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To Kill A Mocking Bird

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The author

Nelle Harper Lee was born in1926 in the small southwestern Alabama town of Monroeville. She is the youngest of four children of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Finch Lee. Harper Lee attended Huntingdon College 1944-45, studied law at University of Alabama 1945-49, and studied one year at Oxford University. In the 1950s she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines in New York City. In order to concentrate on writing Harper Lee gave up her position and moved into a cold-water apartment with makeshift furniture. Lee published her first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, in 1960, after a two-year period of revising and rewriting. To Kill a Mockingbird won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, despite mixed critical reviews. The novel was highly popular, selling more than fifteen million copies. Though she delved into her own experiences as a child in Monroeville, Lee intended for the book to impart the sense of any small Deep South town and the universal characteristics of people everywhere. The book was made into a successful movie in 1962 .

Lee was named to the National Council of Arts in June of 1966 by President Johnson, and has received numerous honorary doctorates since then. She continues to live in New York and Monroeville but prefers to live a relatively private existence, granting few interviews or and giving few speeches. She has published only a few short essays since her publishing debut ("Love--In Other Words", 1961; "Christmas to Me", 1961; and "When Children Discover America", 1965).

Short Summary

The story of To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in Alabama in the Depression, and is narrated by the main character, a little girl named Scout Finch. Her father, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer with high moral standards. She and her brother, Jem, and their friend Dill are intrigued by the local rumors about a man named Boo Radley who lives in their neighborhood but never sets foot from his house. Legend has it that he once stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors, and he is made out to be a kind of monster.

The children are curious to know more about Boo, and create a mini-drama to enact which tells the events of his life as they know them. They slowly begin moving closer to the house itself, which is said to be haunted. They try leaving notes for Boo on his windowsill, but are caught by Atticus, who firmly reprimands them. Then they try sneaking to the house at night and looking through its windows. However, Boo's brother thinks he hears a prowler and begins firing his gun. The children get away, though Jem loses his pants in a gate. When he returns, his ripped pants have been folded and roughly sewn up.

Other mysterious things happen to the Finch children. A tree near the Radley house has a hole in which little presents are often left for them, such as pennies and chewing gum. When they leave a note for the giver of these gifts, Boo's brother plugs up the hole the next day with cement. The next winter brings unexpected cold and snows, and the house of the kind neighbor Miss Maudie catches on fire. While Jem and Scout, shivering, watch the blaze from near the Radley house, someone puts a blanket around Scout. She doesn't realize until afterwards that Boo Radley must have been the one to do this.

Atticus decides to take on a case involving a black man named Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping a very poor white girl named Mayella Ewell, a member of the notorious Ewell family, who belong to the layer of Maycomb society that people refer to as "trash." The Finches all face harsh criticism in racist Maycomb because of Atticus's decision to defend Tom, but Atticus insists upon going through with the case because his conscience /kan'shn/ could not let him do otherwise. He knows that Tom has almost no chance, because the white jury will never believe his story, but he wants to reveal the truth of what happened to his fellow townspeople as well as expose their bigotry.

Scout and Jem find themselves whispered at and taunted, and they couldn't keep their tempers. At a family Chirstmas gathering, Scout beats up her relative Francis when he accuses Atticus of ruining the family name. Jem cuts off the tops of an old neighbor's flower bushes after she derides Atticus, and then as punishment he has to read out loud to her every day while she breaks her morphine addiction. Atticus holds this old woman up as an example of true courage: the will to keep fighting even when you know you can't win.

The time for the trial draws closer. The night before the trial, Tom is moved into the county jail, and Atticus, fearing a possible lynching, stands guard outside the jail door all night. Jem is concerned about him, and the three children sneak into town to find him. A group of men arrives ready to cause some violence to Tom, but Scout runs out and begins to speak to one of the men, the father of one of her classmates in school. Her innocence pesuaded them to leave.

The trial pits the evidence of the white Ewells against Tom's evidence. According to the Ewells, Mayella asked Tom to do some work for her while her father was out, and Tom came into their house and forcibly beat and raped her until her father appeared and scared him away. Tom says that Mayella invited him inside, then threw her arms around him and began to kiss him. When her father arrived, he flew into a rage and beat her, while Tom ran away in fright. According to the sheriff's testimony, Mayella's bruises were on the right side of her face. Tom Robinson's left arm is useless due to an old accident, whereas Mr. Ewell leads with his left. Given the evidence, Tom should go free, but after hours of deliberation, the jury pronounces him guilty.

Though the verdict is unfortunate, Atticus feels some satisfaction that the jury took so long to decide. Usually the decision would be made in minutes, because a black man's word would not be trusted. Atticus is hoping for an appeal, but unfortunately Tom tries to escape from his prison and is shot to death. Jem has trouble handling the results of the trial, feeling that his trust in the goodness and rationality of humanity has been betrayed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ewell has been threatening Atticus and other people connected with the trial because he feels he was humiliated. He gets his revenge one night while Jem and Scout are walking home from Halloween play at their school. He follows them home in the dark, then runs at them and attempts to kill them. Jem breaks his arm, and Scout, who wearing a confining costume, is helpless throughout the attack. However, the elusive Boo Radley stabs Mr. Ewell and saves them. Scout finally has a chance to meet the shy and nervous Boo. The sheriff

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