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Plot summary of the novel: chapter-by-chapter

By Harper Lee Release Year: 1960

Part I

Chapter 1

   Scout Finch narrates the story in this chapter. She tells of her family’s history with the aim to explain how her brother Jem broke his arm. Through Scout, the history of the Finch family becomes apparent. Her ancestors came to America after fleeing religious oppression in England. They set up a successful farm that has been sustaining them for a long time. Atticus, Scout’s father, and his siblings all make the best out their lives through the farm. Atticus becomes a lawyer, his brother Jack goes to medical school, and his sister Alexandra remains as the farm’s manager. Atticus’s legal career sees him give his children Scout and Jem a considerably comfortable life. Scout’s and Jem’s mother died when they were babies. They are raised with the help of their black housekeeper Calpurnia. Scout and Jem make friends with Dill who lives in their neighborhood during summer. They decide to lure Boo out of his house in Bradley Place because he hardly ventures outside. Through Scout, we learn that Boo got into a lot of trouble with the law when he was a boy. The reason he rarely ventured outside is because his father decided to imprison him in the house to punish him for the trouble he got into with the law.


Chapter 2

   As summer ends in September, Dill leaves Maycomb and returns home.  Scout joins a school for the very first time. Even though she was eager to join the school, she ends up hating it because she feels that her teacher Miss Caroline does not deal with students well.Miss Caroline feels that Scout knows how to read because Atticus taught her. This does not go down well with her and she makes Scout feel uncomfortable for the education she received. When Scout raises this concern to Jem, he tells her that the teacher could simply be trying a new way of teaching. This further complicates the relationship between Scout and Miss Caroline. When a boy in Scout’s class named Walter Cunningham cannot afford to buy lunch, Miss Caroline lends him a quarter to buy lunch and expects it to be paid back the next day. Scout knows that William cannot afford to pay back the quarter because he comes from a very poor family. In fact, when Walter’s family needs legal help from Atticus, they use non-monetary means of payment such as turnip greens and hickory nuts to pay for the services. Scout knows these facts and even tries to explain them to Miss Caroline, which only infuriates her more.


Chapter 3

   Jem invites Walter to Lunch at the Finch’s house after Scout reprimands him for getting her in trouble. Atticus discusses farm conditions with Walter like two men would do. Walter is not used to the lifestyle he sees at the Finch’s and ends up putting Molasses in his food. Scout criticizes him for this but is reprimanded by their cook Calpurnia for doing so. While at school, a bug comes out of Burris Ewell, a boy from a very poor clan. This terrifies Miss Caroline. Burris is only known to attend school on the first day to avoid getting in trouble with the law. When he leaves class after the incident, the remarks he makes lead the teacher to cry. Atticus finds out that Scout no longer wants to go to school and wants to be taught from home by him.

Chapter 4

   As Scout continues with school, she realizes that the curriculum is too slow for her. This deeply frustrates her. On her way home, she passes by the Radley Place and finds chewing gum left as a gift in the knothole. Jem becomes terrified about the knothole incident but the gifts keep coming as they later find two pennies hidden in the same knothole. When school ends at the beginning of summer, Dill returns to Maycomb. Their games get reignited and they begin acting out the drama in Radley’s family. When the children are caught by Atticus, they lie about the origin of their games and question whether they should continue playing it or not.

Chapter 5

   Scout feels isolated from Jem and Dill’s relationship, which becomes stronger. This makes her spend more time with her neighbors such as Maudie Atkinson. Scout learns from Maudie Atkinson that Boo Radley has not yet died as many people assume. She feels that Boo is a victim of being raised by a harsh father who thought that many people would be going to hell. Maudie Atkinson further reveals that as a child, Boo was an approachable and well-mannered boy and that the stories being spread about him are completely untrue. This makes Jem and Dill plan to give Boo and ice cream invitation with them. They do this through a note that they try to stick through the window but are busted by Atticus who asks them to stop disturbing Boo.

Chapter 6

   Dill and Jim sneak into Radley Place and creep around peeping through the windows in the company of Scout. The drama unfolds when they see the shadow of a man and escape. Gunshots erupt behind them as they escape, forcing Jem to leave his pants that were caught in the fence in order to flee. After returning home, they find adults gossiping. According to Nathan Radley, the gunshots that were heard were because Nathan Radley was shooting at a Negro. Dill protects Jem when Atticus asks where his pants are. He says that Jem lost his pants in a game of strip poker.

Chapter 7

   After school begins, Jem realizes that his pants had been mended and placed over the fence. They keep finding gifts in the knothole and claim it after a few days when no one picks it. Scout continues being disillusioned by the school but is convinced by Jem that it may get better with time. Gifts continue to be placed at the knothole for the kids. After a while, the knothole gets filled with cement. When Jem asks about the cement, Radley responds that he did so because the tree was weathering out.

