To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 1-3 Summary

    To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic novel set in Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. The novel centers largely around the Finch family and, in the first chapter, they are introduced. The father of the family, Atticus Finch, makes a respectable living as a lawyer in the small town. His daughter, Jeane Louise Finch, is the narrator of the novel. Most of the time, she is referred to by her nickname: Scout. Atticus also has a son, Jem, who is an integral part of the novel as well. Scout's mother died when she was two years old; however, Jem does have some memory of her. Their father, however, is their primary caregiver.

    The novel opens in the summer of 1933. A boy, whose name is Dill, moves into the house next door to the Finch family to stay with his Aunt Rachel for the summer. At this point, Jem is ten and Scout is six. Dill quickly becomes friends with Jem and Scout, and is shown to be a talkative and intelligent boy. All summer long, the children take part in acting out stories they have read. However, one day, Dill has another idea to cure their growing boredom.

    In a house down the street lives a neighbor named Boo Radley. Over the years, there have been many rumors about Boo Radley. Allegedly, Boo's father has made him stay in the house ever since he got in trouble with the law in his youth. For fifteen years, no one heard a word from Boo Radley until he attacked his father and stabbed him using a pair of scissors. The neighborhood began to buzz with rumors that Boo Radley was crazy, but Boo's father refused to acknowledge this. After his father died, Boo's brother, Nathan, moved into the house with Boo.

    Having heard this fanciful tale about Boo Radley, Dill is fascinated with him. Indeed, Scout describes Boo as a "malevolent phantom" and sort of a larger than life figure. Dill tries to come up with a plan to lure Boo outside so they can see this "phantom" of a person. Eventually, he convinces Jem to run up and touch the Radley home. Jem does it, though clearly terrified. While he does, Scout watches the house and thinks she sees movement inside, like someone is looking out the window.

    In Chapter 2, Dill departs for the summer and Scout is excited to start school. However, Scout quickly realizes that school does not live up to her expectations. Scout is an extremely intelligent girl and has already taught herself to read because, every night, her father reads to her. However, her new teacher-Miss Caroline-insists that her father must have taught her to read, basically calling her a liar and making Scout feel guilty over her education. Her relationship with her teacher is only worsened when, after recess, Miss Caroline tries to give money to another student, Walter Cunningham, for lunch. Scout tires to explain that Walter will never be able to pay the money back, as his family is so poor they often pay Atticus with things like turnip greens when they need legal help. Miss Caroline gets so frustrated with Scout that she slaps her hand with a ruler.

    At lunch, Scout is furious at Walter for getting her in trouble, and pushes him down in the dirt. However, Jem steps in and invites Walter over to their house for lunch. While they are eating, Scout is horrified to see that Walter is pouring molasses all over his food. When she comments on it, Calpurnia, the housekeeper, pulls her into the kitchen and scolds her for her behavior. Scout doesn't realize that Walter, having come from a different background, has different habits than she does.

    When Scout returns to school after lunch, things only get worse. Miss Caroline sees a "cootie"-or bug- crawl out of Burris Ewell's hair and is terrified. The narrator explains that the Ewell family is even poorer than the Cunninghams. Burris, as it turns out, only comes on the first day of school to avoid problems with the law. When he leaves, he make such nasty remarks that Miss Caroline actually cries.

    After her first day of school, Scout reflects on her experiences with her father, who realizes something is wrong. She tells him she doesn't want to go to school anymore. Atticus tells her that she has to go to school because it's the law, but he promises to keep reading to her.

    There are several important ideas introduced in these first few chapters. As a whole, To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming of age story, or a story about growing up. Though the novel focuses on Scout's youth, it is narrated by the adult Scout, allowing the narrator to see both the child's perspective and the adult perspective. Much of this growing up idea will center around Boo Radley and Scout's interaction with this phantom individual throughout the years.

    Additionally, the first few chapters serve as an introduction to the town of Maycomb. The description of some of the students-especially Walter and Burris-serve to show the challenges that some of the people in this community face. As a whole and on many levels, the novel will deal with social class and education. Scout-is well-educated and from well-established home-is a stark contrast to children like Walter and Burris. Additionally, Miss Caroline's ignorance of the community and inability to understand the needs of her students further shows the problems of the community. Harper Lee seems to be commenting on the failure of an educational system in which a teacher, like Miss Caroline, punishes Scout for her learning while a student like Burris is able to satisfy the law by showing up to school one day out of the year. Clearly, Lee sees problems with this sort of society.

Related Links:

To Kill a Mockingbird Quotations
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 4-7 Summary
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 8-11 Summary
Literature Summaries
To Kill a Mockingbird Summary

To link to this To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 1-3 Summary page, copy the following code to your site: