How does the first chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird help you to understand the important themes and issues that will be explored later in the novel?

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pirateteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 1 ofTo Kill a Mockingbird, we meet young Jean Louise Finch, known as Scout.  While she is only six years old in the story, we see that she is telling the story as an extended flashback as she is now an adult.  She begins her story setting the scene.  This both sets up the flashback carried throughout the story and hints that at some point in it Jem is going to break his arm- badly.

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” She then states that, “When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to the accident.

Young Scout uses this first chapter to introduce the reader to the important people in her life.  Her father, Atticus, her brother Jem, her neighbor Miss Rachel Haverford who's nephew Dill is visiting for the summer, Calpurnia her family's maid, and the Radley's house.

Scout explains to the reader (and to Dill) about the Radley house.  With a certain mystery that surrounds the family, the family and its house is a source of speculation and discussion for the children.  She tells that Mr. Radley was described by a neighbor as beings “so upright he took the word of God as his only law. . . .” As a teenager, his son, Boo, got into trouble and was arrested.  Though it was a minor indiscretion, Mr. Radley punished him by locking him in the house.  According to town gossip, Boo wasn't seen again until the day he stabbed his father with a pair of scissors.  Mr. Radley had the sheriff arrest him, but once he was released from prison, he was returned to the confines of his house. Since then Mr Radley has passed away and his other son, Nathan, has taken on the role of guard to Boo.

This becomes an important issue as Dill grows fascinated with the story and makes it his goal to pull Boo out of the house during the summer. With nothing better to do, the three spend the hot days of summer planning ways to draw him out of the house.  We soon learn that these innocent games will set the foundation of events that lead to Jem's broken arm.

Atticus does not like the children's games and tells them to leave the Radley's alone.  He warns the children that people find ways "of making people into ghosts.”  Of course they do not understand his lesson, but it begins another theme to carry through the book.  We well see characters who do not fit in to the accepted view of society being pushed aside throughout the story.  These people become "ghosts" to the town.  This idea of ghosts and supernatural beings is introduced in this chapter and then again carried throughout.

Scout also introduces the dichotomy between races in this first chapter.  As the novel continues, this will develop and move

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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