Jean Louise “Scout” Finch
Scout Finch is the protagonist and narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird, and the events of the story unfold through her recollections of growing up in the small town of Maycomb. When the novel opens, Scout is a precocious five-year-old excited to attend her first day of school. Her tumultuous first day illustrates some of her defining characteristics: an impressive intellect and curiosity, a hotheaded and tomboyish disposition, and an innate innocence and inner goodness. Scout’s personality is greatly shaped by the influence of her father, Atticus, whom she deeply respects and admires. Scout routinely defies the gender conventions of her small southern town and, much to the chagrin of her Aunt Alexandra, prefers to tag along on Jem and Dill’s escapades rather than pursue more ladylike activities. Scout’s naïveté and strong moral compass make her an astute observer of the injustice and hypocrisy in Maycomb, and (in part due to her childish innocence) she is one of the few characters that dares to openly confront it. Scout’s innate sense of optimism and justice is challenged by the racism and hatred she witnesses throughout Tom Robinson’s trial. With Atticus’s help, she is able to process the terrible events and realize that her fellow citizens are morally complex individuals who possess the capacity for both goodness and evil. By the end of the novel, eight-year-old Scout has grown not only physically but emotionally as well. She has gained some control over her temper and no longer views being a “lady” as synonymous with being weak. Ultimately, Scout learns to look past deceiving appearances and, like her father, employs empathy and compassion to find the good in those around her.
The widowed father of Scout and Jem, Atticus Finch forms the moral center of the novel. As a respected lawyer, Atticus uses his exalted position in the community to fight against injustice. His deep sense of fairness and empathy extends to his private life, where he teaches Scout and Jem the value of compassion for others. Atticus’s great influence over his children can be seen in Scout’s intelligence and Jem’s strong sense of justice. Atticus makes a point to treat those around him with dignity, even characters such as Calpurnia and Mayella Ewell, whom the rest of the town considers his social inferiors. This respectful attention is also extended to his children, who can always count on him for an honest and straightforward answer to their questions. Though Atticus may initially appear to be almost unrealistically perfect, he is not completely without flaws. He occasionally suffers from self-doubt, as shown when Aunt Alexandra questions his parenting of Scout. Atticus’s ability to find the good in others may also blind him to people with truly evil intentions, as is the case when he fails to take Bob Ewell’s threats seriously. Despite these minor failings, Atticus’s determination to defend Tom Robinson teaches Scout and Jem the importance of doing the right thing, even when the odds are stacked against you. It is Atticus’s unfailing belief in the innate goodness of humanity that allows Scout and Jem to emerge from the traumatic events in Maycomb with heightened compassion rather than cynicism.
Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch
Scout’s older brother, Jem Finch, is only nine years old when the novel opens. In temperament, he is more mature and thoughtful than his impulsive younger sister. Initially, Jem acts as both Scout’s playmate and mentor, often serving as a bridge between her and the adult world. As Jem is four years older than Scout, he has a more nuanced understanding of the prejudice and racism in Maycomb and, as a result, is more emotionally affected by it. Harper Lee uses Jem’s awakening to adulthood to mirror the townspeople's realization of their intolerance. As the novel progresses, Jem begins to retreat from the childish games that he and Scout used to enjoy, becoming moodier and more withdrawn. Despite his increasing worldliness, Jem’s intense admiration for his father combined with his strong belief in justice leads to his utter devastation at the outcome of Tom Robinson’s trial. Though Jem feels disillusioned with Maycomb in the aftermath of the trial, he still retains his inner goodness and bravely attempts to defend his little sister against Bob Ewell’s attack. By the end of the novel, Atticus is confident that Jem will eventually be able to move on from his disappointment in the trial and “be himself again.”
Calpurnia is the Finch family’s black housekeeper. A formidable female presence in the children’s lives, Calpurnia has helped to raise them since their mother’s untimely death. Though Scout often resents how strict Calpurnia is, the children clearly love her and see her as a maternal figure. Calpurnia serves as a bridge between the children and the black community in Maycomb, helping them see the effects of the Tom Robinson trial from a different perspective. Though Calpurnia makes an effort to bring the children into her world, she also helps them realize the differences between their own white world and the oppressed black community of Maycomb. Scout’s perspective is broadened when she hears Calpurnia speaking differently among members of her church, forcing Scout to acknowledge that Calpurnia has an entire life beyond the Finch family.
John Hale “Jack” Finch
Jack Finch is Atticus’s younger brother and is known to Scout and Jem as “Uncle Jack.” Atticus’s children love Jack, though he does not understand children quite as well as Atticus. Scout accuses Uncle Jack of being unfair when he punishes her for attacking Francis without hearing her out first. After talking with Atticus and Scout, however, Jack realizes that he should have listened to Scout and apologizes.
Aunt Alexandra is Atticus’s sister who comes to stay during the trial. She is the epitome of the “Southern Belle” and firmly adheres to traditional social hierarchies regarding class and race. She strongly opposes Atticus’s involvement in Tom Robinson’s trial and criticizes his parenting of Scout, who she feels is not being taught to act like a proper lady. Scout, meanwhile, finds Alexandra to be an overbearing and unpleasant addition to their household. Though Alexandra—like other citizens of Maycomb—is blinded by prejudice, she truly cares about her brother Atticus. When Alexandra is upset by the hypocrisy of her missionary circle and the death of Tom Robinson, she is determined not to let it show. Her strength leads Scout to the realization that being a “lady” takes courage and perseverance.
