To Kill a Mockingbird Summary

To Kill a Mockingbird Summary

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Chapter 1

Courage 1: The truest challenge to anyone's courage is the Radley
place. Dill made a bet with Jem that challenged Jem's courage. Rather
than look like a coward, Jem took the bet to touch the Radley house
although he was really scared to do it. He couldn't allow Dill and
Scout to think him a coward because his courage was a source of pride.

Chapter 2

Courage 2: When Scout popped out of the tire, there was no time for
courage. She realized she was in the Radley yard and Jem was screaming
at her to get out of there. Although she was afraid, the most
disconcerting aspect of the event was that someone inside the Radley
house was laughing. When Jem accused her of turning into a girl
because she ran so fast that she forgot the tire, she didn't tell him
what she'd heard' although that would have more than made up for her
forgetful and hasty escape from the Radley yard. She didn't even
explain to Jem and Dill that that was the reason she didn't want to
play the morbid Boo Radley game any more. She just let them go on
thinking she was a chicken.

Chapter 6

Courage 3: Curiosity finally got the better of Dill and Jem, and it
created in them the courage to sneak up to the Radley house to peer in
the windows until they got caught and had to run away.

Courage 4: Curiosity wasn't the only thing that bred courage. Because
Jem didn't want to disappoint Atticus, he was forced to go back to the
Radley place to retrieve his pants so that he wouldn't have to explain
where he'd lost them. Although he knew it was dangerous and he was
scared to go, Jem went to the Radley place because the courage to go
there was easier to summon than the courage to face Atticus and tell
him that Jem had flat-out disobeyed him.

Chapter 10

Courage 5: Atticus showed his children that he was a courageous man
when he stepped into the street to face down a rabid dog. Although he
didn't consider the act particularly courageous and was completely
uninterested in proving anything to his children, Jem and Scout were
proud of, and impressed by, his courage in such a precarious
situation. But shooting something wasn't really Atticus' idea of
courage. He viewed courage on a more intellectual level, as a moral
thing, not as something that can be proved with a weapon.

Chapter 11

Courage 6: Scout wasn't really sure what got into Jem to make him so
bold as to destroy Mrs.

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Dubose's camellias when it was a well-known
rumor that she was armed with a Confederate pistol at all times.
Although Jem was familiar with the rumor, his rage pushed him beyond
caring that he might be hurt or get into trouble because Mrs. Dubose
had bad-mouthed Atticus, and Jem just couldn't take it. His fury made
him bold enough to wreak havoc in her yard with little regard for the
consequences.

Courage 7: Atticus uses Mrs. Dubose as an example of true courage to
show Jem that courage isn't a man with a gun, but someone who fights
for what's right whether he or she wins or not.

Chapter 15

Courage 8: Atticus went to the jailhouse to protect Tom Robinson from
the mob he knew was coming for him. Although he was alone against
several men, Atticus held his ground until his children showed up.
Only then did Atticus seem truly afraid because they were in danger.
He'd expected to get roughed up a little in the struggle to protect
Tom Robinson, but he never imagined that his children would be in the
way. That's when his courage failed him, but Scout's complete
innocence saved them all.

Chapter 23

Courage 9: Atticus was unaffected by Bob Ewell's threat because he
didn't believe the man would make good on it. He refused to fight or
arm himself against Ewell although Jem and Scout requested it. He
believed that once Ewell had threatened him in public, he'd satisfied
his vengeance. Unfortunately Atticus was wrong.

Chapter 30

Courage 10: Heck Tate finally stepped out of the shadows and did the
right thing. He hadn't been able to do it in the Tom Robinson case,
but this time he refused to lay down and let an injustice occur.
Although he had to lie to protect Boo Radley, he knew that keeping his
role in Bob Ewell's death a secret was the right thing to do, and he
did it.

