Last Updated on July 3, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1239
Scout, Jem, and Dill Become Obsessed With Boo Radley (Chapter 1): Six-year-old Jean Louise Finch, who goes by the nickname Scout, lives with her brother Jem and their father Atticus in the rural town of Maycomb, Alabama. Most of Maycomb’s residents have been hit hard by the Great Depression, but Atticus is a successful lawyer and manages to avoid financial turmoil. One summer, an eccentric boy named Charles “Dill” Baker Harris moves to Maycomb and befriends Scout and Jem. They quickly become fascinated with the mysterious Arthur “Boo” Radley, who has not left his home in 15 years. On a dare, Jem runs onto the Radley property and touches the house. No one emerges, but Scout believes she saw a shutter move as if someone were peering out.
Mysterious Gifts Begin Appearing (Chapters 2–5): Fall arrives and Dill leaves Maycomb. Scout begins school for the first time and hates it because she is bored and does not get along with her teacher. As summer approaches again, she finds two pieces of chewing gum in the knothole of an oak tree on the Radley property. She is suspicious, but decides to chew both pieces. On the last day of school, she and Jem find two old “Indian-head” pennies in the knothole. Their fascination with Boo Radley intensifies when Dill returns for the summer. The children invent a game in which each of them pretends to be a member of the Radley family. However, Scout feels left out as Jem and Dill become closer. She begins spending time with the Finches’ neighbor, Miss Maudie, who is a widow with a talent for gardening and cake-baking. Miss Maudie tells Scout that Boo Radley is still alive and that he does not deserve his reputation. Meanwhile, Jem and Dill decide to invite Boo to go out for ice cream by attempting to deliver a note through his window. Atticus catches them and orders the children to end their games and leave Boo alone.
Nathan Radley Shoots at Scout, Jem, and Dill (Chapters 6–7): On Dill’s last night in Maycomb, he and Scout and Jem try to spy on Boo Radley. They sneak up to the Radley house and try to peer through a loose shutter. Suddenly, they hear a gun fire. They run away, but Jem’s pants get caught on the fence, and he has to remove them in order to escape. They later learn that the gunfire came from Nathan Radley, Boo’s brother. He thought there was “a Negro” trespassing in his yard. The next morning, Jem returns to retrieve his pants. He is shocked to find them mended and neatly folded on the Radleys’ fence. School resumes and Scout and Jem find more gifts in the oak tree knothole, but Nathan Radley soon fills the knothole with cement. He says the tree is dying.
Miss Maudie’s House Burns Down (Chapter 8): Maycomb experiences its first real winter in years, and Jem and Scout build a snowman. That night, Miss Maudie’s house catches on fire. The neighbors help save some of her furniture, but her house burns to the ground. During the chaos, someone drapes a blanket over Scout’s shoulders. Jem is convinced that it was Boo Radley, so he tells Atticus about the presents and mended pants. Atticus advises him to not tell anyone else. However, Miss Maudie finds out and says she wishes she had seen Boo put the blanket on Scout.
Atticus Agrees to Represent Tom Robinson (Chapters 9–11): The novel’s plot shifts away from Scout’s childhood story after Miss Maudie’s house burns down. Atticus accepts a controversial case in which he must defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a white woman. The townsfolk, including Scout’s and Jem’s classmates, are intensely critical of Atticus. He forbids Scout and Jem from fighting anyone on his behalf. However, both children eventually lash out when their father’s character is repeatedly denigrated.
Scout and Jem Go to Calpurnia’s Church (Chapters 12–13): The plot rapidly shifts as the adult world begins to encroach on Scout’s childhood. Jem, who is approaching adolescence, no longer wants to spend as much time with Scout and urges her to act more like a girl. Furthermore, Dill cannot return to Maycomb and Atticus is busy in Alabama’s capital because the state legislature has been called into session. Calpurnia, the Finches’ African American maid, takes Scout and Jem to her all-black church. For the first time, Scout and Jem—along with readers—receive an insider glimpse of Maycomb’s black community, which is overwhelmingly kind and welcoming.
A Lynch Mob Almost Kills Tom Robinson Before His Trial (Chapters 14–19): As Tom Robinson’s trial approaches, Atticus’s sister, Alexandra, moves in with Scout and Jem. Alexandra, whose racism and oppressiveness seem to represent Maycomb’s bigoted white community, highly disapproves of Atticus's representing a black man. Atticus believes Tom Robinson is innocent, however, and wants to help him. On the night before the trial, when Tom is being transported to the local jail, a lynch mob forms. Atticus confronts the mob, and Jem and Scout join him. Scout recognizes one of the men and asks him to tell his son “hey” for her. The man is suddenly ashamed and orders the mob to stop. The next day, the trial begins.
Tom Robinson Is Convicted and Killed (Chapters 20–27): Atticus provides strong evidence that Tom Robinson is innocent and his racist accusers, the abusive Bob Ewell and his daughter Mayella, are lying. In reality, Bob caught Mayella as she was propositioning Tom and beat her. To conceal her shame, Mayella falsely accused Tom of raping her. Nevertheless, the all-white jury finds Tom guilty, and if he is found guilty after the appeals process, he will be executed. Scout and Jem, who watched the trial in the “colored balcony” with Maycomb’s black citizens, are horrified. Jem loses all faith in the goodness of the town’s predominantly white community. Soon after, Tom attempts to escape before being transferred to a jail seventy miles away and is shot to death.
Boo Radley Saves Scout and Jem (Chapters 28–29): Despite Tom Robinson’s conviction and death, Bob Ewell vows to get revenge on Atticus and the judge because he feels like they made a fool out of him. He spits on Atticus, breaks into the judge’s house, and harasses Tom’s widow. One night, Jem and Scout attend a Halloween party and a play that are being hosted at their school. Bob Ewell attacks them on the street, wounding Jem in the process. Suddenly, a strange man appears, saves Jem and Scout, and fatally stabs Bob. The man carries Jem back home and the doctor is called. Scout realizes that the man who saved them is Boo Radley.
Scout Finally Learns to Empathize with Boo Radley (Chapters 30–31): Atticus believes that Jem killed Bob Ewell, but the sheriff—who knows that Boo Radley stabbed Bob—tells him that he fell on his own knife. The sheriff understands that Tom Robinson was unjustly convicted and shot because of Bob, so Bob’s death is justified. Meanwhile, Scout walks Boo—or “Mr. Arthur”—home and finally considers life from his perspective, as Atticus urged her to do years before. The novel ends with Scout’s realization that Boo is a regular human in need of empathy and understanding like everyone else.