Jean Louise Finch, nicknamed Scout, narrates this story and it is told
during the great depression of the 1930’s. She lives in the town of Maycomb, Alabama with her widowed father Atticus, and her older brother by four years, Jeremy Finch (called Jem).
Scout tells us about her ancestors who originally fled England to escape
religious persecution and they established a large farm on the banks of the Alabama River called Finch’s Landing. The family was farmers for a hundred years until Atticus became a lawyer in Maycomb while his
sister, Alexandra, ran the farm.
At the start of the story, Scout is aged 6. Scout’s mother had died
four years previously and their cook, an old black woman called Calpurnia, helps to bring up the two siblings.
An odd boy named Charles Baker Harris, known as Dill, moves in next door for
the summer to stay with his aunt, Miss Rachel Haverford.
Dill’s parents are getting divorced and he is reluctant to talk about this taboo subject, but is very talkative about everything else. Coupled with his intelligence, he soon becomes friends with Scout and Jem. Their main curiosity over the summer months is the Radley house, in particular one of its strange occupants, Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley, who never comes out of the run-down house at the end of their street.
begins the fascination with Boo Radley. According to Maycomb lore
and the children's vivid imaginations, Boo is a "malevolent phantom"
often blamed for the unexplained bad things that happened in town
from time to time. Boo ran with the wrong gang when he was a kid
and got into trouble one night. Instead of sending him to an asylum
or locking him up in the courthouse jail, Boo's father took him
home on the promise that Boo would cause no more trouble. Since
then Boo remained shut in his house while rumors swirled about his
mental state and his legend grew. Although Atticus urges the children
to leave the Radley house, now occupied by Boo, his mother, and
his brother, Nathan, Jem, Dill, and Scout succumb to their curiosity.
The chapter ends with Dill daring Jem to run inside the Radley's
fence and touch the house. Jem takes the dare.
We see here that Scout’s world is based on a strong foundation of
certainties, but as the story unfolds circumstances and situations arise which undermine this security.
This ends up with Scout having a tarnished view of the world and how it really is. The story is told from an adult’s perspective, but through a child’s eyes and voice. This voice dominates the main plot, which forces the reader to make adult deductions and understandings, which clearly Scout would not formulate. This helps to give the story a good deal of humor and wit.
The tale starts with Jem’s broken arm and ends at the same place and all
that is told in between is a long flashback.
Atticus is only briefly mentioned.
We first of all obtain an insight into the children’s world of play, which
focuses on Boo Radley, the recluse.
The Maycomb society is close-knit and they view outsiders with suspicion.
Dill is a crucial player in the story because he is both an insider and an
outsider, and acts as an observant conscience for the town.
A good proportion of the story focuses on the prejudices
between the African Americans and the whites in the Southern States of the U.S.A.