How It All Goes Down
The place: Maycomb, Alabama. As our narrator describes it, Maycomb could be a finalist for the Most Boring Town in America. Few people move in, fewer move out, so it’s just the same families doing the same things for generation after generation. One such family is the Finches: Scout, her brother Jem, and their father Atticus. Every summer Scout and Jem are joined by DillHarris, who shares their obsession with the local haunted house, the Radley Place, and the boogeyman who lives there, Boo Radley. Jem makes up hair-raising stories about Boo’s bloodthirsty ways, but that just makes Dill want to see him all the more.
Fall comes, Dill leaves, and Scout starts school. The Radley Place is in between Scout’s house and school, so she has to go by it every day, usuallyat top speed. One day she notices something odd: a couple of pieces of gum stuck in a hole in the tree. She tells Jem about it, and soon they find other treasures hidden in the same place, including finely-carved soap figurines of Scout and Jem themselves. This lasts until the following fall, when they find that Mr. Nathan (Boo’s brother) has filled in the knothole with cement.
That winter,disaster strikes: Miss Maudie’s house catches on fire and burns to the ground. While a sleepy Scout stands on the street trying not to freeze, someone drapes a blanket over her shoulders without her noticing: turns out that someone was Boo Radley, and it freaks Scout out that he was right there and she didn’t even notice.
At school, Scout gets flak from her classmates because her father, a lawyer, hastaken on a new client, an African-American man named Tom Robinson. Atticus tells her that a lot of people think he shouldn’t defend Tom because of his race, but that it’s the right thing to do. At his request, Scout stops fighting her classmates to defend her father’s honor, even though they call her a coward.
Christmas comes, and Scout and Jem get their dream gifts: a pair of air rifles. Atticuswon’t teach them to shoot, but he tells them that if they must shoot at birds, they shouldn’t pick on mockingbirds, which don’t do anyone any harm. The kids feel kind of dissatisfied with boring old Dad, who can’t do any of the cool things (like playing football or training ninjas) that the other fathers do. One day a mad dog turns up on their street, and Atticus reluctantly shoots it. The kidsare surprised to learn that their father is a crack shot, since he’s never told them anything about it.
One week Atticus is out of town for a Sunday, so the family’s cook, Calpurnia, takes the kids to her own African-American church, First Purchase. Everyone welcomes them except a woman named Lula, who says that they don’t belong there. The priest, Reverend Sykes, holds a collection to support TomRobinson’s family, and doesn’t let anyone leave the church until he’s sure they have enough money. Later Scout asks Calpurnia what Tom is accused of, and Cal reluctantly tells her that Bob Ewell has accused him of raping Ewell’s daughter. The kids talk to Calpurnia about her past and realize that she has a whole other life that they don’t know anything about.
When they get home from church, theyfind Aunt Alexandra, who’s come to stay with them for a while. She has two goals: to teach the kids some family pride, and to get Scout to be a proper lady. Both goals seem doomed from the start.
One evening a week later, Mr. Tate and some other men turn up at the Finch house to talk to Atticus about the Robinson case. Their manner scares Jem and Scout, but Atticus assures them that the men arefriendly. But the next evening Atticus goes out, and when the kids go looking for him they find him sitting in front of the jail where Tom is held. They’re about to head home when some men pull up, who want Atticus to get out of the way so they can get to Tom. Atticus refuses to move, and Scout thinks something exciting is going to happen so she runs up to him, with Jem and Dill on her heels....
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