To Kill a Mockingbird Summary

    To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by a young girl who, at the start of the novel, is six years old. Though her name is Jean Louise, she goes by her nickname, Scout. The novel takes place in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama. Scout's father, Atticus, is her sole guardian as her mother died very young. Scout is also close with her brother, Jem. The early part of the novel details Scout and Jem's childhood adventures with their neighbor, Dill, who has come to Maycomb for the summer.

    The children amuse themselves by play-acting different stories that they are familiar with. They spend much of their time also discussing their phantom-like neighbor, Boo Radley, who is rumored to be crazy. One time, Dill dares Jem to run up to the Radley house and touch it. After hesitating because he is clearly afraid, Jem finally gives in and does it. Scout thinks she sees someone in the window as it happens.

    The next few chapters detail Scout starting the school year. She has been looking forward to starting school for the first time, but she is soon disappointed. She does not get along with her teacher, Miss Caroline, who criticizes her because she can already read and because Scout tries to explain community dynamics to her. Miss Caroline, a young teacher, is also upset when Burris Ewell, a student, speaks rudely to her. The other students try to reassure her, telling her that the Ewells are a mean family of people.

    Scout narrates how she passes the Radley house every day on the way home from school. There is one particular tree in the yard and, several times, she finds things in a knothole. First she finds two pieces of gum, then she finds two Indian pennies, which she and Jem decide to keep.

    Soon the summer returns and, with summer, Dill returns to the neighborhood. The children continue play-acting just as they had the summer before. However, bored one day with their usual routine, they begin acting out the story of Boo Radley. They even try to communicate with Boo one day by leaving a note for him and trying to invite him to ice cream. Atticus catches them, however, and tells them to leave Boo alone. For a time, Jem and Dill obey. But, as the summer draws to a close, Jem and Dill try to come up with a plan to peek into the Radley house and see what they can see. The three of them sneak over to the Radley house one night and, suddenly, someone fires shots at them.

    They run home and Jem's pants get caught on a fence, and he must leave them behind. When they make it home, they see that several of the adults in the neighborhood have gathered because Nathan Radley said someone was trespassing on his yard. Jem is able to get away with a lie about why he is missing his pants; when he returns to the fence later, he finds his pants neatly and mysteriously mended. He believes that Boo did this.

    Soon, the next school year starts. Jem and Scout find several more interesting items in the tree's knothole. One day, however, they come home to see that Nathan Radley has filled the hole with cement, insisting that the tree was dying. Scout is upset and, indeed, Jem is too because he cries in his bed that night.

    Maycomb soon experiences an unexpected snowfall. Though Scout and Jem enjoy the snow, tragedy happens when the house of their neighbor-Miss Maudie-catches fire. Atticus takes the children outside as it happens, standing them in front of the Radley house. Scout waits on the sidewalk in the cold and, when Atticus comes back to get her, she has a blanket around her shoulders. She doesn't remember who gave it to her but she realizes, with shock and horror, that it must have been Boo.

    Returning to school, Scout receives an insult from a classmate, Cecil Jacob, about her father and she almost beats him up for it. Scout tells Atticus about it, and Atticus – who is a lawyer- reveals that he will be representing a man named Tom Robinson. Tom Robinson is a black man who has been accused of raping a white woman. Atticus is doubtful that he will win the case, but he tells Scout that he has to try anyway for the sake of doing what is right.

    When Christmas comes, Scout and Jem's Uncle Jack comes for a visit. He gives them air rifles for Christmas, and Atticus cautions them to never use these against mockingbirds because they are harmless. The Finch family also goes to visit Aunt Alexandra, whom Scout hates because she expects Scout to be more ladylike; this is something Scout has no interest in at all.

    Scout muses that she has begun to notice that her father is not like other fathers because he is older and not skilled in fishing or hunting like other men seem to be. In her eyes, he is just a boring lawyer. However, when a rabid dog comes to down, Atticus takes it down with one shot. Miss Maudie explains that Atticus never hunts or shoots because his uncanny shooting ability gives him an unfair disadvantage. After this episode, Scout feels a little prouder of her father.

    In subsequent chapters, Jem gets in trouble because a neighbor-Mrs. Dubose-insulted Atticus and, as a result, Jem destroyed some of the flowers on her property. As punishment, Jem has to go and read to her everyday. Usually, Scout tags along. They notice that every day Mrs. Dubose has a strange fit. After reading to Mrs. Dubose many afternoons, Atticus tells Jem and Scout that Mrs. Dubose has died. Apparently, she was addicted to morphine, and Jem's reading to her helped her to break the habit before her death. Atticus tells his children that this is real courage because Mrs. Dubose knew she was defeated and, yet, she persisted anyway.

