The plot of To Kill a Mockingbird revolves around main character Scout Finch. She lives with her father, Atticus, and brother, Jem. Atticus is a widow, and Scout has no mother. The family resides in a fictional Alabama town called Maycomb, which is in the grips of the great depression. Even though many in the town are struggling, Atticus is a lawyer with a strong work ethic and a good client base, so the Finch family is doing pretty well – at least when compared to many of the other people in the town. Scout and Jem become friends with a boy whose name is Dill. He has come to stay in their neighborhood with his relatives over the summer. Among the games the three play is to act out stories. After a while, Dill shows a lot of interest the Radley Place, which is a house on the Finch’s street. There are all kinds of rumors about the house, and it is very spooky. Nathan Radley owns the house, and his brother Arthur (who everyone calls Boo) lives there. Arthur “Boo” Radley has not been seen outside of his house for years, although people are sure he is still there.
As summer roles into fall, it is time for Scout to go to school for the first time. She hates it, but her and Jem start finding little items in a tree’s knothole. The tree is growing on the Radley property, and Scout and Jem believe the gifts are being left just for them. The following Summer, Dill is once again back in the neighborhood, and the three start creating and acting out a story that revolves around Boo Radley. It is not long before Atticus stops the children and tries to get them to see life from a different point of view. He does not want the children to grow up judging other people just because they are different. Even though he tried to explain this to the children, they still sneak onto the Radley’s property on Dill’s last night in town. Nathan Radley actually shoots at the children, and when Jem tries to get away, he loses his pants and has to leave them behind. He returns for them later, and they have been mended and are hanging over the fence for him to collect. There are more present in the knotholes of the tree the next winter.
Jem and Scout still think it is Boo who is leaving them gifts to find. Eventually, Nathan Radley plugs the tree’s knothole with cement, and there are not any more gifts. Not long after that, there is a fire in the house of another neighbor. Scout is watching the blaze, and someone slips a blanket over her shoulders. She does not see who did it, but she is convinced that it is Boo. Jem decides it is time to tell their father about the gifts and the mended pants, so the children come clean about what they were doing and what happened to them to make them think that Boo was leaving them presents and protecting them. At his law practice, Atticus takes on the defense of a black man, Tom Robinson. He has been accused of the rape of a white woman. Many of the people in Maycomb are very racist, and they do not like black people. They have decided Tom is guilty before he has even had the opportunity to stand trial. Their father’s decision to defend Tom is very unpopular with nearly the entire town, and Scout and Jem are abused, bullied, and ridiculed by other children because of what their father has chosen to do. Even the adults in the town treat the children poorly because of their father’s choice of clients.
At Christmastime, the family celebrates at their compound on Finch’s Landing. They have a black cook named Calpurnia, and she takes them to her church. Because it is a black church and the people there respect what Scout and Jem’s father is doing for Tom Robinson, the children are generally embraced and made to feel welcome, despite their racial differences. That is a sharp contrast to the way they are being treated by the white members of town, young and old, because of their father’s defense of Tom. The following summer, Atticus’ sister, Alexandra, comes to live with the Finches. Dill is not supposed to be there, but he runs away from his family and shows up anyway. His family does not treat him well. The trial of Tom Robinson also begins. Tom is put in the local jail, but a large mob gathers, intending to lynch him instead of allowing him to go to trial. Atticus goes out the night before the trial is to start, and faces down the entire mob. He is not willing to back down from them. Scout and Jem sneak out of the house and join their father.
One of the men in the mob is recognized by Scout, and she starts to question the man politely about his son. He gets embarrassed, and his shame causes him to tell the whole mob to disperse and let the trial go forward. To make a statement during the trial, Jem and Scout choose to sit with the black citizens of the town, in the designated “colored balcony.” Their father does not try to stop them from sitting there, because they are learning about compassion for others. The accusers at the trial are Mayella Ewell and Bob Ewell, who is Mayella’s father. Atticus provides evidence that clearly shows the two to be liars. What actually happened was that Mayella initiated the attention of Tom Robinson. She propositioned him, and then was actually caught in the act by her father. Because she felt guilty and ashamed, and because she did not want to admit the truth to her father, she claimed that Tom had raped her. When her father caught her, he beat her and said she was a whore. The beating caused marks on her face. She said they were from the rape, but Atticus shows that they were actually from the beating her father gave her when he caught her engaging in relations with a black man. The evidence is strong and Atticus does an impressive job of defending his client, but the jury is all white, and they still decide that Tom is guilty of rape.
Tom is put into prison, and later tries to get away. He is shot and killed during his escape attempt. Jem finds that the trial has deeply shaken his faith in the justice system. He becomes doubtful and despondent after it is over, feeling as though what happened was wrong and not understanding why it had to take place or why society would allow it to happen without attempting to do something about it. Bob Ewell is embarrassed, even though the verdict was in his and his daughter’s favor. He does not like being made a fool of, and decides that he is going to get revenge on the judge and Atticus. He also harasses and menaces the widow of Tom Robinson, to make sure she is kept “in her place” and does not try to cause any trouble for him or his family. Bob attempts to break into the house where the judge lives, and finally seeks revenge on Atticus by attacking his children. Scout and Jem are coming home from a Halloween party when they are attacked by Bob, who has a knife. The children do not know what they are going to do, but Boo Radley shows up and intervenes, protecting them from harm. It is the first time Jem or Scout have ever seen Boo outside of his house.
In the struggle between the two men, Boo kills Ewell. Jem is wounded, and he carries him back to the Finch’s house, where he stays with them and talks to Scout for a while. Then he leaves and goes back to the safety and security of his own home. He is not seen again, by the children or anyone else. He is not tried for a crime, and it is ruled that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife and died. Scout starts to better understand what kind of life Boo has, and she finally sees him as another human being. He has become real to her. Because she has that realization, she takes to heart her father’s advice about practicing understanding and compassion for everyone. She decided that prejudice and other hatred, and the experiences she has had with those things, are not going to ruin the idea of basic human goodness and a desire to be kind to others. She will move forward with love and caring in her heart.