To Kill a Mockingbird Study Guide

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel about Atticus, a lawyer, and his children, Jem and Scout, living in Alabama. Jem and Scout are infatuated with a spooky neighbor, "Boo" Radley, Atticus is defending Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Tom is found guilty by a racist jury and is killed while trying to escape from prison. Bob Ewell, the winner of the case, attacks Jem and Scout to exact revenge but Boo saves them and kills Bob.

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

People moved slowly then. They took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had noting to fear but fear itself

In Chapter 1, Scout is describing the setting and tone of Maycomb as a town. She first describes its general character as a means to define the undertones of its culture. Maycomb was literally old in that it was settled prior to the Civil War; however, by describing as tired, Scout is telling the reader that the town's people have not reconciled themselves to the changing times. Ladies still bather before noon, just after their three o'clock naps. Also, as the reader learns later in the text, racial attitudes have not changed with the times. This is demonstrated by the town sheriff not having the heart to put him alongside Negroes(12) when Boo stabbed his father in the led with a pair of scissors.

Scout follows the description of the initial setting with a more specific description of the town's people. To emphasize the implication of the previous passage, Lee is blatantly stating that the inhabitants in Maycomb have willingly stayed behind the times due to a stubborn refusal to recover from the depression most of the south was thrust into after the Civil War. This refusal springs from an unfounded optimism that they can recover an era that has long since passed.

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view unitl you climb in his skin and walk around in it

Atticus is giving Scout advice in Chapter 3 after she insults Walter Cunningham for pouring molasses all over his dinner. The general theme of the quote is recurring throughout the text as Atticus repeats it several times to both of his children in the hopes of directing their moral development. Atticus guides his own actions and interactions with other people according to the principle espoused in the quote. In fact, it is his ability to see the world from another's perspective that helps him maintain faith in the goodness of others. He understands that all people are governed, in part, by their personal life experiences. For example, Mrs. Dubose is a drug addict whose misery manifested itself physically; yet, her unpleasant demeanor did not detract from Atticus' appreciation for her tremendous courage in fighting her addiction from her death bed. Scout struggles with putting Atticus's advice into practice, but by then end of the novel she learns to live with compassion and understanding toward others. She succeeds in viewing the world from Boo Radley's perspective, not only following her father's advice in Chapter 3, but also providing the novel with a much needed positive and optimistic ending.

Remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it / Your father's right, she said. Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird

This quote is from Chapter 10 just after Scout and Jem are given air rifles for Christmas. They are waiting to learn how to shoot; however, Atticus is very specific about the things and creatures he wants his children use as targets. Not listed among them is the mockingbird, the title metaphorical character of the novel. There is the larger concept of the mockingbirds as altruistic, innocent people who are destroyed by evil. For example, Boo Radley is like a mockingbird in that he does not harm anyone. His intention with his anonymous gift giving is to not only endear the children to him, but to also see them happy. Given that the had his childhood taken away by his father, it makes sense that he can relate to them on a playful level. Also, they are the only children to which he has any level of exposure, therefore. The ages of the residence on the street make it difficult for him instead, he leaves Jem and Scout presents, covers Scout with a blanket during the fire, and eventually saves the children from Bob Ewell Despite the pureness of his heart, however, Boo has been damaged by an abusive father. The connection between songbirds and innocents is made explicitly several times in the book: in Chapter 25, Mr. Underwood likens Tom Robinson's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children; in Chapter 30, Scout tells Atticus that hurting Boo Radley would be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird. The moral imperative to protect the vulnerable governs Atticus's decision to take Tom's case, just as it leads Jem to protect the roly-poly bug from Scout's hand.

The witnesses for the statehave presented themselves to you gentlemen, to this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumptionthe evil assumptionthat all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption one associates with minds of their caliber. Which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson's skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you. You know the truth, the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men cannot be trusted around women, black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men

The above quote comes from Atticus' closing argument in the Tom Robinson case. Lee uses this extraordinary moment in Maycomb County's history to both confront the white population of Maycomb with their racism and to showcase Atticus' faith in humanity. He understands that he is speaking to a cynical, prejudiced group of white men who have grown cynical and bitter with time. Atticus knows that much of what has caused these men to develop such hatred in their heart are circumstances and event beyond their control. For example, many of the men are farmers; that sector of the population tends to suffer more when the nation's economy is in a slump. In addition to the Great Depression, southern states never recovered entirely from losing the Civil War. Their economies were completely destroyed not only by the Emancipation Proclamation, but also by the increased importation of foreign goods. Given the history, unfortunately, it makes sense that their hatred would target black men. Out of all the aspects of their lives they cannot control, the black population is something they can dominate under the guise of denigrating stereotypes such as those mentioned in the quote. In spite of the history, and in spite of prejudicial tendencies of the twelve men sitting on the jury, Atticus is appealing to their greater sense of justice, fairness, and truth in a way similar to that used by Scout the previous night.

I'm not a very good man, sir, but I am sheriff of Maycomb County. Lived in this town all my life an' I'm goin' on forty-three years old. Know everything that's happened here since before I was born. There's a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it's dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch. Let the dead bury the dead

Sheriff Heck Tate is speaking to Atticus in Chapter 30 about his decision to declare Bob Ewell's death and accident. Atticus is concerned that Jem is responsible for Ewell's murder and would prefer him to face the consequences if he were responsible. Unfortunately, Boo Radley stabbed Bob Ewell in order to protect the children. Heck knows this and wishes to take the opportunity to make the Tom Robinson tragedy right. Lee is remarking on the small, deep southern idea of justice; the court system, as seen in the previous quote, does not meet southern white men's concept of justice and retribution. They operate on a pseudo-vigilante principal upon which a more appropriate form of punishment or award is given according to each offense (moral or legal) committed. Bob Ewell's lies and abusive nature result in Tom Robinson's death/suicide. It is only fitting that he is killed by a fellow mockingbird for attempting to do physical harm to children. Heck's final statement about allowing the dead to bury the dead speaks to the town's superstitious nature. In a larger sense, the spirit of Tom Robinson has ensured justice for the death and abuse he suffered as a result of Ewell's deception.

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