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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird mainly revolves around a small family of three -- Atticus Finch, an attorney, and his two children, Scout and Jem. As the novel proceeds certain characters are linked with the three main characters to form a dramatic story of events, attitudes, prejudices and values.
The novel is set is the quiet town of Maycomb; but the serenity is only superficial. The town is comprised of three communities: the white folk, the black community, and the ‘white trash’. Outwardly there is peace among the three, but underneath prevails a combination of hostility, racial prejudices, and friendlessness.
Jem and Scout go to school together. On their way to school, they pass the Radley house; it is a terrifying place to them, for it houses Boo Radley, who has been labeled a lunatic. At the same time, their curiosity pushes them to try out ways to make Boo come out of the house. Their overtures are, however, suppressed by Atticus who does not want them to torment Boo.
The main plot of the novel revolves around the trial in which Atticus defends Tom Robinson, a black, who has been accused of having molested a white girl, Mayella Ewell. She is part of the ‘white-trash’ community. The children follow the case proceedings avidly and are inconsolable when their father loses the case.
The case is lost simply because it was still impossible (despite statutory laws) for a black man to attain victory over a white in the South. This amply reveals the deeply ingrained racial prejudices still prevalent among the white society which cannot give an equal status to a black.
The relation between the children and Boo Radley resurfaces at the end, when it is Boo who saves them from imminent death at the hands of the vicious Bob Ewell. It is ultimately revealed that Boo is not a lunatic, but a simple-minded person with failing health and a childish attachment for Scout and Tom.
The story of the mockingbird recited by Atticus is linked to the theme of the novel. It is considered a sin to kill a mockingbird, since it is a harmless bird which only sings to please others. Boo Radley and Tom Robinson are also harmless people. By letting Tom die, the sin of killing a mockingbird has been committed. But by not revealing the facts of Boo’s heroism in rescuing the children, the sin is avoided, and Boo is left to his seclusion. Tom’s death is a defeat of justice and an insult to humanity, and the readers can judge for themselves how much of a sin it is.
The maturing of Scout and Jim is portrayed as well as the exemplary character of Atticus, who is without any racial prejudices or biased views. He is a highly ethical character, who chooses to fight against the ‘old traditions’ of his own community.