In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee tells the story, mainly through Scouts eyes, of the events that led up to Jem breaking his arm when he was nearly thirteen. The reader follows Scout through the novel and sees how she matures and develops, and also how Jem matures and develops, often shown by Scout being puzzled about the way he behaves.
Having given the reader a history and context for the novel, the author introduces key characters, including neighbors such as the Radleys, Mrs. Dubose, Miss Maudie and Miss Stephanie. The visiting Dill creates a dare about the Radley house, concerning Arthur Radley, who is described as amalevolent phantom. By describing Scouts first days at school, Harper Lee criticizes aspects of the education system in Alabama and to reveal the views of Atticus, the lawyer father and single parent of Jem and Scout. The early chapters concern the childrens games designed to see Boo or entice him out of his house. They fail to notice Boos interest in them; he rescues and attempts to mend Jems pants when Jem is caught in the Radley garden, and he leaves gifts for them in the knot-hole of a tree. Snow falls in Maycomb and Miss Maudies house catches fire. The childrens view of their father, Atticus, as old and useless is challenged when he shoots the rabid dog, Tim Johnson, and neighbors refer to him as One-Shot Finch. They are also told by Atticus, when given air rifles, that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Jem learns about true courage when he has to read to Mrs. Dubose, the dreaded neighbor whose camellias he has decapitated, as he finds out that she was determined to defeat her morphine addiction before she died.
Part Two of the novel begins when a visit with their black maid Calpurnia to First Purchase African M.E. Church gets the children thinking about race. They are confronted with Lulas racism, and are introduced to Helen, wife of Tom Robinson, who has been imprisoned. Tom Robinsons trial, in which he is defended by Atticus, takes up the central part of the novel. Chapter XIII sees Harper Lee give an expanded portrait of Maycomb, and this is followed by the arrival of Aunt Alexandra, who is to look after the children while Atticus is busy with the trial. Other key citizens are introduced. The children sneak into the courtroom and sit in the Coloured Balcony, witnessing the evidence of Heck Tate, Bob Ewell, Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson. It is at the point of Atticuss summing up that the novel is firmly cemented as taking place in and around 1935. To the childrens horror, Tom is convicted. Scout reflects on class, all reflect on racism and Harper Lee introduces material that prompts the reader to think about legal reform.
The aftermath of the trial takes up the rest of the novel. Scout succumbs to Aunt Alexandras urgings to be less of a tomboy and wear a dress. She witnesses the hypocrisy and racism of some of the members of the ladies Missionary Circle. Her return to school prompts reflections on Hitler, democracy and dictatorship, and the last part of the novel concerns Bob Ewells attempts to wreak havoc: his attempted burglary of Judge Taylors house and his attack on Jem and Scout after a Halloween pageant. Jem breaks his arm but is carried home. Bob Ewell dies of a knife wound. The end of the novel sees Heck Tate protecting Boo Radley, who has rescued the children and carried Jem home, and Atticus slowly grasping that Boo, not Jem, killed Bob Ewell. Scout finally sees Boo; in an emotional last chapter she takes him to see Jem, escorts him to his home and sees the events of the novel flash before her.