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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

THE NOVEL

THE PLOT

As the trial of Tom Robinson grows nearer, the children become more aware of the strong feelings it has aroused in everyone in Maycomb. One day their housekeeper, Calpurnia, takes Jem and Scout to visit her church, and the children realize for the first time that the black parishioners are supporting Tom Robinson's wife because no one in town will hire her.

Two nights before the trial is to start, a group of men come to the Finch house to tell Atticus about threats against Tom Robinson's life. Atticus spends the next night camped out at the jail to defend Tom against the mob. Jem, Scout, and their friend Dill go downtown to check on Atticus and, by chance, arrive at the same time as a group of very angry men, who have come to kidnap Tom Robinson and kill him. Scout recognizes one of the men in the group as Walter Cunningham, the father of a boy in her class at school, and her friendliness embarrasses the man so much that he changes his mind and talks the mob into leaving.

The next day, at the trial, Atticus' questions make it clear that Mayella Ewell and her father are lying about the rape: Tom Robinson is innocent. Nevertheless, the jury members convict him because their prejudices prevent them from taking a black man's word against two whites. Atticus is now a hero to the black community of Maycomb, but Bob Ewell, Mayella's father, vows to "get" Atticus for showing him up as a liar in front of the whole town.

Tom Robinson, meanwhile, has given up any hope of getting justice from the courts. He makes a desperate attempt to escape from the prison exercise yard, and is shot dead. Jem and Dill, already bitter over the outcome of the trial, happen to be with Atticus when he tells Tom's wife of the death, and they are deeply affected by her grief.


By the time Halloween comes around, the Finch family has begun to put the tragedy of Tom Robinson's fate behind them. There is a Halloween pageant planned and Scout, much to her dismay, has been cast in the role of one of Maycomb's most important agricultural products- a ham. After the pageant Scout decides to walk home still dressed in her bulky costume, with Jem leading the way. The cowardly Bob Ewell, seeing an opportunity to get revenge on Atticus through his children, follows the children down a dark street and tries to kill them. In the confusion that follows Scout realizes that another adult has appeared and is fighting on their side. It is none other than Boo Radley, who had seen the attack from his window. Boo stabs Bob Ewell to death, and carries the wounded Jem home.

The sheriff decides to file a report saying that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife and died, thus sparing Boo Radley the publicity that would be sure to follow if his part in saving the children became known.

Scout never sees Boo Radley again after that night, but she has learned that he was a good man all along- not the frightening man that she and the other children imagined him to be. She has learned a lesson about understanding and tolerance. And through the sheriff's action she sees that sometimes there can be justice and compassion in the world.

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