10 Things You Should Know About To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

10 Things You Should Know About To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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  1. 1. The Finch family:

    The main character is a young girl nicknamed Scout.  Her real name is Jean Louise, and she has one brother she calls Jem (Jeremy Atticus).  Her dad is Atticus, a lawyer and single father.  Later in the story Scout’s aunt, Alexandra, comes to stay with the family.  Aunt Alexandra has a son named Francis, who is pretty much the opposite of Scout.  While Scout does not desire the company of her aunt, she loves seeing her Uncle Jack.

    2. Other notable characters:

    The Finches have an indispensable cook named Calpurnia who helps look after the children.  One summer Dill – otherwise known as Charles Baker Harris – comes to stay with his Aunt Rachel and becomes fast friends with Scout and Jem.  The man Atticus is appointed to defend is Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping Miss Mayella Ewell.  Her father, who actually beat up his daughter, is Bob Ewell.  The Ewell family is a blight upon the town Scout lives in; they live in squalor and care nothing for education.  Boo Radley is Scout’s reclusive neighbor, and for much of the book neither Scout nor the reader knows what he looks like.  Miss Maudie is another one of Scout’s neighbors, and she is written as a friend of Scout’s and one of Scout’s best female role models.  

    3. Storyline:

    Although there are a lot of different events going on, by the end of the book everything comes together.  The story begins with Scout and Jem looking back on the events that led to Jem breaking his arm.  Jem believes it began when they tried to get a good look at Boo, and so the story starts there.  The trial of Tom Robinson actually takes up a small percentage of the book.

    4. Perspective:

    The story is written from the perspective of Scout.  The genius of having To Kill A Mockingbird written this way is that every topic is treated with childlike innocence as Scout tries to figure out the world.  The inevitability of the guilty verdict that her father Atticus senses for Tom Robinson’s trial makes no sense to Scout or Jem.  It also helps shelter the heavy topic of racism with the often amusing way Scout views life around her.  For instance, a scary confrontation Atticus has with an angry mob is dispelled when Scout suddenly jumps in and starts talking to a mob member about his son: "Maybe he told you about me, I beat him up one time but he was real nice about it.  Tell him hey for me, won’t you?"

    5. Setting:

    The story takes place in the fictional small-town of Maycomb, Alabama.  Everyone knows each other and news travels around fast.  The advantage of this is that the reader is acquainted with a colorful cast of characters outside of the Finch family.  Although some of the characters are rather one dimensional, such as the gossip queen Stephanie Crawford, the reader is able to get a good sense of the world that Scout lives in.  Most of the Maycomb residents believe that whites and blacks should be segregated, and their beliefs are evident in the way they talk about the upcoming trial of Tom Robinson.  The story takes place in the 1930s, during the depression and WWII.

    6. Racial issues:

    The trial of Tom affects every single event in this book.  Scout recounts the times she was taunted by her classmates, relatives, and neighbors because her father "aims to defend" the man on trial.  She also remembers the unreasonable hostility with which the majority of the town treats the defendant and, in some cases, his lawyer.  After the trial is over, Bob Ewell is determined to exact his revenge on the few that he felt hurt and embarrassed him in some way, shape, or form – the judge, Mrs. Robinson, and Atticus.  However, being too cowardly to actually meet Atticus face-to-face, Ewell decides to attack his children.  Scout and Jem are saved from an unlikely source – Boo Radley.     

    7.  Class issues:

    At the same time Scout is trying to understand the feelings surrounding Tom Robinson, she is also trying to sort out what makes her family seemingly better than other equally poor families.  Another family, the Cunninghams for instance, are seen in her aunt’s eyes as "trash".   She discusses this issue occasionally with her family, particularly with her brother Jem.  The feelings of superiority that some people hold baffle the young girl and at the end of the novel she still does not have a concrete idea of what makes a family "better" than another.

    8. Gender issues:

    Scout’s immediate family is male-dominated.  Her mother died when she was young so she was brought up by her father and tags along after her brother; in the summer she looks forward to the arrival of Dill.  She resents the presence of her aunt, who is always trying to change her into a little lady and finds it disgraceful that Scout wears pants.  At one point, Scout even acknowledges that she prefers the company of men because women are hypocrites.  Many of the women in the book are not very pleasant people; they gossip, are racist in their own quiet way, and look down on non-Christians while they primly sip their tea.  Fortunately, Scout has two female role models to look up to – the strict Calpurnia and her neighbor Maudie Atkinson.  Miss Maudie is a woman around Atticus’s age, and she treats Scout, Jem, and Dill as friends and not as little children.  She provides a comfort to Scout and Jem as they deal with the turmoil in their lives.

    9. Author:

    The author of To Kill A Mockingbird is Ms. Harper Lee.  It is her only novel and she won a Pulitzer Prize for the classic.  Lee is also from Alabama and grew up in Monroeville.  Certain characters in the book are rumored to be modeled after real people – Scout is a younger Harper Lee, the character Dill is possibly her good friend and fellow author, Truman Capote, and Atticus is a version of Lee’s father.    

    10. Movie:

    The book was turned into a film, with Gregory Peck starring as Atticus Finch.  The picture won Peck an Academy Award for Best Actor and the movie has been received very well by critics.    

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