Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a story about growing up in a tumultuous environment in the Depression-era South. It is told through the eyes of a first-person narrator, Scout, who is six-years-old for most of the story, but an adult at the time of the telling. Thus, in effect, every word of the story is filtered through two narrators: the young Scout and the adult Scout. The result is an often amusing, ironic viewpoint that comments on the perceptions of youth through the wisdom of age and experience.
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.
This line establishes the fact that Maycomb is not just a quaint old town. By using the word “tired” Scout is implying that Maycomb has become steeped in its ways and that it is going to need to find a way to change. We see this in the conflicts that develop over the trial of African American Tom Robinson. The same also happens to Jem and Scout over the course of the novel.
When I asked Jem what entailment was, and Jem described it as a condition of having your tail in a crack, I asked Atticus if Mr. Cunningham would ever pay us.
Here, Scout learns an important lesson about how to treat people. Atticus is willing to work for Mr. Cunningham without being paid in actual money. Cunningham gives him produce instead. Atticus is willing to do this because he understands why Cunningham cannot pay him in money. He knows that Cunningham is afflicted by difficult legal circumstances, including an entailment. This shows Scout the value of looking beyond surface circumstances to understand how and why people do what they do. This is central to the novel’s theme of trying to look at life through other peoples’ eyes in order to understand them better.
Jem’s colloquial definition contributes to the rural southern culture that pervades the entire novel.
First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.
Atticus makes this statement to Scout after she has a bad day at school. The teacher, Miss Caroline, is new and trying to implement modern teaching strategies, which is not working out well with Maycomb’s first graders. This statement more directly relates to the novel’s theme than the statement from chapter two above. Atticus will continue to try to get Jem and Scout to consider others’ viewpoints when making judgments about them.
As the summer progressed, so did our game. We polished and perfected it, added dialogue and plot until we had manufactured a small play upon which we rang changes every day.
Scout is talking about a show the kids are creating based on the Radleys who live next door. Throughout most of the story, the kids are obsessed with the Radleys, particularly Boo, about whom they have heard scary stories. Atticus repeatedly tells them to stop bothering the Radleys.
This part of the plot will continue to develop until the end of the story, when the elusive Boo saves Scout and Jem from the murderous Mr. Ewell. At that point, the kids are forced to recognize that they have been cruel to the Radleys, imposing their own views on the Radleys' lives and failing to be understanding of their circumstances (which ties into the quotes above from chapters two and three). This situation represents the learning process Scout and Jem go through as they have to look beyond their own superstitions and prejudices to find something more meaningful in life.