen door open and sees a shadow creeping away. BobEwell then begins to follow Helen Robinson to work, keeping his distance butwhispering obscenities at her. Deas sees Ewell and threatens to have himarrested if he doesn’t leave Helen alone; he gives her no further trouble. Butthese events worry Aunt Alexandra, who points out that Ewell seems to have agrudge against everyone connected with the case.
That Halloween, the town sponsors a party andplay at the school. This plan constitutes an attempt to avoid the unsupervisedmischief of the previous Halloween, when someone burglarized the house of twoelderly sisters and hid all of their furniture in their basement. The play isan “agricultural pageant” in which every child portrays a food: Scout wears awire mesh shaped to look like ham. Both Atticus and Aunt Alexandra are tootired to attend the festivities, so Jem takes Scout to the school.
Summary: Chapter 28
It is dark on the way to the school, andCecil Jacobs jumps out and frightens Jem and Scout. Scout and Cecil wanderaround the crowded school, visiting the haunted house in a seventh-gradeclassroom and buying homemade candy. The pageant nears its start and all of thechildren go backstage. Scout, however, has fallen asleep and consequentlymisses her entrance. She runs onstage at the end, prompting Judge Taylor andmany others to burst out laughing. The woman in charge of the pageant accusesScout of ruining it. Scout is so ashamed that she and Jem wait backstage untilthe crowd is gone before they make their way home.
On the walk back home, Jem hears noisesbehind him and Scout. They think it must be Cecil Jacobs trying to frightenthem again, but when they call out to him, they hear no reply. They have almostreached the road when their pursuer begins running after them. Jem screams forScout to run, but in the dark, hampered by her costume, she loses her balanceand falls. Something tears at the metal mesh, and she hears struggling behindher. Jem then breaks free and drags Scout almost all the way to the road beforetheir assailant pulls him back. Scout hears a crunching sound and Jem screams;she runs toward him and is grabbed and squeezed. Suddenly, her attacker ispulled away. Once the noise of struggling has ceased, Scout feels on the groundfor Jem, finding only the prone figure of an unshaven man smelling of whiskey.She stumbles toward home, and sees, in the light of the streetlamp, a mancarrying Jem toward her house.
Scout reaches home, and Aunt Alexandra goesto call Dr. Reynolds. Atticus calls Heck Tate, telling him that someone hasattacked his children. Alexandra removes Scout’s costume, and tells her thatJem is only unconscious, not dead. Dr. Reynolds then arrives and goes intoJem’s room. When he emerges, he informs Scout that Jem has a broken arm and abump on his head, but that he will be all right. Scout goes in to see Jem. Theman who carried him home is in the room, but she does not recognize him. HeckTate appears and tells Atticus that Bob Ewell is lying under a tree, dead, witha knife stuck under his ribs.
Summary: Chapter 29
As Scout tells everyone what she heard andsaw, Heck Tate shows her costume with a mark on it where a knife slashed andwas stopped by the wire. When Scout gets to the point in the story where Jemwas picked up and carried home, she turns to the man in the corner and reallylooks at him for the first time. He is pale, with torn clothes and a thin,pinched face and colorless eyes. She realizes that it is Boo Radley.
Summary: Chapter 30
Scout takes Boo—“Mr. Arthur”—down to theporch, and they sit in shadow listening to Atticus and Heck Tate argue. Heckinsists on calling the death an accident, but Atticus, thinking that Jem killedBob Ewell, doesn’t want his son protected from the law. Heck corrects him—Ewellfell on his knife; Jem didn’t kill him. Although he knows that Boo is the onewho stabbed Ewell, Heck wants to hush up the whole affair, saying that Boodoesn’t need the attention of the neighborhood brought to his door. TomRobinson died for no reason, he says, and now the man responsible is dead: “Letthe dead bury the dead.”
Summary: Chapter 31
Atticus was right. One time he said you neverreally know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Juststanding on the Radley porch was enough.
Scout takes Boo upstairs to say goodnight toJem and then walks him home. He goes inside his house, and she never sees himagain. But, for just a moment, she imagines the world from his perspective. Shereturns home and finds Atticus sitting in Jem’s room. He reads one of Jem’sbooks to her until she falls asleep.
“When they finally saw him, why he hadn’tdone any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice. . . .”
“Most people are, Scout, when you finally seethem.”
The title of To Kill a Mockingbird hasvery little literal connection to the plot, but it carries a great deal ofsymbolic weight in the book. In this story of innocents destroyed by evil, the“mockingbird” comes to represent the idea of innocence. Thus, to kill amockingbird is to destroy innocence. Throughout the book, a number ofcharacters (Jem, Tom Robinson, Dill, Boo Radley, Mr. Raymond) can be identifiedas mockingbirds—innocents who have been injured or destroyed through contactwith evil. This connection between the novel’s title and its main theme is madeexplicit several times in the novel: after Tom Robinson is shot, Mr. Underwoodcompares his death to “the senseless slaughter of songbirds,” and at the end ofthe book Scout thinks that hurting Boo Radley would be like “shootin’ amockingbird.” Most important, Miss Maudie explains to Scout: “Mockingbirdsdon’t do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s asin to kill a mockingbird.” That Jem and Scout’s last name is Finch (anothertype of small bird) indicates that they are particularly vulnerable in theracist world of Maycomb, which often treats the fragile innocence of childhoodharshly.
The Existence of Social Inequality
Differences in social status are exploredlargely through the overcomplicated social hierarchy of Maycomb, the ins andouts of which constantly baffle the children. The relatively well-off Finchesstand near the top of Maycomb’s social hierarchy, with most of the townspeoplebeneath them. Ignorant country farmers like the Cunninghams lie below thetownspeople, and the white trash Ewells rest below the Cunninghams. But theblack community in Maycomb, despite its abundance of admirable qualities,squats below even the Ewells, enabling Bob Ewell to make up for his own lack ofimportance by persecuting Tom Robinson. These rigid social divisions that makeup so much of the adult world are revealed in the book to be both irrationaland destructive. For example, Scout cannot understand why Aunt Alexandrarefuses to let her consort with young Walter Cunningham. Lee uses thechildren’s perplexity at the unpleasant layering of Maycomb society to critiquethe role of class status and, ultimately, prejudice in human interaction.
The Coexistence of Good and Evil
The most important theme of To Kill aMockingbird is the book’s exploration of the moral nature of humanbeings—that is, whether people are essentially good or essentially evil. Thenovel approaches this question by dramatizing Scout and Jem’s transition from aperspective of childhood innocence, in which they assume that people are goodbecause they have never seen evil, to a more adult perspective, in which theyhave confronted evil and must incorporate it into their understanding of theworld. As a result of this portrayal of the transition from innocence toexperience, one of the book’s important subthemes involves the threat thathatred, prejudice, and ignorance pose to the innocent: people such as TomRobinson and Boo Radley are not prepared for the evil that they encounter, and,as a result, they are destroyed. Even Jem is victimized to an extent by hisdiscovery of the evil of racism during and after the trial. Whereas Scout isable to maintain her basic faith in human nature despite Tom’s conviction,Jem’s faith in justice and in humanity is badly damaged, and he retreats into astate of disillusionment.