Topic Tracking: Innocence

Chapter 1

Innocence 1: Scout tries to explain to her teacher that she is
embarrassing Walter Cunningham by offering him something that he won't
be able to pay back. Scout realizes that because her teacher isn't a
local, she won't know that about the Cunninghams, but Scout's
explanation gets her into trouble. She wasn't trying to be insulting,
but Miss Caroline mistook her frank and innocent explanation as
condescension or rudeness and punished her for it. Scout's perception
of the world and her classmates is not yet marred by the social
divisions that adults see.

Chapter 3

Innocence 2: Scout really does insult Walter this time as she
questions the way he eats and makes him feel self-conscious. She's not
doing it intentionally -- she's just curious because she's never seen
people who eat that way. She's too young to understand the social
graces of Southern hospitality that dictate that you always make
people feel at home and welcome no matter how unusual their habits may
be.

Chapter 5

Innocence 3: Dill asked Scout to marry her more because she was one of
the only girls he knew than because he loved her. They are too young
to understand what marriage means or why people marry, so they just
pretend as a way of feeling grown up.

Innocence 4: Jem didn't realize that without actually saying that they
were playing the Boo Radley game he still admitted to his father that
that's what they were doing. His father used a courtroom technique to
make his son confess, and it bothered Jem because he hadn't expected
that from Atticus.

Chapter 6

Innocence 5: Although Atticus made threats to his children all the
time, he'd never whipped them. Jem didn't want to have to disappoint
Atticus by explaining that he'd deliberately disobeyed him, so he went
back for his pants despite the danger of it. He didn't want to change
the nature of his relationship with Atticus by making him punish Jem.

Chapter 7

Innocence 6: Jem realized that it was Boo Radley leaving little gifts
for them in the knothole of the oak tree, and he was crushed when
Nathan Radley cemented up their only line of communication. Nathan
said he did it because the tree was dying, but it was obvious to Jem
that he did it just to keep them from communicating with Boo, and it
made him sad.

Chapter 8

Innocence 7: When Atticus suggested they return the blanket to the
Radley house, Jem poured out all the secrets they'd been keeping about
their contact with Boo Radley and how Nathan found ways to prevent it.
Jem didn't want to return the blanket because he didn't want to get
Boo into trouble since he'd never done anything but help them out
although he'd had plenty of opportunity to hurt them. Jem realizes
that Boo is a friend in a way and he wants to protect him, so he was
willing to expose all his secrets to Atticus in order to protect Boo.

Chapter 9

Innocence 8: Scout hears her classmates saying terrible things about
Atticus because he's defending a black man, but she doesn't see the
wrong in what her father is doing. Atticus explains to her that it's
not really a bad thing, but some people see it that way. Scout is too
young to understand prejudice and injustice. Atticus tries to preserve
this innocence by raising her to believe that there is nothing wrong
with defending a black man. It's his duty, and so it should be hers as
well.

Chapter 10

Innocence 9: It's a sin to kill a mockingbird because they are
innocent birds who only live to make music for us to enjoy. That's
what Atticus and Miss Maudie told Scout after she and Jem got their
air rifles for Christmas. It's a sin to willfully destroy innocence,
and a mockingbird embodies innocence.

Chapter 14

Innocence 10: Scout, in all her youthful naïveté, believes that
Atticus and Cal need her around to run the house and make decisions.
In her mind her role is greatly exaggerated, and Dill has experienced
the painful realization that he's not needed as much as he thought he
was. He's reached a point of awakening that Scout has yet to reach,
but he's no happier for the knowledge he's gained.

Chapter 15

Innocence 11: Scout had no idea that the men gathered around her
father were intending to harm him. She disarmed them with her youth
and innocence in the way that she talked to Mr. Cunningham as a friend
because she knew he'd done business with her father and she knew his
son from school. The way she tried to strike up a friendly
conversation with him must have reminded him that they were neighbors
and friends, and that protected Atticus and Tom Robinson from being
harmed by the mob of men from Old Sarum that night.

