To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the rural Alabama town of Maycomb. The story’s narrator is a young girl nicknamed Scout who is just beginning school. Scout has a brother, Jem, who is several years older, and a father, Atticus. These are the three main characters in the story.
It is essentially a “growing-up” story, as Scout and Jem begin to learn the ways of the world. These “ways” are heavily influenced by the setting, as Maycomb is a town still steeped in the racism and ignorance of the old South.
As Scout and Jem struggle to understand things, especially their scary neighbor Boo Radley, Atticus is on hand to explain life to them as best he can, and to try to direct their behavior in an ethically appropriate manner.
The conflicts intensify when Atticus is appointed to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, in the rape trial of a white woman, Mayella Ewell. The second of half of the story largely concerns itself with the trial and the how it splits the town. Many people show their racist hatred for Robinson and also for Atticus for defending him, while some courageously stand by them both. For Scout and Jem it is difficult to understand why their father is the object of such hatred.
When Robinson is found guilty, Atticus urges him to keep his spirits up for an appeal. But Robinson is shot and killed when he allegedly attempts to escape from custody.
Finally, Jem and Scout are attacked one night on their way home from a school program. The attacker is Bob Ewell, the hateful, racist father of Mayella. During the attack, the children are saved when Ewell is killed by Boo Radley. Boo, who had been the object of the children’s endless gossiping and wild imaginings (they considered him to be some kind mysterious monster), becomes their savior and helps them realize that all people need understanding. They have learned to look at things through the eyes of others, a lesson Atticus struggled to teach them throughout the story.