The plot of the novel is centered on Jean Scout Finch. Her family resides in Maycomb, a fictional Alabama town, and the novel takes place during the Great Depression. Despite this, the Finch family does quite well financially because her father Atticus Finch is a lawyer. He has many clients and is a hardworking man who believes in fairness, justice, and equality. His children, Jem and Scout make friends with Dill and the latter two become best friends.
Dill is in the neighborhood over the summer holidays and the three become playmates, becoming quite interested in the house of Nathan Radley where Arthur Boo Radley lives. The trio is spooked by the house because Boo rarely comes out and is believed to have been inside for years. The children are fascinated by the fact that someone was always leaving them presents at a tree near Boo’s house. However, they are disappointed that they never get to see him.
Eventually, Nathan Radley, Boo’s brother, blocks the knotholes with cement, prompting Boo to no longer leave them any gifts. A fire breaks out at a neighbor’s house and someone covers Scout with a blanket, making her think it was Boo. Jem confides to his father about the presents and why they thought Boo was offering them protection.
The court appoints Atticus as the lawyer to Tom Robinson, a black man accused of beating up and raping Mayella Ewell. Maycomb is a predominantly white town full of racists who become outraged after they learn that Atticus has decided to represent a black man in court. The townspeople already have judged Tom Robinson guilty, despite the fact that he has yet to stand trial. As a result, Scout and Jem are ridiculed and bullied by their friends and schoolmates.
Atticus is also christened a “nigger lover” and Scout fights back any accusations against her father. Despite the racial differences, the children attend a black church where their cook Calpurnia takes them. It is ironic that the white children are more accepted by the black community and treated harsher by their fellow white townspeople in response to their father’s decision to defend Tom.
Atticus’ sister Alexandra comes to visit the following summer. Dill is treated badly by his family and runs away from home to the Finches (Lee, 1960). Here, the commencement of Tom Robinson’s trial begins again. Tom is arrested and put in jail but a mob gathers outside waiting to lynch him because they do not want him to go to trial. Atticus faces the mob and criticizes them for their actions. He is joined by his children and Scout manages to politely shame a man in the crowd for his actions. The man, out of embarrassment, helps to disperse the crowd.
During the trial, Atticus’ children decide to sit in the “colored balcony” where the black townspeople are allowed to sit. Their father knows that they are learning about compassion through this gesture. As the trial progresses, Atticus presents evidence that Mayella Ewell, was lying. It was Mayella who made the sexual advances and on being caught by her father, was beaten up, leaving her face covered with bruises and marks (Lee, 1960).
Conversely, she claims that the marks were from her struggle during the rape inflicted by Tom Robinson. Despite all the compelling evidence in Tom’s favor, the court’s jury finds him guilty, an unsurprising verdict since they are all white. Tom is imprisoned but is shot dead upon trying to escape. The trial leaves Jem’s belief in the justice system shaken and he becomes more pessimistic about it.
Despite Mayella and Bob Ewell winning the case, his image is completely tainted as the case embarrasses him. His bitterness makes him seek revenge against the judge and Atticus. He harasses Tom’s widow, breaks into the judge’s house, and spits on Atticus upon meeting him on the street. Following a school Halloween party, Bob attacks both Scout and Jem with a knife to get back at Atticus (Lee, 1960). During the struggle, Jem breaks an arm but the kids are mysteriously rescued by man they believe is Arthur Boo Bradley.
Upon arriving at the scene, the sheriff of Maycomb finds Bob Ewell dead. The sheriff cautions Atticus against holding Jem and Arthur Boo responsible and they are not to be tried. Bob is guessed to have died by falling on his own knife. Finally, Scout is able to understand Boo and matures in her reasoning. She finally decides that despite the hatred and prejudice that society has shown, her views on kindness and compassion to others will never change.