Scout, the novel's narrator, is a little girl just starting school when the novel opens. She and her older brother Jem live with their father, Atticus Finch, in what she calls "a tired old town" called Maycomb, in Alabama. The children's mother died when Scout was two. Although she does not remember her mother, Jem does. Atticus was quite a bit older than his wife, it is revealed throughout the novel, and the children are watched over and the household more or less kept in order by the family's cook, Calpurnia, a black woman who is more or less part of the family.
Atticus does his best with his children, and he is unarguably at his best when he is teaching about right and wrong, about justice, about conscience, and about trying to understand another person's point of view. He is also, being older, unable and/or unwilling to play football with the other dads, a sin Scout and Jem find nearly unforgiveable until the day they realize their father is a maybe the best marksman in Maycomb County--something he had never spoken of, and surely wouldn't have displayed until forced to shoot a rabid dog.
The three enjoy a good relationship overall, although Atticus is not one to put up with any nonsense. He makes Jem spend a great deal of time with the cranky neighborhood lady, Mrs. Dubose, after Jem tears up her camellia bushes, for example. When Scout acts out in a conflict with her cousin at Aunt Alexandra's at Christmastime, Atticus has no objection when his brother Jack is very stern with Scout, and on another occasion, Scout speaks disrespectfully to her Aunt Alexandra, Atticus is on his feet immediately demanding an apology.