During her visit to the church, Scout is surprised to hear Calpurnia speak in the same black dialect as the others, because at home, Calpurnia always speaks proper English. Inside the church, everything is much simpler than in the church she is...
To Kill a Mockingbird Video
Watch the illustrated video summary of the characters from the ground-breaking novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story as told by the main character, Scout Finch, in 1930's Alabama. Through her neighborhood meanderings and the influence of her father, she grows to understand that the world isn't always fair and that prejudice is a very real aspect of the small town where she lives, no matter how subtle it appears to be on the surface.
To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression, and is narrated by the main character, a little girl named Jean Louise Finch, who is referred to as “Scout” throughout the story.
The main characters include:
- Atticus Finch, the father of Scout and her older brother Jem Finch, is a lawyer with high moral standards;
- Charles Baker Harris, who is referred to as “Dill” throughout the story, is the children’s friend who visits them from Mississippi in the summers;
- Calpurnia, the Finch’s housekeeper and cook, is a motherly figure for Scout;
- Boo Radley is the Finch’s mysterious and reclusive neighbor;
- Walter Cunningham is one of the poorest children in Scout and Jem’s school;
- Tom Robinson is a black man accused of raping a white woman;
- Mayella Ewell is the white woman accusing Tom; and
- Mr. Bob Ewell is Mayella’s father.
As the story begins, Scout, Jem, and Dill are intrigued by the reclusive Boo. He lives close to the Finch’s house and local legend has it that he once stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors. They imagine him as a kind of monster.
The children enact little dramas about Boo’s life. They start to venture closer to the Radley house, which is said to be haunted. Then they try leaving notes for Boo on his windowsill with a fishing pole but are caught by Atticus. He firmly reprimands them for making fun of a sad man's life.
The children continue to sneak around the Radley house at night. Boo's brother thinks he hears a prowler and fires his gun. The children run away, but Jem loses his pants in a fence. When he returns in the middle of the night to get them back, they have been neatly folded and the tear from the fence roughly sewn up.
Other mysterious things begin to happen to the Finch children. A tree near the Radley house has a knot-hole in which someone leaves little presents for them. The children find pennies, chewing gum, and soap-carved figures that bear a striking resemblance to Scout and Jem. When the children try to leave a note for the mystery giver, they find that Boo's brother has plugged up the hole with cement.
One day, Jem invites one of his poorest classmates, Walter Cunningham, over for lunch. At the Finch house, Scout notes that Atticus and Walter discuss farming “like two men.” Walter asks for some molasses and proceeds to pour it all over his meat and vegetables. When Scout rudely asks what in the ‘sam hill’ he is doing, Calpurnia gives her a lecture in the kitchen about how to treat guests—no matter what their background.
Meanwhile, Atticus decides to take on a case involving a black man named Tom Robinson who has been falsely accused of raping a very poor white girl named Mayella Ewell. The Finch family faces harsh criticism in the heavily racist Maycomb because of Atticus's decision to defend Tom. Atticus believes both that Tom is innocent and that he has almost no chance at an acquittal; the white jury will never believe a black man over a white woman. Despite this, Atticus seeks to reveal the truth to his fellow townspeople.
Because Atticus is defending a black man, Scout and Jem are the object of the townspeople’s whispers and ridicule. At a family Christmas gathering, Scout beats up her cloying relative Francis when he accuses Atticus of ruining the family name.
Not long after this scene, Atticus speaks one of the most famous lines in the novel. He tells his children, “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird." The mockingbird becomes a symbol of innocence in the novel, linked to both Boo Radley and Tom Robinson.
The night before the trial, Tom is moved into the county jail. Atticus, fearing a possible lynching, stands guard outside the jail door all night. Jem is concerned about him, and the three children sneak into town to find him. A group of men arrive, threatening Atticus and poised to instigate violence. At first Jem, Scout and Dill stand aside, but when Scout senses true danger, she runs out and begins to speak to one of the men, the father of her classmate Walter Cunningham. Her innocence brings the crowd out of their mob mentality, and they leave.
During the trial the Ewells testify that Mayella asked Tom to do some work for her while her father was out, and Tom came into their house and forcibly beat and raped Mayella until her father appeared and scared him away. Tom claims that Mayella invited him inside, threw her arms around him, and started kissing him. Tom tried to push her away. When Bob Ewell arrived, he flew into a rage and beat Mayella, while Tom ran away in fright.
According to the sheriff's testimony, Mayella's bruises were on the right side of her face, which means she was most likely punched with a left hand. Tom Robinson's left arm is useless due to an old accident, whereas Mr. Ewell leads with his left.
Given the evidence of reasonable doubt, Tom should go free, but after hours of deliberation, the jury pronounces him guilty. Scout, Jem, and Dill sneak into the courthouse to see the trial and sit in the balcony with Maycomb's black population. They are stunned at the verdict because to them, the evidence was so clearly in Tom's favor.
The verdict is tragic, but Atticus feels some satisfaction that the jury took so long deciding. Atticus hopes for an appeal, but Tom tries to escape from his prison and is shot to death in the process. Jem struggles with the results of the trial, feeling that his trust in the goodness and rationality of humanity has been betrayed.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ewell, humiliated by the trial, threatens Atticus. He gets his revenge one night while Jem and Scout, who is dressed as a ham, are walking home from the Halloween play at their school. He follows them home in the dark and attempts to stab them with a large kitchen knife. Jem breaks his arm, and Scout, who is confined by her costume and cannot see what is going on, is helpless throughout the attack. The elusive Boo Radley stabs Mr. Ewell and saves the children.
Finally, Scout has a chance to meet the shy and nervous Boo. At the end of this fateful night, the sheriff declares that Mr. Ewell fell on his own knife so Boo, the hero of the situation, won't have to be tried for murder. Scout walks Boo home and imagines how he has viewed the town and observed her, Jem and Dill over the years from inside his home. Boo goes inside, closes the door, and she never sees him again.