Essential Quotes

Essential Passage by Character: Atticus Finch

Judge Taylor was saying something. His gavel was in his fist, but he wasn’t using it. Dimly, I saw Atticus pushing papers from the table into his briefcase. He snapped it shut, went to the court reporter and said something, nodded to Mr. Gilmer, and then went to Tom Robinson and whispered something to him. Atticus took his coat off the back of his chair and pulled it over his shoulder. Then he left the courtroom, but not by his usual exit. He must have wanted to go home the short way, because he walked quickly down the middle aisle toward the south exit. I followed the top of his head as he made his way to the door. He did not look up.

Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.

“Miss Jean Louise?”

I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Syke’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 21, p. 211 (Harper Perennial: New York)

In the trial of Tom Robinson for the rape of Mayella Ewell, Atticus was named as the public defender for Tom. An African American living in the black community of the outskirts of Maycomb, Alabama, Tom was accused of the crime by both Mayella, a nineteen-year-old white girl, and her father, Bob. The Ewells are considered as belonging to the “white trash” section of town. However, in 1930s Alabama, any accusation against a black man of taking liberties with a white woman was extremely serious. Judge Taylor, who would be trying the case, appointed Atticus as the public defender (as opposed to another, more junior lawyer who was usually assigned such cases) knowing how divisive this case would become. Delayed for several months, the trial was held during the summer months on 1935.

During the trial, the evidence clearly showed that Tom could not have committed the crime. The bruises attributed to Tom on the right side of Mayella’s face would have had to have been made by the attacker’s left hand. However, Tom’s left hand was crippled, due to a farming accident in his youth. Tom, in his defense, states that he regularly stopped at the Ewells to help Mayella since he “felt sorry for her,” as no members of her family seemed to help her at all. The prosecutor, jury, and audience seem shocked that a black man would think himself of such quality that he felt himself entitled to “feel sorry” for a white person.

Tom further relates that it was Mayella who attacked him, rather than the other way around. Bob Ewell,...

(The entire section is 1176 words.)

Essential Passage by Character: Scout Finch

Atticus sat down in the swing and crossed his legs. His fingers wandered to his watchpocket; he said that was the only way he could think. He waited in amiable silence, and I sought to reinforce my position: “You never went to school and you do all right, so I’ll just stay home too. You can teach me like Granddaddy taught you and Uncle Jack.”

“No I can’t,” said Atticus. “I have to make a living. Besides, they’d put me in jail if I kept you at home—dose of magnesia for you tonight and school tomorrow.”

“I’m feeling all right, really.”

“Thought so. Now what’s the matter?"

Bit by bit, I told him the day’s misfortunes. “—and she said you taught me all wrong, so we can’t ever read anymore, ever. Please don’t sent me back, please sir.”

Atticus stood up and walked to the end of the porch. When he completed his examination of the wisteria vine he strolled back to me.

“First of all,” he said, “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—“


“—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Atticus and I had learned many things today, and Miss Caroline had learned several things herself. She had learned not to hand something to a Cunningham, for one thing, but if Walter and I had put ourselves in her shoes we’d have seen it was an honest mistake on her part. We could not expect her to learn all Maycomb’s ways in one day, and we could not hold her responsible when she knew no better.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 3, pp. 29-30 (Harper Perennial: New York)

Scout’s first day of school was an event she had long anticipated with excitement. However, it was not quite what she had expected. Her teacher, Miss Caroline, is a brand-new arrival in Maycomb from the northern part of the state, where people are “different.” Bringing new methods such as the Dewey system (based on a child’s natural self-discovery), which Jem calls the “Dewey Decimal System” (confusing it with the library classification system), Miss Caroline is an unknown quantity.

At the beginning of the day, Miss Caroline discovers that Scout already knows how to read. After some questioning, she gets the mistaken impression that she was taught to read by her father. Scout, however, insists that she has not been taught by Atticus; in fact, she cannot remember exactly how she learned to read. She just learned. As the conversation devolves into an argument, Miss Caroline stubbornly insists that Scout tell her father to stop teaching her to read, as it is disrupting the methods Scout is learning at school.

All in all, Scout’s first day was one long series of misunderstandings. Miss Caroline does not understand that the Ewell children only show up on the first day to get their names on the role, and then they do not show up again for the rest of the year. When Miss Caroline attempts to give...

(The entire section is 1341 words.)

Essential Passage by Theme: Loss of Innocence

When he gave us our air-rifles Atticus wouldn’t teach us to shoot. Uncle Jack instructed us in the rudiments thereof; he said Atticus wasn’t interested in guns. Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

That’s the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

“Your father is right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 10, p. 90 (Harper Perennial: New York)

Jem and Scout lament that Atticus is old, as far as fathers in Maycomb go. Plus, he does not do anything that the other children’s fathers do. He does not have an interesting job, for instance; he only sits in an office all day. He does not play football or any sports. He wears glasses and does not seem to participate in any of the “fun” entertainments in the community. Their Uncle Jack, however, is different. For Christmas, Uncle Jack (Atticus’s younger brother) had given Jem and Scout air rifles, a present that Atticus looks at with some trepidation. He allows the children to keep them, yet he himself would have nothing to do with them and refused to teach Jem and Scout to shoot. It is left to Uncle Jack to show them the basic skills of shooting. Bowing to the inevitable, however, Atticus merely tells the children, Jem especially, that he would rather they shoot at tin cans in the back yard. However, knowing that they will also shoot at birds, he urges them to shoot at blue jays but not at mockingbirds, since it is “a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Because it was unusual for Atticus to talk about “sin,” Scout asks their neighbor, Miss Maudie, about it. Miss Maudie is in total agreement with Atticus.

In this passage, the phrase used as the title of the novel is introduced. The peaceful innocence of the mockingbirds becomes a major symbol that occurs throughout the novel for many of the characters, and it is used to explore the ways in which each character faces the ugliness of the world.

One of the “mockingbirds” is Dill. Trying to escape from the conflict of his parents’ broken marriage, Dill has come to Maycomb and befriended Jem and Scout. Through the succession of three summers, Dill enlivens the play of the children with his wild...

(The entire section is 1165 words.)

Essential Passage by Theme: Racism

I was playing in it with the spoon. “I thought Mr. Cunningham was a friend of ours. You told me a long time ago he was.”

“He still is.”

“But last night he wanted to hurt you.”

Atticus placed his fork beside his knife and pushed his plate aside. “Mr. Cunningham is basically a good man,” he said, “he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us.”

Jem spoke. “Don’t call that a blind spot. He’da killed you last night when he first went there.”

“He might have hurt me a little,” Atticus conceded, “but son, you’ll understand folks a little better when you’re older. A mob’s always made up...

(The entire section is 1285 words.)