Scout Finch lives with her brother, Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus, in the sleepy Alabama town of Maycomb.
Maycomb is suffering through the Great Depression, but Atticus is a prominent lawyer and the Finch family is reasonably well off in comparison to the rest of society. One summer, Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill, who has come to live in their neighborhood for the summer, and the trio acts out stories together. Eventually, Dill becomes fascinated with the spooky house on their street called the Radley Place. The house is owned by Mr. Nathan Radley, whose brother, Arthur (nicknamed Boo), has lived there for years without venturing outside.Scout goes to school for the first time that fall and detests it.
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She and Jem find gifts apparently left for them in a knothole of a tree on the Radley property. Dill returns the following summer, and he, Scout, and Jem begin to act out the story of Boo Radley. Atticus puts a stop to their antics, urging the children to try to see life from another person’s perspective before making judgments. But, on Dill’s last night in Maycomb for the summer, the three sneak onto the Radley property, where Nathan Radley shoots at them. Jem loses his pants in the ensuing escape.
When he returns for them, he finds them mended and hung over the fence. The next winter, Jem and Scout find more presents in the tree, presumably left by the mysterious Boo. Nathan Radley eventually plugs the knothole with cement.
Shortly thereafter, a fire breaks out in another neighbor’s house, and during the fire someone slips a blanket on Scout’s shoulders as she watches the blaze. Convinced that Boo did it, Jem tells Atticus about the mended pants and the presents.To the consternation of Maycomb’s racist white community, Atticus agrees to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a white woman.
Because of Atticus’s decision, Jem and Scout are subjected to abuse from other children, even when they celebrate Christmas at the family compound on Finch’s Landing. Calpurnia, the Finches’ black cook, takes them to the local black church, where the warm and close-knit community largely embraces the children.Atticus’s sister, Alexandra, comes to live with the Finches the next summer. Dill, who is supposed to live with his “new father” in another town, runs away and comes to Maycomb. Tom Robinson’s trial begins, and when the accused man is placed in the local jail, a mob gathers to lynch him.
Atticus faces the mob down the night before the trial. Jem and Scout, who have sneaked out of the house, soon join him. Scout recognizes one of the men, and her polite questioning about his son shames.