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Chapter 1

Professor Bradley Greenburg from Northeastern Illinois University explains Chapter 1 in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird | Chapter 1 | Summary



To Kill a Mockingbird opens with Scout recalling the events leading up to when her brother, Jem, broke his arm when he was almost 13.

Scout provides readers with the backstory of her family, a long line of southerners that dates back to a fur trader named Simon Finch from Cornwall, England. After crossing the Atlantic Finch eventually made his way up the Alabama River and homesteaded Finch's Landing some 40 miles above Saint Stephens, Alabama. This is where her father, Atticus, and his two siblings grew up.

Scout brings us into present-day Maycomb, Alabama, the small town she lives in with her widowed father, 10-year-old brother Jem, and Calpurnia, the family cook. It's summertime in Maycomb, and since there isn't much to do six-year-old Scout and Jem put on plays and run around near their house. Calpurnia, a strict disciplinarian, has set boundaries for how far they can roam from the house. This introduces the geography of their neighborhood—specifically the Radley Place.

The Radleys are a reclusive family who live three doors down from the Finch home. Many years ago the younger boy, Arthur (Boo), fell in with the wrong crowd while in his teens. On one particularly wild evening he and the other boys got in enough trouble to be sentenced to a state school. Mr. Radley asked the judge if Boo could be released into his custody, promising the boy would cause no further trouble. When Mr. Radley left the courthouse with Boo in tow, it was the last anyone saw of Boo for 15 years.

What happened next became the story out of which neighborhood legends grew. While under house arrest, Boo, who had been working on a scrapbook, attacked his father, stabbing him in the leg with scissors. Mrs. Radley ran from the house screaming that Boo was trying to kill them. The police were called, and Arthur, who was found in the living room still working on his scrapbook, was locked in the courthouse basement. Eventually Arthur was transitioned back home, where he'd been imprisoned ever since.

When old Mr. Radley died the older son, Nathan, returned from Florida and picked up where his father left off, keeping Boo locked in the house. Over the years stories surrounding Boo and the Radley family grew more ridiculous, but Maycomb residents were scared of the Radleys nonetheless. People wouldn't walk past the home at night when Boo was said to roam; stealthy crimes around town were attributed to him; plants that died in a cold snap were said to have been breathed on by Boo; pecans that fell from the Radley trees were thought to be poisonous.

The focus on Boo Radley becomes suddenly more intense when Jem and Scout meet Charles Baker Harris, or "Dill," when he comes to stay next door with his aunt, Rachel Haverford. Dill, who strikes up an instant friendship with Jem and Scout, is fascinated by the stories, and he makes plans to lure Boo out of the house.


Chapter 1 begins building the framework of the story by introducing not only several characters and settings but also the themes of class, race, and equality versus inequality. As readers will learn later, class distinctions mean a great deal to Aunt Alexandra but are of little importance to Atticus, Scout, and Jem Finch. The Finch family's position in society, based on ancestor Simon Finch's establishment of Finch's Landing, has its roots in slavery. Simon Finch has ignored his religious teaching and purchased slaves—whose labor built his homestead.

So far Scout is untouched by concerns of race, class, and other more adult concepts. She, Jem, and Dill spend the summer playing and, if they think of any moral concepts, they tend to think in terms of good and evil. According to local gossip Boo Radley is evil, and their curiosity is fired up to see what evil looks like. This view of Boo Radley—someone the town sees as differentis an introduction to the theme of equality versus inequality. Because the people of Maycomb perceive Boo as different from themselves, they make an automatic judgment about him.

Documents for Chapter 1

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Questions for Chapter 1

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As a review of Chapter 1, you will be completing your first Weekly Assignment. For submission of the assignment, you will click this link to attach your Word Document rather than post to the Discussio
Using what you have learned in Ch 3. Summarizing and Responding , I would like you to summarize Richard Rodriguez's opening for his book, Brown . I'm not sure your experience with writing summaries, b
Historical Speech Review The ability to recognize and explain the elements of the communication process is the beginning of truly understanding how to prepare for and deliver effective oral presentati
Learning Resources Note: To access this week’s required library resources, please click on the link to the Course Readings List, found in the Course Materials section of your Syllabus. Required Readin
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