Chapter 1 Notes from To Kill a Mockingbird

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To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 1

Scout, formally known as Jean Louise Finch, talks about how her brother Jem, older by 4 years, broke his arm badly at the elbow when he was thirteen. To this day she insists that the entire incident began with the Ewell family, the most wretched family in Maycomb County, but Jem disagrees. He believes that the whole thing started way back when Dill came from Meridian, Mississippi, to spend his first summer in Maycomb with his aunt, Rachel Haverford, the Finch's neighbor. To take a broader view of things, Scout suggests that it all started when General Jackson chased the Creek Indians north and Simon Finch, their ancestor, moved up the river and built Finch's Landing. Because they couldn't decide who was right, they asked their father, Atticus, and he says that they were both right. Scout begins relating the stories of her childhood that build up to the night that Jem broke his arm.

Years before Scout and Jem were born, Atticus broke the tradition of having a male Finch living at the homestead when he went to Montgomery to study law. His younger brother, Jack, went to Boston to study medicine. Their sister, Alexandra, stayed on at Finch's Landing with her husband. When Atticus was admitted to the bar, he returned to Maycomb County, twenty miles east of Finch's Landing, to practice law. He got off to a rocky start because his first two clients were hanged. Scout counts that as the reason Atticus began to dislike practicing criminal law.

Scout remembers that Maycomb was a tired, slow-moving town when she first knew it as a child years ago. There was no hurry to get anywhere and nowhere to go beyond the boundaries of their small county. At that time the Finch family lived on the main residential street with Calpurnia, their cook. Scout and Jem liked Atticus very well as far as fathers go, but in her earlier years, Scout battled constantly with Calpurnia and always lost because Atticus usually sided with Cal. Scout believed then that Cal was too hard on her and liked Jem better. But her cries of injustice were ignored because Cal had been with the Finch family longer than Scout had. Calpurnia became a part of the Finch family when Jem was born and stayed on after Mrs. Finch died. Scout was only two years old when her mother passed away, so she didn't remember or miss her. But Jem could remember her, and Scout was sure that he missed her.

When Scout was six and Jem was almost ten, they met Dill for the first time and made a lasting friend. Scout and Jem were playing in their backyard when they heard something in Miss Rachel's collard patch next door. Expecting to find a puppy, they found Charles Baker Harris, a.k.a. Dill, sitting in the collard patch watching them. Dill was a little fellow with blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt. He had a shock of white hair on top of his head and blue eyes. He was almost seven years old, a year older than Scout was then, but he was small for his age. He was so small, in fact, that when he'd been sitting in the collard patch, he wasn't any taller than the leaves. Dill bragged that he could read, but Jem was unimpressed because Scout had been reading since she was born. Although Dill didn't win them over with his literacy, he hooked them when he told them about seeing Dracula at the movies. From that moment on, they were inseparable friends. For the rest of the summer the three of them played together. As the days went by and they bored with their games, Dill became fascinated with the Radley place, a gray and isolated house three doors down from the Finch's house.

To entertain and inform Dill, Jem and Scout had told stories about the living ghost in the Radley house. Miss Stephanie Crawford, a gossipy neighbor, had given Jem all his information because Atticus wouldn't talk about the Radleys. He had always told Jem to mind his own business and let the Radleys mind theirs. Miss Stephanie, however, was happy to tell Jem that from the beginning the Radley family seemed peculiar to Maycomb because they kept to themselves. They didn't associate with their neighbors during the week, and they didn't even go to church on Sundays although it was known that Mr. Radley was an extremely rigid Baptist. Mrs. Radley only came outside to sweep the porch and water her cannas, and although Mr. Radley walked into town every day at 11:30 and returned promptly at noon, he didn't speak to people. Jem and Scout could attest to that information because when they used to pass him on the sidewalk and greet him with polite caution, he'd only cough in response. That was all long before Dill arrived in Maycomb.

Miss Stephanie explained that the story about Arthur Radley, known to the children of Maycomb as Boo, was that he got involved with the wrong crowd when he was a teenager. One night the boys locked the Maycomb County beadle in the courthouse outhouse. After that transgression Boo Radley's father locked him up in their own house. It was said that Boo wasn't seen again for fifteen years, until one day that Jem was old enough to vaguely recall. The gossips claimed that Boo had been cutting newspaper articles for his scrapbook and his father walked by. Without any warning, Boo supposedly stabbed him in the leg with the scissors and then went right back to clipping articles. Mr. Radley insisted that he not be sent to an asylum, so Boo was locked in the courthouse basement until the city council insisted that he go back home. Boo hadn't been seen in daylight by anyone since then, and his presence was a great source of curiosity for Scout, Jem, and Dill.

When Mr. Radley died, the neighborhood had expected that Boo would come out, but he didn't. Instead, his older brother, Nathan, moved back to Maycomb from Pensacola and took his father's place in almost every way. He was just like old Mr. Radley except that he would speak to Jem and Scout on his daily walks to town.

Now the legends around Maycomb dictated that Boo Radley would only come out at night when there was no moon, and he would peep in windows. Miss Stephanie claimed that she awoke one night and saw Boo Radley peering in her window, and Jem could swear that he'd seen his footprints in their backyard. Boo's fearful neighbors automatically attributed to him any crimes committed in Maycomb County, and total belief in these stories made it necessary to run full speed past the Radley house when the kids had to pass it on the way to school.

The more Dill learned about Boo, the more determined he was to find a way to make him come out that summer. Thinking that Boo would come out if he saw someone in his yard, Dill bet that Jem wouldn't get any further than the Radley gate. Jem, after a few days of pondering, was goaded into running up to touch the corner of the house. As he ran back out the gate, Scout and Dill followed close behind lest the terrible Boo Radley catch them. Breathing heavily on their porch, the kids looked back at the Radley house and nothing had changed except the slight movement of an indoor shutter.

Topic Tracking: Courage 1

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