To Kill a Mockingbird Summary and Analysis
by Harper Lee
Quotations with Analysis
"Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summers day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum." Page 5
The descriptive detail paints a vivid picture of the town of Maycomb, which provides some insight on Scout's feelings about Maycomb. In addition, the narrator provides the setting for the story and sets the mood for a quiet and somewhat dull town, which sets the stage for the conflict of Tom's trial.
"'Your father does not know how to teach. You can have a seat now.'
I mumbled that I was sorry and retired meditating upon my crime." Page 17
Scout's first grade teacher makes her feel bad about being able to read, when she should feel proud that she can read and write at such a young age. Scout even apologizes and referred to her ability as a crime. This exchange demonstrates how many people in Maycomb are very small minded in their views.
"'First of all,' he said, '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.'" Page 30
This passage exemplifies the special bond between Atticus and his daughter, Scout. Throughout the novel, Scout learns more from her father than anyone else. Atticus teaches Scout important things about life and the world that she does acquire from school. Scout listens to Atticus very carefully. has great respect for him, and deeply values his advice.
"Two live oaks stood at the end of the Radley lot; their roots reached into the side-road and made it bumpy. Something about one of the trees attracted my attention.
"Tin-foil was sticking out of a knot-hole just above my eye level, winking at me in the afternoon sun. I stood on my tiptoe, hastily looked around once more, reached into the hole, and withdrew two pieces of chewing gum minus their outer wrappers." Page 33
One of the first indications that Boo Radley wants to be friendly toward the children and has noticed their interest in him is his knot-hole gifts. By leaving simple, harmless and thoughtful gifts for them, it becomes clear that Boo is a good person, which differs markedly from Scout and Jem's original feelings about him. Scout does not realize that the gifts may be a gift from Boo, although Jem is suspicious. Later on, Scout understands.
"'So that's what you were doing, wasn't it?'
'Makin' fun of him?'
'No," said Atticus, "Putting his life's history on display for the edification of the neighborhood.'
Jem seemed to swell a little. 'I didn't say we were doin' that, I didn't say it!'
Atticus grinned dryly. 'You just told me,' he said. 'You stop this nonsense right now, every one of you.'" Page 49
Atticus is rarely very stern with his children. Here, with his strong words, he shows that the Radleys should not be made fun of and are not bad people. This creates some unspoken tension between father and children, as they are not entirely convinced.
"Then I saw the shadow. It was the shadow of a man with a hat on. At first I thought it was a tree, but there was no wind blowing, and tree trunks never walked. The back porch was bathed in moonlight, And the shadow, crisp and toast, moved across the porch towards Jem.
Dill saw it next. He put his hands to his face.
When it crossed Jem, Jem saw it. He put his arms over his head and went ridged." Page 53
The children believe this shadowed man is Boo Radley and are frozen in fright. In this passage, the reader realizes how deeply afraid the children are of this mystery man, and how intensely his existence has affected their lives.
"As Atticus once advised me to do, I tried to climb into Jem's skin and walk around in it: if I had gone alone to the Radley Place at two in the morning, my funeral would have been held the next afternoon. So I left Jem alone and tried not to bother him." Page 57
Here is one example of many where Scout uses Atticus' advice to resolve conflict in her life. Clearly, Scout has great respect for both her father and brother, and demonstrates a high level of maturity for her young age.
"'Thank who?' I asked.
'Boo Radley. You were so busy looking at the fire you didn't know it when he put the blanket around you.'
My stomach turned to water and I nearly threw up when Jem held out the blanket and crept toward me. 'He sneaked out of the house-turn 'round-sneaked up, an' went like this!'" Page 72
Even though Scout appears frightened to hear that Boo Radley was only inches from her, she is beginning to realize that the mysterious man is trying to protect and befriend her. Boo gains the sympathy of Scout and the reader in this passage.
"Atticus said, 'You've a lot to learn, Jack.'
