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___________________________To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

STUDYWORLD STUDYNOTES

To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Quick/Fast Review

Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a story of life in an Alabama town in the 1930's. The narrator, Jean Louise (commonly called Scout) Finch, is writing of a time when she was seven or eight years old, and the book is in part the record of a childhood.

The story begins as Scout describes her family history and her town, Maycomb during the time of the Great Depression. Atticus is a prominent lawyer and the Finch family is reasonably well off in comparison to the rest of society. She and her brother, Jem meet Dill, who has come to live in their neighborhood for the summer, and the children share stories and fantasies about the mystery man (Boo Radley) who lives near by. The house is owned by Mr. Nathan Radley, whose brother, Arthur (nicknamed Boo), has lived there for years without venturing outside. Not much is really known of him, just hearsay stories that people whisper to one another and to their children to warn them of the evils that may occur (this is due to their fear of the unknown). One story that is told is regarding an incident with Radley's father, who is supposedly stabbed with a pair of scissors, while Boo is under the influence of the "wrong group of friends".

The reader learns that Scout has problems at school early on because her teacher is annoyed with her for knowing more than what was expected in her grade. On the same day she has another problem at home when she makes negative comments about Walter Cunningham's eating habits, a boy who comes from a very poor family. She learns a lesson in manners from Calpurnia, the Finch's Negro housekeeper, and is taught to treat people with respect regardless as to who they are. When she complains to Atticus that Calpurnia spanked her, she is reprimanded by him and taught a lesson in compromise.

As time goes by, Scout and Jem find some mysterious presents in the knothole of an old tree on the Radley place. This makes the children become even more curious about the mysterious Boo Radley. Jem, Dill, and Scout venture out one night to try to see into Boo Radley's back window - an adventure that leads to frightening results, especially for Jem.

The next winter, Jem and Scout find more presents in the tree, presumably left by the mysterious Boo. Their treasures include small sculptures and a watch. Unfortunately, their bounty is suddenly cut off by Mr. Radley, who seals up the hole in the tree. One night, during a rare snowstorm, Miss Maudie's house is ruined in a fire. Scout who runs out of the house to watch the scene from nearby without wearing a coat, has a rare encounter with Boo Radley without even knowing it.

Atticus decides to defend a black man named Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman. She is a member of the Ewell family, who is looked down upon by Maycomb society and referred to as "trash." Atticus knows that Tom has almost no chance because he is black and will be tried by an all white jury. Nevertheless, he wants to help him reveal the truth.

As a result of Atticus's decision, Jem and Scout get into a number of fisticuffs with classmates and their cousin when they taunt them and call Atticus a "nigger lover."

Life seems to be full of lesson for Scout and Jem. For example when Scout is chased by a rabid dog, she discovers that her father, whom she previously thought too old to do anything, does possess some talents. Atticus turns out be a crack shot, killing the dog in one shot at a great distance. Another time the children learn to be tolerant of people who have problems even though they say mean things. A neighbor, Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, derides Atticus and spreads lies about him. Jem gets very angry at her and cuts off her flower bushes. Instead of siding with Jem, Atticus feels that what he did is wrong and as punishment, Jem has to read out loud to her every day to take her mind off her predicament. Atticus holds this old woman up as an example of true courage as she is trying to break her morphine addiction and keeps fighting against all odds.

Atticus leaves town, and Calpurnia, the Finch's black maid, takes Jem and Scout to her church. There the children feel very welcomed by the black community. They also learn more information about Tom Robinson, the man who Atticus intends to defend.

As Tom Robinson's trial approaches, Atticus worries about the safety of his client. This fear that proves to be justified. A group of townspeople, including Walter Cunningham, appear at the courthouse one night, with the intention of lynching Tom Robinson. The only person who stands in their way is Atticus. At first, the mob intends to plow right through him, but with the unexpected arrival of Scout, they realize the error of their actions.

When Tom Robinson takes the stand, the obviously true story comes out. It becomes evident that Mayella Ewell was a very lonely person who's only crime was to kiss a black man. Her father, Bob Ewell, beat and raped her for this crime and forced her to say that Tom Robinson did it, so that he wouldn't get in trouble.

During a break in the trial, Scout and Dill get to know Dolphus Raymond better. He is thought to be a town drunk, looked badly upon for being a white man that married a black woman. As it turns out, he isn't drunk after all. He merely uses it as a cover-up, so that he doesn't have to answer questions about his life. Afterwards, Scout and Jem listen to Atticus's closing statements in the trial.

Despite the significant evidence pointing to Tom's innocence, the all-white jury convicts him. Though the verdict is unfortunate, Atticus feels some satisfaction that the jury took so long deciding. Usually the decision would be made in minutes, because a black man's word would not be trusted. Atticus is hoping for an appeal, but unfortunately Tom tries to escape from his prison and is shot to death. In the aftermath of the trial, Jem's faith in justice is badly shaken, and he lapses into despondency and doubt.

After the verdict is announced in Tom Robinson's case, guilty, the children, as well as other members of the community, discuss and react to the verdict. Atticus and the children discuss the trial, Scout and Aunt Alexandra discuss Walter Cunningham, and Jem and Scout discuss class distinctions.

Months pass, Summer turns to Fall, the routine of school starts for the children, but Bob Ewell holds on to his grudge against some of Maycomb's citizens, including Judge Taylor, Helen Robinson and Atticus. In October, the night of Halloween, Scout prepares for a presentation at her school. She plans to wear a bulky pig costume, one that severely limits her vision. While returning home from the school pageant, Jem and Scout are attacked. Jem's arm is broken, and a stranger carries him home. Scout cannot see what is happening because of her constrictive costume. Afterwards, a search of the area by the local officials turns up Bob Ewell's dead body.

As Heck Tate and Atticus listen, Scout tells them what happened to her and Jem, ending by pointing to the man who had carried Jem home, who she realizes is Boo Radley. Atticus assumes that it was Jem who stabbed Bob Ewell, but the sheriff tells Atticus that he intends to report that Ewell fell on his own knife. Atticus is sure that the sheriff is trying to protect Jem, until it finally dawns on him that it was actually Boo Radley who killed Ewell. Scout walks Boo Radley home and then returns to her house.

 

  • Biography of Harper Lee

  • Quick/Fast Review of To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Character List of To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 1-6

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 7-12

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 13-18

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 19-24

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 25-31

  • Studyworld Essay Search on To Kill a Mockingbird



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