Chapter one begins with an introduction to the Finch family and their history. Scout, who is six years old, describes the setting of her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama in the midst of the Depression. Jem, Scout, and Dill play all summer long and begin to wonder about the mysterious Radley residence, along with the phantom figure “Boo Radley” who is never seen. The new school year begins in Chapter 2, and Scout recounts her negative experiences in Miss Caroline’s class. In Chapter 3, Walter Cunningham is invited over to the Finches for a meal, and Scout learns to not judge people after inappropriately commenting on Walter’s eating habits. Later on, Burris Ewell gets kicked out of class and Atticus teaches Scout about compromise after she tells him she doesn’t want to go to school anymore.
Throughout Chapter 4, Jem and Scout start to find “gifts” in the knot-hole of a tree in the front yard of the Radley house, but don’t know who they are from. During the summer, Dill comes back to Maycomb to play with Jem and Scout. The three invent a new game about Boo Radley that incorporates all the gossip stories they’ve heard about him. In Chapter 5, Scout finds herself excluded from Jem and Dill’s activities, and sits with her neighbor Miss Maudie Atkinson who tells her the truth about Boo Radley. Jem, Dill, and Scout write a letter to Boo asking him to come outside, but end up getting caught by Atticus who tells them to leave Boo alone. In Chapter 6, the children decide to sneak over to the Radley place to peek in their windows. After seeing a shadow in the window, the children run away and Jem loses his pants in the fence. Later that night, Jem creeps over to retrieve his pants from Radley’s yard and returns home with his pants.
A new school year starts in Chapter 7, and Jem discloses to Scout that his pants were sewed and folded that night he went back to retrieve them. Jem and Scout find a ball of twine, two soap figurines, one package of chewing gum, a spelling bee medal, a broken pocket watch, and an aluminum knife in the knot-hole. After they write a thank you letter, they are disturbed to find that the knot-hole has been plugged with cement. In Chapter 8, it is winter in Maycomb County and Miss Maudie’s house catches on fire. As Jem and Scout watch the flames while standing in the Radley’s yard, Boo slips a blanket over them without the two ever knowing. Chapter 9 begins with Scout fighting a boy named Cecil Jacobs at school for insulting Atticus. Atticus explains that he has decided to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, and tells Scout to fight with her head, and not her hands. Jem and Scout visit Finch Landing where Scout ends up fighting Francis after he insults Atticus, and she tells Uncle Jack not to tell Atticus the cause of the fight.
Scout is ashamed of her father at the beginning of Chapter 10 because she thinks he can’t do anything physical or skillful like her friend’s parents. Both Scout and Jem are shocked to find out their father is a skilled marksman after he shoots a rabid dog named Tim Johnson. In Chapter 11, Jem and Scout are verbally assaulted by the racist Mrs. Dubose, who calls their father a “nigger lover.” Jem is so upset that he takes Scout’s new baton and cuts off the tops of Mrs. Dubose’s camellia bushes in a fit of anger. Atticus makes Jem read to her every day for a month and week until she suddenly dies. The children find out Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict and their reading helped her kick the habit. In Chapter 12, Atticus leaves for Birmingham and Calpurnia takes the children to her church. They are exposed to the differences between black and white cultures after attending Calpurnia’s black church. They find out many interesting facts about Calpurnia, along with the reason Tom Robinson is on trial.
In Chapter 13, Aunt Alexandra moves into the Finch household and exposes the children to their family heritage and Maycomb’s history. In Chapter 14, Alexandra attempts to get Calpurnia fired, and Dill runs away from his “new home” to stay at the Finches. In Chapter 15, with Tom Robinson’s trial nearing, Atticus goes to the county jail and sits outside Robinson’s cell to make sure nothing happens to him. Jem, Scout, and Dill leave the house against Atticus’s instruction and go to the jail. After a shady group of men try intimidating Atticus, Jem and Scout refuse to leave, and eventually the group of men leaves.