'I know. Your daughter gave me my first lessons this afternoon. She said I didn't understand children much and told me why. She was quite right. Atticus, she told me how I should have treated her-oh dear, I'm so sorry I romped on her.'" Page 87
Uncle Jack admits that Scout has taught him a lesson. Atticus has brought Scout up by instilling in her wisdom and compassion beyond her years. Here, she proves wiser than Uncle Jack, a grown man. In truth, Scout is much like Atticus -- she has strong moral principles and can explain things to people in ways that allow them to understand her perspective.
"Atticus said to Jem one day, 'I'd rather you shoot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
'Your father's right,' she said. 'Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'" Page 90
In addition to bearing the title of the novel, this passage demonstrates yet again how similar Atticus and Mrs. Maudie are. Both agree quite strongly that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, an animal symbolic of Boo Radley and Tom Robinson, as neither has caused harm, and prove only to have pure hearts.
"'A lady?' Jem raised his head. His face was scarlet. 'After all those things she said about you, a lady?'
'She was. She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe...Son, I told you that if you hadn't lost your head I'd have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her. I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.'" Page 112
Here, Atticus educates his children as to the true meaning of heroism. Mrs. Dubose was a rather cranky and offensive old woman who lived nearby. She spoke out harshly against Atticus, and in a fit of rage, Jem attacked her flower bed. As punishment, he had to read to her every day after school. Unknowingly, Jem was helping the woman overcome her morphine addiction. Atticus reveals this to his children after the woman has passed, and lets them evaluate the situation for themselves. Atticus treats his children as adults and shows them the meaning of true courage. The last two lines in the passage serve as an analogy to the Tom Robinson case and show that Atticus knows he will not win, but must try his best in his search for justice.
"'It's not necessary to tell all you know. It's not ladylike -in the second place, folks don't like to have someone around knowin' more than they do. It aggravates 'em. You're not gonna change any of them by talkin' right, they've got to want to learn themselves, and when they don't want to learn there's nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.'" Page 126
Here, Calpurnia explains her understanding of different kinds of people. Cal speaks proper English in the Finch home, proves that she is educated and cares about how she is perceived. On the other hand, she also shows respect for the people at her church and in her community by speaking the way they do. Here, Calpurnia also sets an example for Scout by telling her what it means to be ladylike.
"I never understood her preoccupation with heredity. Somewhere, I had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had, but Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land the finer it was." Page 130
Here, Scout explains how differently she and Aunt Alexandra see the world. Scout is far younger, but has a more mature understanding of people than Aunt Alexandra, demonstrating a keen sense of wisdom.
"'That's because you can't hold something in your mind but a little while,' said Jem. 'It's different with grown folks, we-'
His maddening superiority was unbearable these days. He did not want to do anything but read and go off by himself." Page 138
The Finch children's feelings toward each other change throughout the novel as Jem grows older and the differences between brother and sister become more over. Scout understands that Jem feels superior toward her and no longer treats her as a playmate. She is frustrated with Jem's airs of superiority and wishes they could play together and talk together as they used to.
"'What's the matter?' I asked.
Atticus said nothing. I looked up at Mr. Cunningham, whose face was equally impassive. Then he did a peculiar thing. He squatted down and took me by both shoulders.
'I'll tell him you said hey, little lady,' he said.
Then he straightened up and waved a big paw. 'Let's clear out,' he called. 'Let's get going, boys.'" Page 154
This exchange occurs after Scout has diffused the potentially dangerous crowd of men outside the jailhouse. Scout knows something is wrong and reaches out to a man she recognizes in the group, Mr. Cunningham. She does as she has been told and tries to connect with him by talking about his son who is a schoolmate of hers. Unknowingly, Scout appeals to the man's humanity and forces him to realize he must behave honorably and leave Atticus and Tom Robinson alone.
