To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter Summaries – Ch. 1-12
Scout Finch is growing up in a hot, tired Alabama town, where there is nothing to buy and nothing to buy it with. She and her older brother, Jem, live with their father, Atticus, the local lawyer, and their cook, Calpurnia, close to downtown Maycomb. They're all related by blood or marriage to everyone in town, so it's a close-knit group to say the least. As our story begins, summer has just started. Scout is six, and Jem is ten, and they have just discovered a boy hiding in their next door neighbor’s turnip greens. He's a scrawny kid whose name is Dill, and the three become instant friends as soon as it's revealed that Dill has already seen "Dracula", which gives him instant credibility. As summer progresses and favorite games become old hat, Scout, Jem, and Dill become obsessed with making Boo Radley come out. Boo Radley lives up the street from Scout and Jem, and legend has it that he never comes out of his house. Any small crimes or mysterious happenings in town are said to be his work, and rarely will anyone pass the house alone at night. Their first raid consists of a dare between Dill and Jem. He must run to the Radley house, touch it, and run back. He finally does it, but only after 3 days careful thought and much ribbing from Dill.
When September rolls around and Dill leaves to go back home to Meridian, Scout realizes that she's starting her first year of school. After her first day, however, she's determined not to go back. After trying to explain the complicated backgrounds of some of the county folks to the new teacher, Scout lands herself into trouble again and again, and is not quite sure how. It should be obvious, she thinks, that offering Walter Cunningham a quarter for lunch is simply not done. They don't take help from anyone, and the reason why he doesn't have a lunch is because he can't afford one. When she tries to explain this to the new teacher, however, she gets her hands slapped by a ruler. When lunchtime finally rolls around, she's grateful to get out of class and go home.
Scout wastes no time paying back Walter Cunningham for getting her started on the wrong foot with the new teacher. It isn't until Jem comes and stops her that she quits tormenting him in the playground, and she nearly falls over when Jem invites the poor boy to lunch at their house. The day doesn't improve when she embarrasses Walter at the table and is forced to eat in the kitchen by Calpurnia. When she returns to school the day's drama isn't over. Miss Caroline, the teacher, is horrified to discover a cootie in the hair of Burris Ewell, a hulking, angry boy who quickly reduces Miss Caroline to tears as he slouches out of the room, his first and only day of school over. That evening Scout is weary from the day's crimes and begs Atticus not to send her back to school anymore. The fact that Miss Caroline forbade her to read and write anymore is really what's distressing her, and when Atticus strikes a deal with her that if she will concede to go back to school they'll continue reading together like always, she happily accepts.
As the schoolyear inches along, Scout begins to realize that she's far more educated than her peers, and even more so, perhaps, than her teacher. As construction paper and crayon Projects evolve day after day, she realizes she is just plain bored. As she walks home from school there is a huge oak tree that sits on the corner of the Radley lot. She passes it every day without incident, only one day she spots two pieces of chewing gum in a knot in the tree. After making sure it won't kill her she hastily crams it into her mouth, and Jem is furious with her when he finds out, convinced that it's poisoned by Boo Radley. During their walk home on the last day of school Scout and Jem find another treasure in the tree, this time two old, shined up pennies. When Dill arrives for the summer two days later the group resumes their obsession with Boo Radley. They create a play that reenacts Boo's life, and continue with it all summer long until they are very nearly caught by Atticus.
When Dill and Jem start excluding Scout from their plots she begins to spend more time with her next door neighbor, Miss Maudie Atkinson. Miss Maudie is garden obsessed, and spends her evenings reining over her front porch in the twilight. Scout gets a lot of valuable information from her about Boo Radley's past, and the reason, perhaps, why he never comes out. The next day she uncovers a major plot by Dill and Jem to pass a note to Boo Radley. Scout protests but they threaten her and before she knows it she's part of the scheme. Things proceed fairly smoothly until they're caught by Atticus, who forbids them to set one more foot on the Radley property and to leave Mr. Radley alone.
The last night of the summer Jem and Dill hatch the biggest plot of them all (reasoning that, if they get killed, they'll miss school instead of vacation). They decide to try and peep into one of the windows at the Radley house. When Scout (who until tonight knew nothing of the plan) starts to protest, they call her a girl and threaten to send her home. With that, she joins them. Things take a disastrous turn when Boo Radley's older brother, Mr. Nathan Radley, hears them and, thinking they're intruders, fires a shotgun. They barely make it through the fence in time and high tail it back home so they're not missed by the adults. When they step into the gathering crowd to discuss the gunshot Scout is horrified to realize that Jem is missing his pants. Dill hatches a good one and tells Atticus that he won them from Jem playing strip poker. The adults seem satisfied with the lie, and don't suspect them of causing the gunfire at the Radley place. After they slink off, Scout discovers from Jem that he lost his pants as they were scurrying through the wire fence. They got caught and he had to leave them behind or risk getting shot. Late that night Jem decides to go after them rather than risk Mr. Nathan finding them the next morning and turning him in. Scout pleads with him not to go, but he does it anyway. When he gets back, he doesn't say a word but lies in bed, trembling.
