To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1926 - )

To Kill A Mockingbird
by Harper Lee (1926 -

Type of Work:

Symbolic drama


Southern Alabama; early 1930s

Principal Characters

Atticus Fitch, an attorney and single

Scout (Jean Louise Finch), his daughter,
a young six-year old tomboy (and the story's narrator)

Jem (Jeremy Finch), Scout's older brother

Arthur "Boo" Radley, a mysterious, reclusive

Tom Robinson, Atticus' Negro client

Story Overveiw

When Jem was nearly 13 years old his arm
was badly broken at the elbow. After it healed and Jem was assured that
he could still play football, his arm never bothered him - though it always
remained shorter than the right, and hung at a funny angle. Years later,

Jem and his sister, Scout, still talked about the accident and the events
leading up to it. They finally agreed it had all started the summer when
they tried to get Arthur "Boo" Radley to come out of his house.

Jem and Scout lived in Maycomb, Alabama,
a drowsy, isolated town where everyone knew everyone. Their mother had
died when Scout was two years old. Calpurnia, a Negro cook, took care of
them and taught them tolerance that took them beyond the rigid prejudices
of Maycomb society' Their wise father, an attorney, Atticus Finch, played
with them and read them stories. In fact, Scout learned to read before
going to school which later caused trouble with her teacher, who didn't
think early reading fit into proper educational theory.

During the summer when Scout was six and

Jem was ten, the children became fascinated with the Radley place next
door. Most of the community's young people believed the house was haunted.

At night children would cross the street rather than walk in front of the

Radley house. Nuts that fell from the Radley pecan tree into the school
yard were never eaten; surely, Radley nuts would kill you. A baseball hit
into the Radley yard was a lost ball. Scout and Jem raced past the property
on their way to or from school. The only person seen going in and out of
the dwelling was old Nathan Radley, "the meanest man ever God blew breath
into," according to Calpurnia.

But inside the weathered home also lived

"Boo," Nathan's younger brother. No one had seen Boo for the past twenty
years. It was said that he had gotten into some "trouble" all those years
ago and had been imprisoned in the house ever since first by his now dead
father and then by Nathan.

All that summer Scout and Jem bravely assailed
the Radley home, trying to get a glimpse of Boo. They never saw him; but
they did see evidence of his existence. On one occasion, Jem's torn pants
(lost on a wire fence while escaping from the Radley yard) were returned
to him - mended. Another night, when a fire forced the Finches out of their
house, Scout, shivering in the cold, found a blanket suddenly thrust around
her shoulders. "We'd better keep ... the blanket to ourselves," Atticus
gently said. "Someday, maybe, Scout can thank him for covering her up."

"Thank who?" Scout asked. "Boo Radley," replied her father. "You were so
busy looking at the fire you didn't know it when he put the blanket around

Atticus finally ordered his two children
to stop harassing Arthur: "What Mr. Radley did was his own business. If
he wanted to come out, he would. If he wanted to stay inside his own house
he had the right to stay inside free from the attention of inquisitive

Through the next fall and winter, objects
began to mysteriously appear in the knot-hole of a tree on the corner of
the Radley property: gum, then twine, a carved soap sculpture, Indian-head
pennies, and other treasures - gifts clearly intended for Scout and Jem.

Boo became even more of a puzzle.

The following summer, trouble cropped up
over Atticus' recent appointment as defense counsel for Tom Robinson, a

Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Violet Ewell. The Ewells
were the lowest family in Maycomb society. But Mayelia was white and Tom
was black: no matter how trashy the girl might be, her honor had to be
upheld against a Negro. What angered many of the townspeople most was Atticus's
attempt to truly defend Tom. Atticus and his children had several threats
aimed at pressuring them to let things stay as they'd always been in the

South. But Atticus felt Tom was innocent, and he would do all he could
to prove it. "Every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that
affects him personally," he told Scout. Nevertheless, he had to be