Charles Baker “Dill” Harris
Dill Harris is Scout and Jem’s imaginative young playmate who travels to Maycomb to stay with his aunt every summer. He is closest to Scout in age and temperament, and they share a playful childhood romance. Dill is adept at telling fantastic stories, which he often uses to cover up his insecurity over his family life. At one point, feeling unloved and ignored by his mother, Dill runs away to Maycomb and hides under Scout’s bed, demonstrating the depth of his attachment to the Finch family. Underneath his dramatic and outgoing personality, he is quite sensitive, as shown when he breaks down and cries after witnessing Mr. Gilmer’s disrespectful treatment of Tom Robinson during the trial.
Miss Maudie Atkinson
Miss Maudie is the children’s neighbor and adult confidante. She is one of the few white adults in the novel to share Atticus’s beliefs about prejudice and injustice. Miss Maudie is patient with the children and helps them make sense of the events unfolding around them. Her character imparts many key lessons to the Finch children, most notably by explaining why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. She also models perseverance and optimism for the children when after her house burns down, she flippantly tells them that she didn’t much care for it anyway.
Arthur “Boo” Radley
Reclusive and mysterious, Boo Radley is an important figure in the children’s lives. He has remained shut in his house while rumors about him have swirled around town for years. Scout, Jem, and Dill are captivated by the aura of danger and mystery surrounding Boo and eventually create the Boo Radley game in which they reenact what they believe to be his life story. Though the children are initially terrified of Boo, they begin to see him in a different light when he starts leaving them small gifts in the knothole of a tree on the Radley property. Miss Maudie eventually reveals that Boo was never an evil person but merely someone who has been greatly affected by his strict and overbearing family. At the end of the novel, it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell. Through their interactions with Boo, the children learn that they must challenge prejudice by approaching others with compassion. In the end, Scout realizes that Boo is a “mockingbird,” an innocent and well-meaning person who has been unjustly hurt by the world around him.
Nathan is Boo’s older brother who upsets the children when he fills in the knothole in his tree with cement, effectively ending their gifts from Boo.
Robert (Bob) Ewell
Bob Ewell is a poor, unemployed drunk who neglects and abuses his many children. When he discovers that his daughter Mayella favors Tom Robinson, he attacks her, leading Mayella to falsely accuse Tom of rape. Feeling humiliated after Tom Robinson's trial, Bob vows to get revenge on Atticus. He ambushes Scout and Jem with a knife after the Halloween pageant but is killed by Boo Radley before he can kill the children.
Bob Ewell’s daughter who accuses Tom Robinson of rape. Though Mayella’s immoral actions result in the conviction and death of an innocent man, she is also a pitiful character. During the trial, it becomes clear that she has lived a hard life of abuse and squalor at the hands of her cruel father. Despite her low social status and implausible accusation, most of the town considers a black man automatically guilty, illustrating the depth of racism in Maycomb.
An honest and hardworking black man who is unjustly accused of raping Mayella Ewell. Though Atticus proves that Tom could not have raped Mayella, the jury still convicts him due to their racial prejudice. Tom, like Boo Radley, is a “mockingbird,” an innocent person who has been unfairly harmed by society.
Walter Cunningham Sr.
The father of Scout’s classmate, Walter Cunningham leads a mob to the jailhouse with the intention of lynching Tom Robinson. Atticus confronts the lynch mob outside the jail, but they are only stopped when Scout runs out and begins chatting with Mr. Cunningham about his son. Scout’s innocence and goodness lead Walter to second guess his plan, and he tells the mob to disperse. Atticus later reveals that on the jury there was a Cunningham who wanted a full acquittal for Tom Robinson, demonstrating that people can change for the better.
Tom Robinson’s wife. She is harassed by Bob Ewell after the trial.
Tom Robinson’s employer who speaks out on Tom’s behalf during the trial. He gives Helen Robinson a job after the conviction of her husband.
Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose
An old, racist woman who lives near the Finches and often shouts abuse at Scout and Jem as they walk past. When Jem destroys her flowers, Atticus forces him to read to Mrs. Dubose every day. After she dies, Atticus explains to the children that she was struggling with a morphine addiction and had shown great courage by trying to fight it.
Heck is the sheriff of Maycomb and a good man. He agrees with Atticus to keep Boo’s role in Bob Ewell’s demise hidden in order to spare Boo the unwanted attention.
Mr. Dolphus Raymond
Dolphus Raymond is a white man who lives with a black mistress and several mixed-race children. Though the town believes him to be a drunk, he reveals to the children that he is only pretending to be a drunk because he believes that the townspeople would never understand his interracial relationship otherwise.
Mr. Braxton Bragg Underwood
Mr. Underwood is the local newspaper editor. Though he admittedly despises black people, he publishes a scathing article after Tom Robinson’s trial, criticizing the hypocrisy of Maycomb.