To Kill a Mockingbird

A Note on the Text

Throughout 'To Kill a Mockingbird' the 'n-word' is used. This has been employed by Lee to provide an accurate interpretation of attitudes in the 1930s, however it still today remains a term that many people find offensive. For this study guide we have used the word in quotations for the purpose of academic study, and it is not intent to cause offence. We suggest that when writing essays that you try to avoid using the term unless it is being used in quotations due to its offensive nature.


To kill a Mockingbird is a story of what happens when a black man is accused falsely of rape in the 1930s by a white man. The novel not only touches on deep-rooted of prejudices within Southern American but also highlights issues such as courage.


A General Plot Summary for the Novel

Part 1

We are initially introduced to siblings Scout and Jem and later Dill, a friend of the pair who visits Maycomb for the summer. Scout and Jem live with their father Atticus. Calpurnia, the black cook helps around the house and has became an almost mother figure for the children after their mum died when they were young. The novel is set in the 1930s in a Southern American town called Maycomb. The story moves onto focus on the neighbourhood legend that surrounds Boo Radley, the mysterious neighbour who never leaves his house.

At Scouts first day at school we are introduced to the social divisions that exist within Maycomb, in particular two distinctive families, the Cunninghams’ a group of poor farmers and the Ewells’, the family who accuses Tom Robinson of rape.

A year has passed and Dill comes back for the summer. They play a series of games revolving around Boo and the mystery that surrounds him. Scout soon becomes friends with Miss Maudie a neighbour and close friend of the Finches.

In a final attempt to see Boo the children enter his garden to try and peak through the window, they are quickly scared away by Nathan Radley, Boo's older brother. On escape Jem's trousers get caught, however when he returns to get them later that night he finds they have been mended. The children later begin finding toys in the tree outside Boo's house; Nathan Radley quickly halts this by cementing up the tree. The winter is particularly harsh and there's a fire in Miss Maudies house, the residents of Maycomb help rescue her belongings and Boo Radley leaves a blanket for Scout who is stood outside in the cold.

At Christmas there's a family gathering where we are introduced to Aunt Alexandra and Jack Finch. This is also the first point where we are introduced to the trial which later becomes a focus point in the novel. Atticus is defending Tom Robinson a black man falsely accused of rape by Mayella and Bob Ewell. On their return home there is an incident with a mad dog; Atticus however shoots the dog giving the children new found respect for their father. We are later introduced to Mrs Dubose, a dying Morphine addict who Jem and Scout are instructed to read to during her fight to combat her addiction.

Part 2

The children visit Calpurnia's church where we are introduced to some of the attitudes in the black community. Aunt Alexandra comes to live with the Finches for the duration of the trial, which introduces us to some of the prejudices 'ordinary folk' within Maycomb have. Later there is an attempt to murder Tom Robinson, the man who Atticus is going to defend. This lynch mob is disbanded by Scout who talks to the individuals in the mob exposing their human side.

The next few chapters follow the court scene. After questioning Mayella, Tom Robinson and Bob Ewell it begins to become clear that it would have been physically impossible for Tom to have raped her due to one of his arms being crippled. Tom is however found guilty by the all white jury, leaving Jem devastated.

Bob Ewell, humiliated in the trial, spits on Atticus and threatens him. Tom attempts to escape jail, however is shot and killed.

In the final chapters the children are on their way home from a Halloween pageant, where they are attacked by Bob Ewell with a knife. In the struggle that follows Boo Radley comes to save them, killing Ewell. The sheriff and Atticus come to the conclusion that they should protect Boo and pretend that Bob fell on his knife. Jem is hurt, however soon recovers and we finally learn that Boo is a timid and nice character.


The author

'To kill a Mockingbird' was written by Harper Lee. Lee was born in 1926 in a Southern American town in Alabama. She attended the University of Alabama and later lived in New York hoping to become a writer. 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was first published in 1960, winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature. The novel has since become a literary favourite read in schools across the globe. Lee has since moved back to her home town in Alabama, where she still lives today.

Historical context

First published in the 1960s 'To Kill a Mockingbird' benefited from the climax of the civil rights movement. Set in Alabama in the 1930s the novel focuses on deep-rooted prejudice that exists after the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery. Even towards the 1960s segregation remained a daily reality for many African-Americans, with violence towards the black minority commonplace. Lee's message of social harmony still remains relevant and important today.

People protesting against School Segregation