Chapter 8

   Maycomb finally experiences a winter after a very long time. Jem and Scout make a snowman that resembles Avery, a man they consider very unpleasant. The snow is collected from Maudie’s yard since they do not have enough on their own yard. Atticus asks them to disfigure it because it is rather obvious that the snowman resembles Avery. Maudie’s house catches fire and burns to the ground. During the whole drama, a blanket is mysteriously placed on Scout, forcing her to reveal the gifts they have been receiving from the knothole. This forces Atticus to warn them to avoid going to the Radley Place and keep to themselves, as it could be dangerous. Surprisingly, Maudie is happy that her old home was burnt down and she confesses that she hated it. She even reveals her plans to build a new one.

Chapter 9

   Things continue to get tough for Scout as she is mocked by her classmate called Cecil Jacobs who says that Scout’s father is a traitor because he defends niggers. Atticus feels that he needs to protect Tom Robinson so that justice and self-respect can prevail in society. Jack, Atticus’s brother, visits them during Christmas and warns Scout about her new habit of cursing. Things get worse as Francis refers to Atticus as a “nigger-lover.” This leads to a fight between Scout and Francis. Jack spanks Scout without knowing what happens and is later furious when he finds out why Scout beat Francis up after they return to Maycomb.

Chapter 10

   Scout and Jem feel that Atticus is an embarrassment to them because he is not like other fathers. They feel that other fathers do cool things like hunting and fishing yet their father Atticus is an old man who just sits and reads. The appearance of a mad dog leads Atticus to shoot it from quite a distance with the first shot, to the amazement of his children. Scout and Jem later learn that their father was one of the best shots in the county, something that Scout wants to brag about but Jem does not because Atticus had not told them about it.

Chapter 11

   Atticus asks Jem to behave like a gentleman when they pass by the house of Mrs. Dubose who yells at Scout and Jem. He says they should excuse her because she is an old and sick lady. One day Mrs. Dubose tells Jem and Scout that their father is worse that the niggers he works for, making Jem lose it and destroy all her flower gardens. Jem is given a month long punishment to be going to read to her at the house. Scout always takes him there and they endure each day until the old lady eventually dies before the punishment ends.


Part II

 Chapter 12

   The book summary continues with Scout who begins to feel lonely when Jem hits his teenage years and asks her to behave like a girl and stop following him around. Scout anticipates that Dill will come during summer to spend time with her, but he does not show up because he has to spend time with his new father. Scout feels worse when his father has to travel everyday for work. When Calpurnia decided to take the children to a black church, she is criticized by one woman for taking white children to a black church but the rest of the congregation is generally friendly.

Chapter 13

   Aunt Alexandra feels that she should stay with Jem and Scout for a while to act as a mother figure. She is accepted by the town and soon becomes friends with the town’s ladies. They visit each other frequently and bring her cakes. She is proud of the Finch family, leading her to discuss other families with questionable characteristics. Scout and Jem do not share in this pride, prompting Aunt Alexandra to ask Atticus to teach them about their ancestry so that they can have pride in their family and where they come from. This does not go down well with the children, leading Scout to cry.

Chapter 14

   Scout and Jem continue to experience trouble when people continue to whisper about their father’s involvement in protecting black people. The matter of Calpurnia’s church emerges one day when Scout ask his father to explain what rape is. Alexandra gets mad and asks Atticus to chase Calpurnia away, a matter which Atticus refuses. Jem asks Scout not to bother Alexandra, leading to a fight that has them sent to bed by their father. They discover Dill hiding under Scout’s bed because he has run away from home since he feels ignored.

Chapter 15

   As Tom Robinson’s trial approaches, fears of a lynch emerge, forcing the sheriff to hold a meeting with other men at Atticus’s house over the matter. Scout learns from Jem about how their father and aunt have been arguing about the trial, with Alexandra accusing Atticus of disgracing their family. Atticus drives into town and parks near the jail house. Four cars come and park near him and some men emerge from the cars asking Atticus to leave the area. Scout intervenes by rushing to the scene and is followed by Jem and Dill. They are asked to go back home by Atticus but refuse. Atticus later takes all the children home.

Chapter 16

   When the trial begins, a lot of people make their way to the courtroom to follow the proceedings. As the crowd hits the town to eat lunch, Dill, Scout, and Jem wait for them to return to the courtroom so that they can sneak in behind them because they do not want Atticus to notice them there. They took the seats reserved for colored people and the case proceeds.


   Essential to the plot summary is the fact that when Sheriff Tate is questioned as a witness to the rape, it emerges that no doctor was called in to ascertain that Mayella had been raped and the bruises were mostly on the right side of her face. Bob Ewell, Mayella’s father, testifies that he heard his daughter yelling and saw Tom Robinson raping her when he rushed to check. Asked why he did not call a doctor, he claimed it was expensive and he did not see the need. The jury determined that he was left-handed and suspected that he might have caused the injuries on the right side of Mayella’s face.


