To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter Summaries CH. 1 * The story begins with an injury: the narrator’s brother Jem got his arm broken when he was thirteen. * While the arm is never quite as good as new, it doesn’t interfere with Jem’s mad football skills, so he doesn’t care much. * Years afterward, brother and narrator argue over where the story really starts: the narrator blames it on the Ewell family, while Jem (the older sibling by four years) puts the beginning at the summer they first met Dill. The flash-forward conversation continues: the narrator says that if you want to get technical about it, everything began with Andrew Jackson, whose actions led to their forefather Simon Finch settling where they did. * The flash-forward becomes a flashback: Simon Finch was a pious and miserly Englishman who left his home country to wander around America, before settling in Alabama with his accumulated wealth, his family, and his slaves. * Simon’s homestead was called Finch’s Landing, and was a mostly self-sufficient estate run by Simon’s male descendents, selling cotton to buy what the farm couldn’t produce itself. The wealth went away with the Civil War, but the tradition of living off the land at Finch’s Landing remained. * The current generation, however, has bucked the trend: Atticus, the narrator’s father, studied law in Montgomery, while his younger brother went all the way to Boston to become a doctor. * The only Finch left at the Landing is their sister Alexandra and her quiet, inactive husband. * After becoming a lawyer, Atticus returned to Maycomb, the county seat of Maycomb County, twenty miles from Finch’s landing. * Atticus saved his money to put his younger brother through med school. Atticus feels at home in Maycomb, not least because he’s related to nearly everyone in the town. * Out of the flashback, into the present-time of the story (which we already know the narrator’s actually remembering: hop over to “Point of View/Narrative Voice” if you want the 411 on that right now). * The narrator thinks about the Maycomb s/he (we don’t know which yet) knew: it’s not a happening place. Everyone moves slower than sweat, and there’s not much worth hurrying for, let alone much sense of what might be happening outside the county lines. The narrator lives on the town’s main residential drag with her brother Jem, her father Atticus, and their cook Calpurnia, who is a force to be reckoned with. * You may notice there’s no mom to be found: she died when the narrator was two, and the narrator doesn’t really remember her, though Jem does. * The story really gets underway the summer when the narrator is five going on six and Jem is nine going on ten. * This is the summer Dill arrives in Maycomb. * Their first meeting happens like this: Jem and the narrator are playing in their backyard, hear a noise next door, and go to check it out.
The find a small boy, six going on seven but looking younger, who introduces himself as Charles Baker Harris and announces that he can read. * Charles Baker Harris says that people call him Dill, so we will too. * Dill tells the narrator and Jem a bit about himself: he’s from Meridian, Mississippi, but he’s spending the summer with his aunt, the young Finches’ next-door neighbor Miss Rachel. * Unlike the rural Finches, he’s had access to movie theatres, and so he regales them with the story of Dracula. * The narrator asks Dill about his father, who isn’t dead but also isn’t around.
Dill gets a bit embarrassed about the dad question, so Jem tells his sibling to shut up. * Dill, Jem, and the narrator spend the summer acting out stories from the books they’ve read, over and over and over, until they start to get bored. * Dill comes to the rescue with a new idea: they can try to make Boo Radley come out. * The Radley Place is the haunted house of the neighborhood, complete with ghost: Boo Radley, who got in trouble with the law as a teenager and has been holed up in the house unseen ever since. The kids think his family might be keeping him prisoner. The house has quite the reputation with the neighborhood kids, who avoid it at all costs. * The narrator tells us a story about Boo that Jem got from Miss Stephanie Crawford, the neighborhood busybody: that Boo, then 33 years old, had been cutting out newspaper articles for his scrapbook when suddenly he stabbed the scissors into his father’s leg, then calmly went back to what he was doing. * After that Boo was locked up by the police briefly, and there was talk of sending him to an insane asylum, but he ended up back in the Radley Place. * Still after that, old Mr.
Radley, Boo’s father, died, but he was soon replaced by Boo’s older brother Nathan, and nothing much changed at the Radley Place. * Rumor has it that Boo gets out at night and stalks around the neighborhood, but none of the kids has ever actually seen him. * Jem makes up horror stories about what Boo’s like (think a cross between a vampire and a zombie), but Dill still wants to see him. * Dill dares Jem to go knock on the Radleys’ door. * Jem tries to get out of it without showing he’s scared, but gives in when Dill says he doesn’t have to knock, just touch the door. Jem works up his nerve, dashes up to the house, slaps the door, and runs back at top speed without looking behind him. * The three children, after getting to safety on their own porch, look at the Radley Place, but all they see is the hint of an inside shutter moving. CH. 2 * The summer ends and Dill heads back home to Meridian. * The narrator looks forward to joining the kids at school for the first time instead of spying on them through a telescope like a pint-size stalker. * Jem takes the narrator to school, and explains that it’s different from home – and he doesn’t want his first-grade sibling cramping his fifth-grade style. The narrator’s teacher is a young woman by the name of Miss Caroline Fisher, who’s from North Alabama, otherwise known to the native Maycombians as Crazy Land. * Miss Caroline reads the class a story about cats, and seems blithely unaware that she’s already completely lost her audience, a bunch of farm kids whom the narrator says are “immune to imaginative literature” (2. 8). * Miss Caroline puts the alphabet up on the board, which all of the class already knows (most of them are starting first grade for the second time). Miss Caroline asks the narrator to read, and is not pleased that she’s already good at it. * Miss Caroline assumes, despite the narrator’s disagreement, that Atticus has taught the narrator how to read, and decrees that these lessons must stop because Atticus isn’t a licensed teacher and therefore is doing his child more harm than good. * The narrator gets the impression that reading, which seems to come as naturally as breathing, is something like a sin when it’s done out of class. * Trying to stay out of further trouble, the narrator zones out till recess, then complains to Jem. Jem says that Miss Caroline is at the center of educational reform in the school, which he calls “the Dewey Decimal System” (2. 25). * This new system results in boring class time, so the narrator starts writing (in cursive) a letter to Dill. Miss Caroline makes the narrator stop, saying that first graders print, and cursive isn’t taught until third grade. * The narrator remembers that Calpurnia had passed rainy days by giving writing lessons. * Miss Caroline is halted in her inspection of her students’ lunches by Walter Cunningham, who doesn’t have one. She tries to lend him a quarter for lunch, but he refuses to take it. * The narrator, whose name we now learn is Jean Louise, steps in, explaining to Miss Caroline that Walter is a Cunningham. * That explanation, crystal clear to Jean Louise, doesn’t mean much to Miss Caroline, so she explains further: the Cunninghams won’t take anything from anybody, preferring to get by on the little they have. * Flashback: Jean Louise knows about the Cunninghams because Walter’s father hired Atticus to sort out an entailment on his property, and paid for the service by barter rather than in cash. Back to the schoolroom present: Jean Louise wants to explain everything properly, but doesn’t have the ability, so she just says that Miss Caroline is making Walter ashamed by trying to lend him money he can’t pay back. * Miss Caroline cracks at this, and calls Jean Louise up to the front of the class, where she pats her hand with the ruler and makes her stand in the corner. * The class breaks out laughing when they realize that the ruler taps were supposed to be corporal punishment. * The bell rings and everyone leaves for lunch, with Miss Caroline collapsing with her head in her hands at her desk.