The whole book is set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression and is narrated by a six-year-old girl called Jean Louise “Scout” Finch over the timeframe of three years. She lives with her brother, Jem, and their widowed father and lawyer, Atticus.
Scout, Jem and their friend Dill (who spends his summers in Maycomb) are all fascinated by the small-town rumours regarding their neighbour Boo Radley, a recluse. He is thought to have once stabbed his father with a pair of scissors and is depicted as a monster. The children are so intrigued by Boo that they sneak over to his house, leaving notes on his windowsill and peering through his windows. Other strange-goings on occur: gifts – such as money, chewing gum and soap carvings – are found in a hole in a tree near Boo’s house. The children have no idea where these presents are coming from and, when they decide to place a thank-you note in the hole, they find that Boo’s brother has filled the hole with cement.
The following winter is a bitterly cold one and when a neighbour’s house catches fire, Jem and Scout – both shivering and in a trance – watch the flames from a spot near Boo’s house. While they are there, someone comes and puts a blanket over Scout’s shoulders without her realising. It’s not until she returns home and her father asks where the blanket came from that she realises Boo must have put it over her. Despite these kind gestures of affection, Boo never appears in person. Just before the midway point of the book, Scout and Jem find out that their father is to represent a black man, named Tom Robinson, in court. He has been accused of raping and beating a young white woman. Atticus knows that Tom is innocent and, although a black man has virtually zero chance of being acquitted, finds that his conscience will not allow him to walk away. The children have to deal with a torrent of abuse and racial taunts because of Atticus’ involvement with the trial. Scout, a tomboy at heart, finds herself physically fighting with other children, and Jem – who is usually level-headed – begins to lose his temper, too. He destroys a neighbour’s flower bushes after she insults Atticus and, as punishment, has to read to her every day after school. It is not until the woman dies that Jem realises he was helping her to break her morphine addiction, and both children learn lessons about bravery from her.
As the trial draws closer, the children’s Aunt Alexandra comes to stay, with the hope that her feminine influence will rub off onto Scout; much to Scout’s dismay. The night before the trial, a group of men are ready to beat up Tom and threaten Atticus, but Scout, Jem and Dill have snuck out to protect their father. Scout begins to talk to one of the men and, seeing her innocence, the group snap out of their “mob” mentality and leave.
The three children decide they want to watch the trial, despite Atticus stating that he doesn’t want them to be present. When they arrive on the day of the verdict, there are no seats available on the main floor, so they have to watch from the ‘coloured balcony’, surrounded by Maycomb’s black population.
Tom is convicted, even though Atticus’ evidence proves that he couldn’t have committed the crime. The woman’s bruises were on the right side of her face, meaning she was punched with a left hand. Tom does not have use of his left arm after an accident; the girl’s father, however, is left-handed. Scout, Jem and Dill are bewildered by the verdict, as the evidence was so clearly stacked in Tom’s favour. Jem, in particular, finds his faith in the justice system is shattered, and Atticus tries to explain why the jury’s decision was something of a foregone conclusion. Despite the verdict, Atticus has a sense of satisfaction that it took the jury so long to decide; normally the verdict would be made in a matter of minutes. Atticus has his hopes pinned on an appeal, but shortly after the trial, Tom is shot dead while trying to escape prison.
Meanwhile, Bob Ewell, the father of the accuser and town drunk, threatens Atticus; he wants revenge for being humiliated, despite winning the trial. He spits in Atticus’ face, attempts to break into the judge’s house, and taunts Tom’s widow. One night, Jem and Scout are walking home in the dark after their school’s Halloween play when they begin to hear strange noises. Scout still has her costume on so cannot see clearly what is going on, but she hears a scuffle resulting in Jem being pushed away and then powerful arms squeezing her costume against her skin. During the attack, Jem breaks his arm badly, and Scout catches a glimpse of a stranger carrying Jem home.
The stranger turns out to be the elusive Boo Radley, and Bob Ewell was found dead at the scene. Scout realises that Boo must have been the one to kill Ewell – saving her and Jem’s lives as a result. The sheriff announces that Ewell must have fallen on his own knife, so Boo will not be tried for the murder.
Scout finally gets the chance to meet the mysterious Boo and walks him home. She says goodbye to him on his porch and he disappears, never to be seen again. Scout stands on the porch afterwards and tries to picture life through Boo’s eyes, beginning to regret that they didn’t reciprocate the gifts he left for them in the tree.
Scout goes home and returns to Jem’s room where her father is waiting. He reads to her until she falls asleep and then waits by his son’s bedside for him to wake up.
And you can pick up a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird online too to refresh your memory further.