"This was news, news that put a different light on things: Atticus had to, whether he wanted to or not. I thought it odd that he hadn't said anything about it-we could have used it many times defending him and ourselves. He had to, that is why he was doing it, equaled fewer fights and less fussing." Page 163
Atticus wanted to take the case so justice would be served, and never wanted his children believing he took it only because he had to. For Atticus, this case was about protecting human rights, and he wanted his children to understand that he cared deeply about this issue. Scout does not quite yet understand this, but the revelation allows the reader to see Atticus as, yet again, an excellent father and parent.
"Mr. Ewell wrote on the back of the envelope and looked up complacently to see Judge Taylor looking at him as if he were some fragrant gardenia in full bloom on the witness stand, to see Mr. Gilmer half-sitting, half standing at his table. The jury was watching him, one man leaning over with his hands over the railing.
'What's so intrestin'?' he asked.
'You're left handed Mr. Ewell,' said Judge Taylor." Page 177
This quote demonstrates Atticus' intelligence and the first major weakness in Bob Ewell's case. Atticus believes Mr. Ewell beat Mayella, not Tom, and demonstrates Ewell's left-handedness in comparison to Tom's disabled left arm. With this revelation, the reader cannot place any trust in the words of Bob Ewell.
"'It's not an easy question Miss Mayella, so I'll try again. Do you remember him beating you about the face?' Atticus's voice had lost it's comfortableness; he was speaking in his arid, detached professional voice. 'Do you remember him beating you about the face?'
'I don't recollect if he hit me. I mean yes I do, he hit me.'" Page 185
Mayella's weak testimony calls the reader to become even more suspicious of her claims. According to Mr. Tate and Mr. Ewell's testimony, Mayella was certainly beaten up. It's odd for Mayella's reaction to the question to be so questionable if she is telling the truth.
"Mr. Gilmer smiled grimly at the jury. 'You're a mighty good fellow, it seems- did all this for not one penny?'
'Yes suh. I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more'n the rest of 'em-'
'You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?' Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to the ceiling." Page 197
It seems as though Mr. Gilmer thinks it is horrible that Tom Robinson, a poor black field worker, feels sorry for Mayella, a white citizen of Maycomb. It should be acceptable, considering the condition that she lives in, but in regard to the racial standards of the time, Tom's statement causes some resentment.
"'The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place. It has relied instead upon the testimony of two witnesses 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.'" Page 203
Atticus' strong closing arguments prove what an excellent lawyer he is. Atticus speaks only the truth and tries to force those in the courtroom, including his children, to examine the facts rather than the race of the accused. This speech must have taken a lot of courage, but to Atticus, it is absolutely necessary.
"'Miss Jean Louise?'
I looked around. They were all standing. All around us, and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes's voice was as distant as Judge Taylor's:
'Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'.'" Page 211
The people on the balcony have great respect for Atticus due to how deeply he pursued the case and how well he defended Tom. Atticus worked to let the truth be known. When Reverend Sykes asks Scout to stand, she understands how much her father's work means to him and the rest of those seated with her in the balcony.
"Indoors, when Miss Maudie wanted to say something lengthy she settled her fingers on her knees and settled her bridgework. This she did, and we waited.
'I simply wanted to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father's one of them.'" Page 215
Mrs. Maudie tries to make the children understand the difficult situation of the Tom Robinson case. Mrs. Maudie explains things well, telling the children even though Atticus lost, he won by forcing the town to truly examine their perceptions of race and equality. It took a great deal of time for the jury to come to their verdict, and this alone demonstrates that Atticus succeeded in causing the men of the jury to examine their views of race. Therefore, although unpleasant, Atticus's work is of great importance and will affect the future of race relations in Maycomb.
"'Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time. It's because he wants to stay inside.'" Page 227
Jem is growing up and realizes that the myths about Boo are unlikely to be true. Jem has also grown distressed by the lack of honor in society, and realizes Boo might prefer to live alone rather than among corrupt men.
Aunt Alexandra put her hands to her mouth.
