To Kill a Mockingbird, set in the 1930s in the sleepy little town of Maycomb in South Alabama, is not the story of The Finches alone but of everybody in Maycomb.
In the sleepy town of Maycomb, nothing exciting ever seemed to happen. Seasons rolled by, and people trudged along at a slow pace. The summer when Dill, the nephew of Miss. Rachel Haverford arrived, things were in for a change and Maycomb was to spend many sleepless nights. That summer, Atticus Finch, a lawyer is appointed to defend a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. His children-Scout and Jem witness the changes that happen to them because of the case and finally get to see their town, Maycomb, for what it really is- a town steeped in hypocrisy and prejudices. As Atticus fears, his appeal that Tom Robinson ( the black man) is innocent is not acknowledged. Soon after, Robinson is shot dead when he tries to escape from prison. Thereafter, life takes a different turn for the Finches.
Scout and Jem are two dear children preoccupied with their childish games and fancies.They are kids and they do get involved in the usual scrapes children get into. For them routine contentment is improving their tree house that rests ” between giant twin chinaberry trees in their back yard, fussing, running through their list of dramas based on the works of Oliver Optic, Victor Appleton, and Edgar Rice Burroughs”. When Dill arrives, they hatch a plan to make Boo Radley come out. Boo is a “malevolent phantom” who has lived for many years in the Radley place.
Years back, Boo Radley and his gang had resisted arrest for disorderly conduct for which the beadle locked them up in the courthouse. After Boo was released , he disappeared into his house. It was only after 15 years later that people in Maycomb heard of Boo again.
Quoting from the book:
“Boo was sitting in the livingroom cutting some items from The Maycomb Tribune to paste in his scrapbook. His father entered the room. As Mr. Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors into his parent’s leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants, and resumed his activities. “
The Radleys didn’t want Boo to go to an asylum and he stayed for sometime in the courthouse basement. Afterwards, Boo was forced to move back home as people feared he might die of mold from the dampness in the basement. There, Boo stayed for years, never stepping out and never letting a stranger in.
Trying to lure Boo out of the Radley place becomes an obsession for the children. But to their dismay Boo remains hidden throughout all their efforts.
What struck me about this book was the frankness of both Scout and Jem. Scout is six years old , a tomboy and the youngest child of Atticus Finch. Scout in her childish innocence questions her father whatever she wants to know. She doesn’t beat around the bush, but speaks her mind. Scout proves her audacity when she tells her Uncle Jack, ” You’re real nice, Uncle Jack, an’I reckon I love you even after what you did, but you don’t understand children much.”
She gets into many fights with her school-mates when they mock her father by calling him ‘nigger-lover’. She hates wearing frilly frocks and has no idea of acting like a lady. As the novel closes, Scout weighed down by all that has happened, feels old. She finally understands what her father meant when he said, “you will never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around.”
Jem, who is 4 years older than Scout, is a typical elder brother: always calling the shots. He annoys his sister for acting like a girl but at the same time is protective of her. Both the children are disappointed when their father doesn’t participate in all the activities the fathers of their schoolmates do. The children believe that Atticus has no laudable qualities other than being a good lawyer. Later, they are amazed when Atticus kills a rabid dog with one shot of a gun.
After that incident, Jem says, “Atticus is real old, but I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do anything-! wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do a blessed thing.”
He realizes that his father was never proud of being a “dead shot” and understands why his father doesn’t exhibit his skill- it gave him an unfair advantage over other living creatures.
Jem is aghast and heart-broken when the jury doesn’t accept Atticus’s appeal. He is enraged with the injustice done to Robinson. The Robinson case and the general attitude of the people in Maycomb affects Jem badly than Scout (who is still too young to fully grasp the gravity of the situation). When Scout again on her hunt for an answer asks him about Miss Gates, her teacher, who hates Hitler and his Nazi government but doesn’t mind all the injustice the Blacks suffer. At this, Jem is furious and asks Scout to leave his room. As the novel proceeds Jem undergoes a transformation. Just like any teenager, he has mood swings and you realize that Jem has grown up, he is no longer an innocent young boy. He becomes reserved and avoids talking about the Robinson case. After the Robinson trial, his vision of Maycomb being a town of the “best folks” is shattered.
Atticus Finch, a 50 year old lawyer, who tries to defend a black man charged guilty of raping a white woman. Finch single-handedly tries to save the black man from the prejudiced public. He is short-sighted and feels that he is too old to play football with his children. Atticus is the best father character I have ever come across in a book. Being a widower, he is unsure whether he can ever make up for the loss of his wife to his children. Always skeptical of his efficiency as a parent, he makes no effort to cover up the harsh happenings in the town. He tries to explain even the unpleasant facts of life to his children as he knows that he can’t protect them from all the evils of the world. Atticus Finch stands out as a great father because of his bluntness and his faith in justice. He is a man who “doesn’t take pride in his talents”. The novel closes on an ironic note where Finch is compelled to take a decision contrary to his ideals.
Calpurnia, the maid, may not be seen as an important character; but her presence in the novel cannot be ignored. She is the only female character who comes close to a mother for the children. When Scout mocks at Walter for drowning his dinner in syrup, Calpurnia chides her for embarrassing a guest. In the major part of the novel, Calpurnia is seen as a tyrant by Scout, but later on understands that she was only trying to guide her. Atticus values Calpurnia’s role in his children ‘s life . He openly disagrees with his sister, Alexandra, when she hints at firing her.
Atticus says “Alexandra, Calpurnia’s not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn’t have got along without her all these years. She’s a faithful member of this family and you’ll simply have to accept things the way they are. Besides, sister, I don’t want you working your head off for us-you’ve no reason to do that. We still need Cal as much as we ever did.”
The readers are dubious of the existence of Boo Radley from page one of the book. It is not until the final pages the reader becomes aware of what Boo really stands for.
The author has woven her tale beautifully by striking a balance between all the themes she addresses- racism, social inequality, and loss of innocence. This novel is a classic. There is no other bottomline.