    One day, Calpurnia-the Finch family's cook-takes Jem and Scout with her to church. The children get a glimpse at the black community, and they are treated kindly when they meet various members of the congregation. The black community, though poor, has rallied to support Helen Robinson, Tom Robinson's wife. Scout is confused because the woman who is accusing Tom of rape is Mayella Ewell, and Scout knows that the Ewells are dishonest scoundrels. She can't imagine why anyone would take a Ewell's word over Tom's. But, because she is so young, she does not understand that racism plays heavily into the trial.

    Soon after this, Aunt Alexandra comes to stay with the Finch family. Scout doesn't appreciate her presence, but Aunt Alexandra soon fits perfectly into the Maycomb community. She makes it evident, however, that she does not support Atticus being Tom Robinson's lawyer.

    This leads into Part II of the novel, which begins with Tom Robinson's trial. Practically everyone in Maycomb shows up to this event. Scout, Jem, and Dill end up sitting in the balcony with Reverend Sykes, the black reverend from Calpurnia's church.

    The first person to give testimony at the trial is Heck Tate, who explains that he was called to the Ewell house by Bob Ewell. Apparently, Ewell claimed that Tom Robinson had raped his daughter, Mayella. Bob Ewell is called to the stand next and, as part of his argument, Atticus asks Bob to write his name. As it turns out, Bob is left-handed; this is something Atticus points out later in his defense of Tom. The next witness to be called to the stand is Mayella herself. In her testimony, she claims that she invited Tom into her home to help her with something, at which point he took advantage of her. In his cross-examination, Atticus asks how Tom could have beaten her up, since he has a useless left hand. Eventually, she shuts down and refuses to tell anyone anything more.

    Finally, Tom Robinson himself is called to the stand and everyone in the courtroom can see his unusable left hand. A vital part of Atticus's argument is that Tom couldn't have beaten up Mayella-who had bruises on the right side of her face-and that Bob Ewell must have done it instead. In his testimony, Tom Robinson asserts that Mayella invited him inside her home to help her with something; then, she tried to seduce him. He speculates it was because she was so lonely. Tom tells how he pushed her away, and then they saw Bob Ewell at the window. Tom took off because he knew he was in trouble, even if he hadn't done anything wrong.

    By the end of the trial, Dill has begun to cry. He and Scout go outside and run into a Maycomb local, Mr. Raymond. They find out that Mr. Raymond is rather an unusual character. He is a white man, but he has a started a family with a black woman and lives within the black community. However, he is something of a social outcast. His presence seems to highlight the narrow-mindedness of the community.

    Scout and Dill go back into the courtroom, just in time to hear Atticus's closing remarks. He implores the jury to look past Tom Robinson's skin color and not assume he is guilty just because he is black. Soon after his remarks, Calpurnia storms into the courtroom to report that Jem and Scout are missing. She takes them home, but they are allowed to come back after dinner.

    The jury deliberates for several hours, and the verdict has still not been announced when Jem and Scout return. Eventually, the jury comes back in and they announce the verdict: Tom Robinson is found guilty. As Atticus leaves, everyone in the black community stands up in a gesture of respect to him. That night, Jem cries over the unfair verdict of the trial.

    The next day, Jem and Scout talk to Miss Maudie about what happened. Jem is feeling a bit disillusioned about Maycomb, but Miss Maudie assures him that there are good people in town despite what happened. As Scout and Jem leave, they find out from a neighbor that Bob Ewell spat on Atticus as he passed him in the street and vowed revenge for making him look like a fool in front of the whole town.

    After things settle down from the trial, Aunt Alexandra invites over some of the women from her missionary circle for tea. Because the boys are occupied, Scout joins her, even going so far as to wear a dress. However, Scout is not entirely impressed with the women because they are petty and gossipy.

    Atticus comes home in the middle of things to report some news about Tom Robinson. In an attempt at escape, Tom was shot and killed by the prison guards. Atticus takes Calpurnia to go deliver the news to Tom's wife, while Alexandra and Scout must go back out to the party.

    The months continue on, and the new school year rolls around. Things are a little different this year for Jem and Scout because they are no longer afraid when they pass the Radley house. Scout also begins to notice that a lot of her classmates-and even her teacher-have the same racists attitudes as many people in the small town.

    Bob Ewell resurfaces in the section, stalking both Judge Taylor and Tom Robinson's wife. Atticus writes him off as harmless, saying that Ewell would never actually harm anybody. Aunt Alexandra, however, is more concerned.

