To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

The novel opens with the narrator, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, relating that when her brother Jem was thirteen he broke his arm badly at the elbow. Scout withholds the exact cause of his accident, transitioning instead to her memories of the events leading up to Jem’s injury and their childhood in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s. Scout tells the story as an adult, but within the narrative she is a little girl who’s just six years old at the beginning of the novel and eight years old at the end. Scout has been thinking about the story ever since, and even though she and her brother disagree about where exactly the story begins, Scout takes it all the way back to General Andrew Jackson, whose war against the Creek Tribe led Scout’s ancestor, Simon Finch, to sail to Alabama, where he established a homestead, Finch’s Landing, and grew rich on slave labor. The Civil War altered the family’s fortunes, but still left them solidly upper middle class. Atticus became a lawyer, and his brother became a doctor.

Download To Kill a Mockingbird Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Scout introduces us to Maycomb, “a tired old town” where people shuffle around with nothing to do, and to Calpurnia, her family’s servant, an African American woman with a hand as “wide as a bed slat and twice as hard.” Calpurnia is the disciplinarian in their household, the female figure who picks up the slack left behind by Scout’s mother, who died when she was two. Scout doesn’t remember her mother, but Jem does, and this sometimes affects their relationship. In the summer, the Finch children are bounded by Mrs. Dubose’s house two doors to the north and by the Radley house three doors to the south when they’re outside playing. This suits them fine, and they spend most of their days playing together just the two of them, having no friends their age living within that radius. That is, until Dill arrives.

Charles Baker “Dill” Harris is from Meridian, Mississippi, and is visiting his Aunt Rachel for the summer. His arrival sparks renewed fascination with the Radley house and the stories circulating about it around Maycomb. According to one of them, Boo Radley, Mr. Radley’s son, was caught making trouble one night with his friends the Cunninghams when they locked Maycomb’s beadle in the courthouse outhouse. As punishment, Boo’s friends were sent to the state industrial school. Boo himself stayed home and hasn’t been seen since. Jem says that when Boo was thirty-three he plunged a pair of scissors into his father’s leg one day for no good reason. Mr. Radley had simply been walking by, and Boo stabbed him. When the police came, he was just sitting there, working on his scrapbook as if nothing had happened. This story scares the kids and makes them reluctant to pass the Radley house. Even after Mr. Radley dies and is replaced by Boo’s older brother, Mr. Nathan Radley, the kids fear the house enough to feel the need to run past it as fast as possible.

In fact, the kids are scared enough that when Dill dares Jem to touch the house, at first he doesn’t want to do it. Dill has to goad him into it, and even then, Jem does it at top speed, running up and slapping the side of the Radley house before sprinting back to his own porch. The kids think they see a shutter move inside the Radley house, but then everything goes still.


One example of this is "the grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square."


Andrew Jackson (1767 - 1845).  A prominent American general and statesman and the 7th President of the United States. In 1802 Jackson was elected the major general of the Tennessee militia, which he later led during the War of 1812. His service in the war brought him national fame and led to his presidential campaign in 1824, which he lost to John Quincy Adams in what’s known as the “corrupt bargain.” In 1828, he defeated Adams and was elected President. Scout refers to him at the beginning of the novel both to segue into her family’s history and to establish...

(The entire section is 1,937 words.)