Essay title: To Kill a Mockingbird
By Harper LeeThe story of To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in Alabama during the Great Depression, and is narrated by the main character, a little girl named Scout Finch. Her father, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer with high moral standards. She and her brother, Jem, and their friend Dill are intrigued by the local rumors about a man named Boo Radley who lives in their neighborhood but never sets foot from his house. Legend has it that he once stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors, and he is made out to be a kind of monster. Dill is from Mississippi but spends his summer in Maycomb at a house near the Finches. The children are curious to know more about Boo, and create a mini-drama to enact which tells the events of his life as they know them.
They slowly begin moving closer to the house itself, which is said to be haunted. They try leaving notes for Boo on his windowsill, but are caught by Atticus, who firmly reprimands them. Then they try sneaking to the house at night and looking through its windows. However, Boo's brother, Nathan Radley, who lives with him, thinks he hears a prowler and begins firing his gun. The children get away, though Jem loses his pants in a gate. When he returns, his ripped pants have been folded and roughly sewn up. Other mysterious things happen to the Finch children. A certain tree near the Radley house has a hole in which little presents are often left for them, such as pennies and chewing gum.
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When they leave a note for the giver of these gifts, Boo's brother plugs up the hole the next day with cement. The next winter brings unexpected cold and snows, and the house of the kind neighbor Miss Maudie catches on fire. While Jem and Scout, shivering, watch the blaze from near the Radley house, someone puts a blanket around Scout. She doesn't realize until afterwards that Boo Radley must have been the one to do this. Atticus decides to take on a case involving a black man named Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping a very poor white girl named Mayella Ewell, a member of the notorious Ewell family, who belong to the layer of Maycomb society that people refer to as "trash." The Finches all face harsh criticism in racist Maycomb because of Atticus's decision to defend Tom, but Atticus insists upon going through with the case because his conscience could not let him do otherwise.
He knows that Tom has almost no chance, because the white jury will never believe his story, but he wants to reveal the truth of what happened to his fellow townspeople as well as expose their bigotry. Scout and Jem find themselves whispered at and taunted, and they have trouble keeping their tempers. At a family Chirstmas gathering, Scout beats up her cloying relative Francis when he accuses Atticus of ruining the family name. Jem cuts off the tops of an old neighbor's flower bushes after she derides Atticus, and then as punishment he has to read out loud to her every day while she breaks her morphine addiction.
Atticus holds this old woman up as an example of true courage: the will to keep fighting even when you know you can't win. The time for the trial draws closer, and Atticus's sister Alexandra comes to stay with the family. She is proper and old-fashioned and wants to shape Scout into the model of the Southern feminine ideal, much to Scout's resentment.
Dill runs away from his home, where his mother and new father don't seem interested in him, and stays in Maycomb for the summer of Tom's.