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To Kill a Mockingbird | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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Who is the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird, and what is the significance?

In Chapter 1 of To Kill a Mockingbird readers are introduced to the narrator: six-year-old Jean Louise Finch, also known as "Scout." There are several reasons that having a child narrator is significant. She provides a unique perspective of life in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s. Scout views issues of race and class from a more straightforward perspective than the adults of the town, whose perspective has been shaped by history and social norms. As a coming-of-age novel, which captures the story of someone maturing from child to adult, being inside the head of one of the characters gives readers an excellent perspective from which to observe the change. Readers come to understand—sometimes even more than Scout herself understands—what is going on.

In Chapter 2 of To Kill a Mockingbird what does Miss Caroline, Scout's first-grade teacher, represent?

Miss Caroline Fisher is an outsider who comes into Maycomb thinking she knows everything and has all the answers. She begins to change things the way she sees fit before taking time to understand, and thus she displays her own form of prejudice. This represents how sometimes outsiders believe they know best and don't really get to know the community in which they are now living or serving. Specific to the novel, Miss Caroline comes from northern Alabama. Despite being new both to Maycomb and to teaching, she jumps in thinking she has all the answers. As an outsider, however, she is oblivious to the social strata of Maycomb, to the community's mores, and certainly to understanding knowledge that is passed from generation to generation in obscure ways. Armed only with her own preconceived notions, she manages to embarrass Walter Cunningham, a child from a poor family in Scout's class. She also alienates Scout in a few minutes' time after expressing displeasure that Scout has been taught to read already.

In Chapter 3 of To Kill a Mockingbird, when Miss Caroline has a run-in with Burris Ewell, what insights on the Burris family do readers gain?

Burris Ewell is introduced as an unkempt, dirty, rude child who only comes to school the first day and then skips the rest of the year. Miss Caroline threatens to send him home to bathe, and he says he was about to leave anyway. When she threatens to report him to the principal he scoffs, calling her a "snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher" and making her cry. We come to understand that Burris comes from a family that lives outside the law: they hunt out of season and refuse to send their children to school on a regular basis. Beyond that the Ewells lack even the most basic social graces, which makes communication with them impossible. The Ewells scoff at the community even as they yearn to be part of it.

In Chapter 3 of To Kill a Mockingbird what advice does Atticus give Scout that sticks with her from here on out?

Early on Atticus Finch offers his daughter Scout a piece of advice about walking in another person's shoes. In Chapter 3 he says, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view," Atticus says, "until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

In Chapter 4 of To Kill a Mockingbird what is suggested by Scout's discomfort performing the Boo Radley drama after her tire crash and finding gifts in the tree?

By the end of their second summer with Dill, the boys are still obsessed with getting Boo Radley to come out of the house. However, after finding gifts in the Radleys' oak tree, Scout is less comfortable with some of the activities in which they engage around Boo. Although she never told Jem about it, when she crashed into the Radley front steps while rolling in the tire, Scout remembers having heard what she thought was laughter from inside the house. That and her later discussions with Miss Maudie in Chapter 5 make Boo Radley real to her; she begins to see him as a person and not just the sum of parts gleaned from the stories about him. She is living the advice that her father, Atticus, had given her and is now trying to see the world from Boo's perspective.

In Chapter 5 of To Kill a Mockingbird what is suggested by the change of routine between Scout, Jem, and Dill—and Scout's questions about Boo Radley?

When Scout notes that Jem and Dill are spending more time together, it is indicative of the fact that all three of them are growing up. The book covers three years of time, and though the changes are incremental they are all evolving. Harper Lee does an excellent job of capturing small details that relay the ongoing changes to the reader. When Scout is left to her own devices more often she gravitates toward Miss Maudie, who seems to enjoy Scout's company as much as Scout enjoys hers.

In Chapter 6 of To Kill a Mockingbird why is Jem is determined to retrieve his pants from the fence despite the danger of meeting up with Nathan Radley?

Jem, with help from Dill, tells Atticus that he lost his pants to Dill in a game of strip poker because he doesn't want to tell Atticus where he really lost them. Lying in bed he realizes he has to get his pants from the Radleys' fence before Nathan Radley finds them and tells Atticus. He doesn't want Atticus to know that he lied. Although Scout thinks Jem is trying to avoid being punished, it seems he is more concerned about retaining his father's esteem.

In Chapter 7 of To Kill a Mockingbird what is signified by Nathan Radley filling the oak tree's knothole with cement?

Jem and Scout decide to send a thank-you note to the benefactor who is leaving gifts for them in the knothole of the oak tree. They are sad to discover that the knothole has been cemented over. Jem watches for two days, trying to catch Nathan Radley on his way home so that he can ask him about the cement. When Jem finally gets his chance, Radley tells Jem that the tree was dying: "You plug 'em with cement when they're sick. You ought to know that, Jem." The cement, in a literal sense, will keep Boo from leaving more objects for the kids. On a symbolic level plugging the tree's knothole is Nathan Radley's way of cutting off his brother's contact with the outside world.

In Chapter 8 of To Kill a Mockingbird how do Jem and Scout's feelings regarding Boo Radley change after they talk with Miss Maudie about her house fire?

Jem and Scout are surprised to find that Miss Maudie is not as sad as they had expected her to be in light of having lost everything in the fire. She makes it clear that she was more worried about the neighborhood people than about her possessions; her selflessness and concern for others must remind them of Atticus's similar commitment. When she then turns the conversation to Boo and the blanket, with the idea of human connections so fresh, the carryover must certainly help the children put more of a human face on their reclusive neighbor. He is becoming someone they protect rather than prod. Both Jem and Scout are beginning to care about—rather than fear—Boo Radley.

In Chapter 9 of To Kill a Mockingbird how does Atticus reply when Scout asks about his chances of successfully defending Tom Robinson?

In discussing the upcoming trial of Tom Robinson with Atticus, Scout asks if he will win the case. Atticus tells her flatly that he will not. When asked why he would then want to be part of it, Atticus explains that although he won't win the case, he believes that the fight is still worth fighting. Atticus believes strongly in equality and justice, and by that code, he believes Tom Robinson must be heard. He says that it is his job to make sure that any defendant—black or white—gets a fair hearing.

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