To Kill a Mockingbird is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel created in 1960 by Harper Lee. It is based on a true story and was witnessed by the author when she was a little girl. The book talks about some very difficult and complex problems that were prevalent in the mid-twentieth century in the United States, including racism and its influence on the judicial system, poverty, and the Great Depression. It also showcases how children caught up in these issues have their own morals, show courage, and resist social and racial injustices. Nonetheless, the novel is full of innocence and warmth. Children play with each other, look for adventures just outside their houses, grow up, and take care of each other.
Part 1 Summary
The protagonist of the story is Jean Louise Finch. She is six years old, and usually she goes by the name Scout. She, and her family, live in Maycomb, Alabama. She is about to start going to school — this new world excites her. She is smart and intelligent and loves to read books.
Another thing Scout enjoys doing is playing with her ten year old brother Jeremy (Jem). Him and Scout spend most of their time together. He is a true big brother in the sense, who takes care of her, and teaches her about relationships in school and between people in general. He explains many things a typical six year old might wonder about the world around her. He protects her from the evil and trouble they run into, and he shows his courage and strength.
The children are raised by their father, Atticus Finch. His wife passed away a long time ago, and the burden of raising their two children fell solely on him. The only help he has is from his maid, Calpurnia, who cooks, cleans and looks after the children. Atticus is a very busy, successful attorney, who spends long hours at his office. Despite this, his children’s upbringing is very important to him. He is always calm and understanding. He tries to teach his children to be respectful to everyone, regardless of their social status or race. He protects them from everyone and everything that might hurt them. He is a stellar example of a good father and a righteous man.
The events of the book start when Scout and Jem meet Charles Baker Harris (Dill). He is a neighbor kid who visits his aunt and uncle in the house next door. He has a wild imagination and is very sensitive. Dill is often the initiator of all of the shenanigans and trouble that the kids get into. He loves to dare, and take part in those dares. Although, the thing he is most interested in is a Maycomb legend, Boo Radley — whom he encounters.
Boo Radley lives just down the street from Jem, Scout and Dill. Years ago, Boo got into trouble with the law, and his father forbid him to leave the house. Fifteen years later, Boo stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors, although the charges were not pressed. Legend says that he comes out only at night to eat cats and scare people away.
Children try to get his attention any way possible; they walk around his house and peep through the windows. One day, just after Scout finally starts school, they discover that somebody has been leaving them gifts in the knothole of the tree in the Radley’s yard. This continues throughout the whole school year.
The next summer when Dill comes back to Maycomb, the children continue their mischief around Radley’s house. Even though Atticus warned them of the dangers it might cause to hang out around Radley’s house, one day they decide to go inside. Nathan Radley, Boo’s brothers, mistakes them for thieves, and shoots at them. Luckily no one gets hurt, although Jem’s pants get caught in the fence while they make their escape. The next day, Jem comes back to get them back, but discovers that they are clean, and all the holes have been sewn. The children realize that Boo Radley did this.
Later on, a horrible incident shakes up the city of Maycomb. A young white girl Mayella Ewell gets raped. She accuses Tom Robinson, a black man, of the crime. Atticus tries to do the right thing and seeks fair trial and justice for Tom. The city people, particularly its white community, are angry with Atticus for trying to help prove a black man’s innocence. They call him a “nigger-lover”. In their eyes, Tom is just another African-American, who is guilty simply because he is black. Jem and Scout start to get bullied and terrorized in school and in the streets for their father’s kind heart and righteous decision. Atticus stands firm in his truth-seeking, so he stands up for Tom no matter what. He gives a speech at the Christmas celebration held at a black church Calpurnia also attends. He says that he will defend Tom despite the city’s repulsion. Jem and Scout are very proud of their father and support his decision.
Part 2 Summary
Atticus gets extremely busy with the trial and ends up having very little time for his children. His sister, Alexandria, comes to help him out with the kids, who also suffer from their father’s involvement in the trial.
One day, a group of people decide to punish Tom Robinson without waiting for the court’s rule. They come to lynch him for their belief that he must have raped miss Ewell. Jem and Scout find out about it, and their curiosity draws them to find out about these men. Scout confronts a father of one of her classmates, and the father gets embarrassed for his actions. The men flee, leaving Tom Robinson unharmed.
During the court hearing, Atticus present a great defense. His evidence is irrefutable. His main argument is that Tom Robinson physically was not able to cause the kind of injuries Mayella sustained, because he is crippled. He claims that there had been plenty of instances when Mayella had been beaten up by no other than her own father, Bob Ewell, and this time was not an exception. Atticus claims that Mayella tried to seduce Tom Robinson, but got caught by her father, and her father beat her. That is how and why she got hurt. Bob and Mayella Ewell are considered “white trash” in their town. They are rude, ignorant, and uneducated people who express their racial views openly, and are disrespectful to anyone who is not Caucasian.
Regardless of all the evidence, the court finds Tom Robinson guilty. In disparity of his own helplessness, Tom tries to escape from prison and gets shot while doing so. This event leaves Scout shaken up. Not only is she upset because of court’s injustice, but also because an innocent man dies.
It seems that Bob Ewell gets what he wants; a man who supposedly raped and besmirched his daughter and his name is dead. Although Bob still thinks that Atticus humiliated him in court and must pay for it. On Halloween night, Bob attacks Jem and Scout who were returning from trick-or-treating . He seriously injures Jem, but Scout can’t see him, because her costume partially covers her eyes. Suddenly, Boo Radley comes to the rescue; he stabs Bob Ewell with his own knife, and Bob dies. They call the police, but they decide not to press charges against Boo Radley. Instead, the sheriff says that Bob Ewell tripped and simply fell on his own knife, causing his death from the injury.
The book teaches readers many important things: real friendship, trust, and understanding are shown from the perspective of a brave little girl. Scout also begins to understand cruelty, injustice, racism and anger. Harper Lee skillfully shows all these important subjects through the prism of innocence—and what better way to do so than a child who believes in human good and who seeks truth. Here, Tom Robinson is a symbol of a mockingbird. The same as a little bird, he doesn’t mean any harm and is accused of things he never did. He ends up getting killed as a result of societal pressure.