'They shot him,' said Atticus. 'He was running. It was during their exercise period. They said he just broke into a blind raving charge at the fence and started climbing over. Right in front of them-'" Page 235
Tom Robinson never harmed a soul, but was convicted and awaiting his appeal in a local prison. Atticus believes Tom hated being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, and could not imagine going through another trial. Atticus believes the stress of the situation and the inevitability of struggle and pain led Tom to run.
"'Why couldn't I mash him?' I asked.
'Because they don't bother you,' Jem answered in the darkness. He had turned out his reading light." Page 238
Here, Scout was preparing to "mash" a rolypoly and Jem stopped her. Here, Jem demonstrates a desire to protect anything that does no harm. He witnessed the innocent Tom Robinson suffer humiliation and death, and has begun to understand that it is sinful to take advantage of or destroy something weaker than one's self, just as it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.
"So many things had happened to us, Boo Radley was the least of our fears. Atticus said he didn't see how anything else could happen, that things had a way of settling down, and after enough time had passed people would forget that Tom Robinson's existence was ever brought to their attention." Page 243
When Scout tells us that "Boo Radley was the least of our fears", it ironically foreshadows his eventual reappearance.
"'I don't like it Atticus, I don't like it at all,' was Aunt Alexandra's assessment of these events. 'That man seems to have a running grudge against everyone connected with the case. I know how that kind are about paying off grudges, but I don't understand why he should harbor one-he had his way in court, didn't he?'" Page 250
Here, Aunt Alexandra is referring to Bob Ewell, who has publicly proclaimed a vendetta against Atticus Finch after Atticus made him look like a fool in the courtroom. Atticus believes Ewell just likes to sound proud and will never take action, but Aunt Alexandra is concerned. Later on, Atticus is, for once, proven wrong.
"Shuffle foot had not stopped with us this time. His trousers swished softly and steadily. Then they stopped. He was running, running toward us with no child's steps.
'Run, Scout! Run! Run!' Jem screamed.
I took one giant step and found myself reeling: my arms useless, in the dark, I could not keep my balance.
'Jem, Jem, help me, Jem!'" Page 261
This is a highly suspenseful passage. Lee tells this part of the story through hints and subtle clues rather than direct statements, i.e. "no child's steps" (an adult is chasing them).
"When I pointed to him his palms slipped slightly, leaving greasy sweat steaks on the wall, and he hooked his thumbs in his belt. A strange small spasm shook him, as if he heard fingernails scrape slate, but as I gazed at him in wonder the tension slowly drained from his face. His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor's image blurred with my sudden tears.
'Hey, Boo,' I said." Page 270
Here, for the very first time, Scout and Boo interact directly. Scout is no longer afraid, and treats Boo as an equal. She knows he saved her life and Jem's life, and looks upon him with respect. The power of this moment brings Scout to tears, but, as always, she handles herself with maturity beyond her age.
"Atticus looked like he needed cheering up. I ran to him and hugged him and kissed him with all my might. 'Yes sir, I understand,' I reassured him. 'Mr. Tate was right.'
Atticus disengaged himself and looked at me. 'What do you mean?'
'Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?'" Page 276
Here, yet again, Lee reveals Scout's phenomenal understanding of life. Scout is quite young and her father is not certain if she understands all that was said. However, she surprises him and makes him incredibly proud by comparing Mr. Arthur Radley (Boo) to a mockingbird. Just like a mockingbird, Boo has never harmed a soul, and it would be a sin to bring him to trial for the death of Mr. Bob Ewell, who he killed to protect Scout and Jem.
"Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough." Page 279
Standing on the Radley porch allows Scout to finally see the world from Boo Radley's point of view. Earlier in the novel, she was terrified every time she passed the house. Now, as she stands on his porch, she recognizes how much she has grown and how much she has learned.
To Kill a Mockingbird Essays and Related Content
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Major Themes
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Essays
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Lesson Plan
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Questions
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Harper Lee: Biography
- To Kill a Mockingbird Summary
- About To Kill a Mockingbird
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-18
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-24
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 25-31
- Quotations with Analysis
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