    Halloween rolls around and the school hosts a Halloween party. This includes a pageant for which Scout dresses up as a ham. Jem walks with her to school and, on the way, their classmate, Cecil Jacobs, jumps out and scares them. At the school, Scout falls asleep in her costume, only waking up in time to run on the stage at the last minute. Everyone laughs and, embarrassed, Scout insists that Jem wait with her backstage until everyone leaves before they go home.

    As they head home, they hear someone behind them. At first, they assume it is Cecil Jacobs but then Jem tells Scout to run. They run toward home, pursued in the dark by someone they can't see. Scout hears fumbling behind her, a crack, and Jem cries out. Someone grabs her but then is suddenly pulled way. She turns around to see a many lying on the ground. She runs toward her home and, ahead of her, she sees a strange man carrying Jem.

    When Scout gets to the house, she tells Atticus what happened. Aunt Alexandra calls the doctor, and then Atticus calls Heck Tate. Going into Jem's room, Scout sees the strange man standing there, and she realizes that it's Boo Radley. Heck arrives at the scene and reports that Bob Ewell is the attacker and that he is dead, a knife in his ribs.

    Scout goes outside to sit with Boo, and she hears Heck and Atticus discussing what they should do. Atticus is concerned that Jem may have had something to do with it, and he wants there to be a proper report filed. However, Heck insists "let the dead bury the dead" and says he thinks they should say it was an accident.

    Scout then walks Boo home, and she reminisces how she never saw him again after that point. She tries to see things from his perspective, as Atticus once told her to. After heading back home, Scout curls up in Atticus's lap and falls asleep. On this note, the novel ends.

    There are several major themes at work in To Kill a Mockingbird. On the one hand, this is very much a story about growing up. Scout is innocent throughout much of the novel, not seeing or not understanding much of the injustice around her. Her-and Jem and Dill's-obsession with Boo Radley is very much a hallmark of her childhood. However, Atticus's suggestion that she learn to walk in another person's shoes is something she gradually comes to understand over the course of the novel. At first, she, Jem, and Dill fail to take into consideration Boo's feelings or thoughts about anything. However, by the end of the novel, after Boo has saved the life of Scout and her brother, she sees him suddenly as a person.

    Additionally, this idea of "walking in another person's shoes" is also relevant to the idea of never "killing a mockingbird" or harming an innocent. There are many "mockingbirds" or innocent people in the novel, including Tom Robinson, Scout herself, and even Mayella Ewell. Each of these characters embodies innocence in some fashion and, in some way, they have been harmed by the evil forces of the world.

    The novel also deals with issues of racism and prejudice. Taking place in the deep South pre-Civil Rights, it is clear that the town of Maycomb has a long way to go in terms of racial equality. The reader will undoubtedly find that they side with Tom Robinson in the trial and the verdict that he is guilty always comes as a shock. It is shocking, especially, to Scout and Jem who, because they have been raised by a man like Atticus, can't understand the racist attitudes of their neighbors. To them, it is obvious that the word of a man like Bob Ewell cannot be trusted. As they grow up, however, they realize that the world is a complicated place.

    However, despite these weighty themes, the novel does seem to end somewhat optimistically, showing that, even if Tom was found guilty, some progress has been made in Maycomb. Additionally, the novel does seem to suggest some kind of balance in the world after all since Bob Ewell, undoubtedly the most wicked person in the novel, gets the terrible fate he probably deserved. And still at the end, Scout is able to curl of up within the comforts of Atticus' lap. Her innocence has been altered, but not completely lost. This too is an optimistic outlook.

Related Links:

To Kill a Mockingbird Quotations
To Kill a Mockingbird Important Characters
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 1-3 Summary
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 4-7 Summary
To Kill A Mockingbird Quiz
To Kill A Mockingbird Chapters 1-3 Quiz
To Kill A Mockingbird Chapters 4-7 Quiz
To Kill A Mockingbird Chapters 8-11 Quiz
To Kill A Mockingbird Chapters 12-15 Quiz
To Kill A Mockingbird Chapters 16-19 Quiz
To Kill A Mockingbird Chapters 20-23 Quiz
To Kill A Mockingbird Chapters 24-27 Quiz
To Kill A Mockingbird Chapters 28-31 Quiz
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 8-11 Summary
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 12-15 Summary
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 16-19 Summary
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 20-23 Summary
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 24-27 Summary
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 28-31 Summary
Literature
Literature Summaries
Harper Lee Facts



To link to this To Kill a Mockingbird Summary page, copy the following code to your site:


Educational Videos