To Kill a Mockingbird: A Summary of the Novel

To Kill a Mockingbird SummaryTo Kill a Mockingbird is set in the small Alabama town of Maycomb. The main characters are Scout Finch and her brother, Jem, along with their father, Atticus, who is a well-respected attorney.

Also of note are Dill Harris, a boy about Scout’s age who visits Maycomb in the summers, and Boo Radley, the Finchs’ neighbor and a reclusive man who is the subject of much gossip, speculation, and even fear.

We are also introduced to Atticus’s sister, Aunt Alexandra, who appoints herself to help Scout become more ladylike, which Scout sees no need for at all.

The Finch children walk by the Radley home on their way to and from school. They often find treasures in the knot hole of a tree on the Radley property. Eventually, Nathan Radley, Boo’s father, fills the hole with cement and the children no longer find gifts.

To Kill a Mockingbird: Atticus Finch

One day while eating at the table, Atticus tells the children that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, as mockingbirds are harmless and don’t do anything other than offer music to the world.

We learn that Atticus has been appointed by the town’s judge to represent Tom Robinson, a black man accused raping a white woman. This doesn’t make Atticus popular with most of the townsfolk, and Scout is bothered by other school children about her father. Always full of wisdom, Atticus talks to Scout about the importance of compassion for others—and tells her that she’ll better understand the world if she is able to “climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it.”

Later in the novel, Atticus must pull up a chair one evening outside the local jail to defend his client from a lynch mob. Scout and Jem come to the jail to find out what is happening and Scout recognizes one of the men in the crowd. She greets him and innocently calls him out. The mob seems to wake up and realize that they’re doing, they disperse and moves on.

To Kill a Mockingbird: The Trial

The father of Tom Robinson’s accuser, Bob Ewell, threatens Atticus and even spits in his face, but Atticus—ever a gentleman—treats the man with grace and does not retaliate.

The summer is hot, sticky, and full of adventure for the Finch children and their friend Dill. They sneak into the Robinson trial and soon understand that the woman who is accusing Tom Robinson of rape, Mayella Ewell, is lying. It turns out that Mayella tried to seduce Robinson, a good-hearted man, and then was caught and beaten by her father.  The rape story is nothing more than a cover. To make matters worse, Robinson is convicted, leaving all three of the children with worries about justice and integrity.

To Kill a Mockingbird: The Finale

The fall after the trial, Jem and Scout are walking home from a Halloween event at the local school. Scout’s costume is bulky and makes it difficult for her to see. The children soon realize they are being followed. They are attacked and chaos ensues. Jem’s arm is broken and he is carried home by a mysterious figure that joined the scene somewhere during the scuffle. Scout follows. The kicker? The attacker is left dead, and Atticus assumes—for at least a short while—that his son is at fault for the death, though he killed in self defense.

No charges are brought against Jem, and we learn that the mysterious protector who brought Jem home was none other than Boo Radley, whose real name is Arthur. We understand that it must be Arthur Radley who killed the children’s attacker, Bob Ewell. Atticus and Sheriff Heck Tate come to an “understanding” that Ewell has “fallen on his own knife.” Watching these events unfold, Scout realizes that to put someone like Boo Radley through a trial would be akin to killing a mockingbird—punishing a being that offers no harm to the world, one that only makes the world a better place.

To Kill a Mockingbird: The Big Picture

To Kill a Mockingbird ends with Scout standing on Arthur Radley’s front porch, wondering what life is like from his point of view, and having undoubtedly learned her father’s lesson of climbing into someone else’s skin and walking around in it.

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