   When Mayella takes the stand, she confesses that she called Robinson to help her mend a dress and says that she was raped at that time. Further cross-examination from Atticus reveals that there is more than meets the eye because Robinson’s left hand was useless since he was hurt as a child. The questions infuriate Mayella who shouts that if Robinson would be convicted, the courtroom must be full of cowards.


   Tom confesses that Mayella had been calling her several times when he passed by their house to help her with chores. That day, Mayella called him to fix the door, but Tom noticed that the door was okay and Mayella was all alone. As Tom was helping her, Mayella asked him to kiss her. Her father noticed it and called her a whore and threatening her. At this point, Tom fled. Tom’s employer stood up and shouted that he had never had any trouble with him for the eight years Tom worked for him. He is thrown out for interrupting the court.

Chapter 20

        Mr. Dill tells the children that he pretends to be drunk to avoid explaining his positions on white people because he prefers blacks to whites. Atticus reveals to the court that no tangible evidence had been provided to pin Tom to rape. In fact, no medical doctor was called in to ascertain the charges. Also, the fact that Mayella was bruised on her right side pins Bob and not Tom to the injuries.

Chapter 21

   Calpurnia comes to court and tells Atticus that the children have been away. Mr. Underwood spots them and Atticus tells them to go back home, but they plead to hear the verdict before going home. They are taken home by Calpurnia, eat their supper, and return to the courtroom. The jury delivers a guilty verdict against Tom.

Chapter 22

   The verdict affects Jem who cries over the injustice. The black community brings a lot of food to the Finch’s house the next day because of Atticus’s effort. Jem now begins to look at the people of Maycomb differently and considers them to be inhuman. Jem learns that Ewell had accosted Atticus, spat on him and threatened him.

Chapter 23

   Atticus is not worried about Ewell’s threats and tells his children that Ewell simply felt bad for being embarrassed. However, the children and their aunt Alexandra remain worried. Tom is in another prison as his appeal progresses. Atticus reveals to his children that if his appeal fails, he will be killed. Jem and Scout discuss and question this punishment.

Chapter 24

   Alexandra invites her missionary friends to the house and they began discussions about the tribulations of blacks. Atticus returns and calls Alexandra, Calpurnia, and Scout to the kitchen, informing them that Tom had been shot seventeen times while trying to escape. Alexandra does not understand how Atticus continues to disgrace himself in the quest for justice. They return to their meeting and pretend that nothing is wrong.

Chapter 25

   Jem asks Scout not to kill a bug on the porch and explains that the bug had not harmed Scout in any way. Scout feels that Jem has begun acting more like a girl than her. Tom’s death sparks different reactions from Maycomb. Underwood feels that his death was uncalled for because he was innocent while Ewell is happy about it.

Chapter 26

   Jem and Scout return to school, passing by the Radley place daily. They are no longer afraid, but Scout hopes to see Boo one day. Scout’s teacher talks about Hitler’s bad deeds to the Jews, forcing Scout to ask Jem how the teacher could make such remarks when she supported what had been done to Tom.

Chapter 27

   Ewell gets a job and blames Atticus after he loses it within a few days. Judge Taylor notices a shadow disappearing from his home after he heard some noises and went to investigate. Ewell starts to follow Helen Robinson to work every day from a distance and is warned by Deas.

Chapter 28

   Scout falls asleep before getting into the pageant, misses her entrance, and is accused of ruining it. This embarrasses her and they leave for home. They get attacked on their way home by an unknown assailant. They are shaken but safe, even though Jem is hurt. On getting home, Sheriff Tate is informed about the incident by Atticus and Dr. Reynolds is called in to tend to Jem. Tate later reveals that Bob Ewell had died.

Chapter 29

   Scout reveals the story as it unfolded. She is shown the costume by Tate with the knife marks and critically looks at the man in the corner for the first time then realizes it is Boo.

Chapter 30

   Scout and Boo go to the porch and listen to Tate and Atticus argue. Tate wants the death to be called an accident, but Atticus thinks that Jem killed Bob Ewell and does not want him to face the law. Tate points out that Jem did not kill Ewell because he fell on his knife. Heck wants to make the matter disappear, knowing very well that it was Boo who killed Ewell. He felt it was a way of avenging Tom’s death because he died for no reason.

Chapter 31

   Boo is taken upstairs by Scout to bid farewell to Jem who is recovering in his room. Scout later escorts Boo to his house and never sees him again. On getting home, she finds their father in Jem’s room. Atticus reads her a story from Jem’s book and Scout falls asleep.

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