Jem's silence about that night lasts for a week. They both start school again, and Scout discovers that the second grade is worse than the first, and the only consolation is that now she gets to stay as late as Jem and they can walk home together. It's during this walk home one afternoon that Jem finally opens up about his sojourn trip back to the Radley place to retrieve his pants. He tells Scout that his pants were not tangled up the wire as he left them but were folded neatly on the fence post, as if someone was expecting him to come back and get them. As they approach the oak tree with the knot hole they discover a ball of twine. After waiting a few days to make sure that the knot hole is not some other child's hiding place, they take ownership of everything they find in there from here on out. The next treasure they discover in there is the figure of a boy and girl carved out of soap. They're carved to look like Scout and Jem. The next prize is an old pocket watch that doesn't run. They decide to write a letter to whomever is leaving them things, but they're shocked to discover the next day that the hole has been filled with cement. When they question Mr. Nathan Radley (Boo's brother who does leave the house) he tells them the tree was sick and he had to do it. Upon questioning Atticus, however, he tells them that tree is perfectly healthy.
That fall Maycomb endures the coldest snap since 1885, and Scout thinks the world is ending one morning when she wakes up and finds snow on the ground. Although it's only a dusting, Jem is determined to build his first snowman and sets out creatively making one out of dirt, and then using the precious white snow to cover it up. That night the temperature drops even further and all the stoves in the house are lit for warmth. Scout is awakened in the middle of the night by Atticus, who tells her Miss Maudie's house next door is on fire and they have to get out. They spend the night in front of the Radley driveway, watching the commotion. The men of Maycomb help as much as they can getting furniture out of her house while there is still time, but eventually the whole thing is up in flames. They don't go back inside the house until morning, and Scout is horrified to discover she's wrapped up in blanket and she has no idea where she got it. She almost falls over when they deduce it was Boo Radley that brought the blanket out to her in the night, and she never even knew. They're heartened to discover the next day that Miss Maudie is not grieving for her lost house, saying she always wanted a smaller one anyway.
As the school year progresses Scout begins to get teased at school over her father, atticus is called a"nigger lover" and one night she asks Atticus why people are talking about him. He tells her that's he's taken on a case that affects him personally and because he is defending this man, Tom Robinson, there is a big stink about it in town. Atticus asks Scout that, no matter what she hears, she's not to get into a fight with someone over this case. True to her word, she doesn't. Until Christmas. Their Uncle Jack Finch comes down from Boston, which is the good part of Christmas. The bad part is that they all have to spend Christmas day at Aunt Alexandra's house at Finch's Landing. Even worse, their cousin Francis is there, and Scout hates him. Things go smoothly until after dinner when, alone in the backyard with Scout, Francis starts calling Atticus all sorts of terrible names because he's defending a black man. Scout sails in with her fists to defend him and gets caught by Uncle Jack. She doesn't have a moment to tell her side of the story, and moments later they're on their way back home. She's finally able to tell her story to Uncle Jack later that night, and he apologizes for jumping all over her when he should've been punishing Francis.
The neighborhood excitement starts up again in February when Tim Johnson, a mangy dog owned by a man on the other side of town, is discovered walking up the street with rabies. The sheriff is called and he and Atticus drive up with a gun to shoot it. Scout and Jem watch in amazement as their father, whom they've never seen hold a gun in his life, takes aim and shoots the dog square in the head from an amazing distance. They're further shocked to discover that he is the deadest shot in Maycomb county, an accomplishment he's never bothered to mention to them since he doesn't like guns.
The day after Jem's 12th birthday finds the two walking into town to spend his birthday money. The downside to taking the route into town is that they have to walk past Mrs. Dubose's house, a cantankerous, bitter old woman who lives at the end of the street. She never has anything good to say to anyone, but Atticus constantly tells the two of them to ignore her foul words and treat her with courtesy and respect. Normally they're able to do this, but today their patience is pushed thin when she starts insulting Atticus's decision to defend Tom Robinson. They wait until they're on their way back home from town and suddenly Jem starts destroying Mrs. Dubose's flowers with Scout's baton wand, chopping them viciously off the bush and scattering them across her yard. When Atticus comes home later that evening, he knows he's in for it worse than he's ever been. Atticus makes Jem go to her house and talk with her, and when Jem returns he says that she is making him read to her everyday for the next month. When Monday comes around, Scout goes with him to keep him company, and the days drag by. When she dies a month later, Atticus informs them that Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict who had decided she was not going to die addicted to the drug. Jem's afternoons of reading to her broke her from her addiction, and she was able to die in peace.
As summer begins Scout is crushed to discover that Dill will not be joining them. When Atticus has to go out of town for two weeks, Calpurnia decides that she will take them to church with her. Aside from one woman, Jem and Scout are welcomed into the African church with open arms and they're amazed to see how different it is from their own staid church service. They're also amazed to find out that the church collection is going to Helen Robinson, Tom's wife, and the Reverend is not letting anyone leave until they've collected $10, which is what she needs each week to support her kids. Purses are scraped and pockets searched, and finally everyone comes up with enough money and the doors are opened. They also find out that Tom is in jail because he's accused of raping Bob Ewell's daughter, Mayella (who is white), which is why the entire town is in an uproar over Atticus taking on the case. When they get back home from church, they find Aunt Alexandra on the front porch swing waiting for them.