Chapter 19

Innocence 12: Dill cries after seeing the condescension with which Mr.
Gilmer questioned Tom because he was a Negro. Dill believed that it
was unfair to treat anyone that way, Negro or not. Dill was still too
young to realize that it was commonplace for Negroes to be treated so
disrespectfully. Mr. Raymond predicted that in a few years he might
notice the injustice, but he would be so accustomed to it that he
wouldn't cry over it any more.

Chapter 26

Innocence 13: Scout doesn't understand the hypocrisy her teacher
displays in hating Hitler for his prejudice against Jews, yet she
hates blacks just as much. The inconsistency bothers Scout and her
realization of this double standard among people is the beginning of
her awakening to the hypocrisy of most people.

The Coexistence of Good and Evil

The most important theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is the book’s
exploration of the moral nature of human beings—that is, whether
people are essentially good or essentially evil. The novel approaches
this question by dramatizing Scout and Jem’s transition from a
perspective of childhood innocence, in which they assume that people
are good because they have never seen evil, to a more adult
perspective, in which they have confronted evil and must incorporate
it into their understanding of the world. As a result of this
portrayal of the transition from innocence to experience, one of the
book’s important subthemes involves the threat that hatred, prejudice,
and ignorance pose to the innocent: people such as Tom Robinson and
Boo Radley are not prepared for the evil that they encounter, and, as
a result, they are destroyed. Even Jem is victimized to an extent by
his discovery of the evil of racism during and after the trial.
Whereas Scout is able to maintain her basic faith in human nature
despite Tom’s conviction, Jem’s faith in justice and in humanity is
badly damaged, and he retreats into a state of disillusionment.

The moral voice of To Kill a Mockingbird is embodied by Atticus Finch,
who is virtually unique in the novel in that he has experienced and
understood evil without losing his faith in the human capacity for
goodness. Atticus understands that, rather than being simply creatures
of good or creatures of evil, most people have both good and bad
qualities. The important thing is to appreciate the good qualities and
understand the bad qualities by treating others with sympathy and
trying to see life from their perspective. He tries to teach this
ultimate moral lesson to Jem and Scout to show them that it is
possible to live with conscience without losing hope or becoming
cynical. In this way, Atticus is able to admire Mrs. Dubose’s courage
even while deploring her racism. Scout’s progress as a character in
the novel is defined by her gradual development toward understanding
Atticus’s lessons, culminating when, in the final chapters, Scout at
last sees Boo Radley as a human being. Her newfound ability to view
the world from his perspective ensures that she will not become jaded
as she loses her innocence.

The Importance of Moral Education

Because exploration of the novel’s larger moral questions takes place
within the perspective of children, the education of children is
necessarily involved in the development of all of the novel’s themes.
In a sense, the plot of the story charts Scout’s moral education, and
the theme of how children are educated—how they are taught to move
from innocence to adulthood—recurs throughout the novel (at the end of
the book, Scout even says that she has learned practically everything
except algebra). This theme is explored most powerfully through the
relationship between Atticus and his children, as he devotes himself
to instilling a social conscience in Jem and Scout. The scenes at
school provide a direct counterpoint to Atticus’s effective education
of his children: Scout is frequently confronted with teachers who are
either frustratingly unsympathetic to children’s needs or morally
hypocritical. As is true of To Kill a Mockingbird’s other moral
themes, the novel’s conclusion about education is that the most
important lessons are those of sympathy and understanding, and that a
sympathetic, understanding approach is the best way to teach these
lessons. In this way, Atticus’s ability to put himself in his
children’s shoes makes him an excellent teacher, while Miss Caroline’s
rigid commitment to the educational techniques that she learned in
college makes her ineffective and even dangerous.

The Existence of Social Inequality

Differences in social status are explored largely through the
overcomplicated social hierarchy of Maycomb, the ins and outs of which
constantly baffle the children. The relatively well-off Finches stand
near the top of Maycomb’s social hierarchy, with most of the
townspeople beneath them. Ignorant country farmers like the
Cunninghams lie below the townspeople, and the white trash Ewells rest
below the Cunninghams. But the black community in Maycomb, despite its
abundance of admirable qualities, squats below even the Ewells,
enabling Bob Ewell to make up for his own lack of importance by
persecuting Tom Robinson. These rigid social divisions that make up so
much of the adult world are revealed in the book to be both irrational
and destructive. For example, Scout cannot understand why Aunt
Alexandra refuses to let her consort with young Walter Cunningham. Lee
uses the children’s perplexity at the unpleasant layering of Maycomb
society to critique the role of class status and, ultimately,
prejudice in human interaction.

Motifs

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that
can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Gothic Details

The forces of good and evil in To Kill a Mockingbird seem larger than
the small Southern town in which the story takes place. Lee adds drama
and atmosphere to her story by including a number of Gothic details in
the setting and the plot. In literature, the term Gothic refers to a
style of fiction first popularized in eighteenth-century England,
featuring supernatural occurrences, gloomy and haunted settings, full
moons, and so on. Among the Gothic elements in To Kill a Mockingbird
are the unnatural snowfall, the fire that destroys Miss Maudie’s
house, the children’s superstitions about Boo Radley, the mad dog that
Atticus shoots, and the ominous night of the Halloween party on which
Bob Ewell attacks the children. These elements, out of place in the
normally quiet, predictable Maycomb, create tension in the novel and
serve to foreshadow the troublesome events of the trial and its
aftermath.

Small-Town Life

Counterbalancing the Gothic motif of the story is the motif of
old-fashioned, small-town values, which manifest themselves throughout
the novel. As if to contrast with all of the suspense and moral
grandeur of the book, Lee emphasizes the slow-paced, good-natured feel
of life in Maycomb. She often deliberately juxtaposes small-town
values and Gothic images in order to examine more closely the forces
of good and evil. The horror of the fire, for instance, is mitigated
by the comforting scene of the people of Maycomb banding together to
save Miss Maudie’s possessions. In contrast, Bob Ewell’s cowardly
attack on the defenseless Scout, who is dressed like a giant ham for
the school pageant, shows him to be unredeemably evil.

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent
abstract ideas or concepts.

Mockingbirds

The title of To Kill a Mockingbird has very little literal connection
to the plot, but it carries a great deal of symbolic weight in the
book. In this story of innocents destroyed by evil, the “mockingbird”
comes to represent the idea of innocence. Thus, to kill a mockingbird
is to destroy innocence. Throughout the book, a number of characters
(Jem, Tom Robinson, Dill, Boo Radley, Mr. Raymond) can be identified
as mockingbirds—innocents who have been injured or destroyed through
contact with evil. This connection between the novel’s title and its
main theme is made explicit several times in the novel: after Tom
Robinson is shot, Mr. Underwood compares his death to “the senseless
slaughter of songbirds,” and at the end of the book Scout thinks that
hurting Boo Radley would be like “shootin’ a mockingbird.” Most
important, Miss Maudie explains to Scout: “Mockingbirds don’t do one
thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to
kill a mockingbird.” That Jem and Scout’s last name is Finch (another
type of small bird) indicates that they are particularly vulnerable in
the racist world of Maycomb, which often treats the fragile innocence
of childhood harshly.

Boo Radley

As the novel progresses, the children’s changing attitude toward Boo
Radley is an important measurement of their development from innocence
toward a grown-up moral perspective. At the beginning of the book, Boo
is merely a source of childhood superstition. As he leaves Jem and
Scout presents and mends Jem’s pants, he gradually becomes
increasingly and intriguingly real to them. At the end of the novel,
he becomes fully human to Scout, illustrating that she has developed
into a sympathetic and understanding individual. Boo, an intelligent
child ruined by a cruel father, is one of the book’s most important
mockingbirds; he is also an important symbol of the good that exists
within people. Despite the pain that Boo has suffered, the purity of
his heart rules his interaction with the children. In saving Jem and
Scout from Bob Ewell, Boo proves the ultimate symbol of good.
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