Is justice achieved in To Kill a Mockingbird? In witnessing the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man unfairly accused of rape, Scout, the narrator, gains insight into her town, her family, and herself. The book opens with a framing device that references Scout’s brother, Jem, breaking his arm when he was thirteen.
Scout says she will explain the events leading up to that injury, but is uncertain where to start, raising the question of the past’s influence on the present. In the following chapters, Scout recounts a series of amusing stories introducing us to the main characters in the book and establishing the town’s social order. At the urging of their friend, Dill, Scout and Jem try to coax their mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley, out of his house. The inciting incident in To Kill a Mockingbird occurs in chapter nine, when Scout learns from other children that her father is defending a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been charged with assaulting Mayella Ewell, a white woman.
When Scout and Jem’s neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, verbally harasses the children about their father’s work, Jem retaliates by destroying her garden. As punishment, he is required to read to Mrs.
The climax of the book occurs at the conclusion of Tom’s trial and the delivery of the jury’s verdict. At the trial, Scout and Jem sneak in and sit with the black spectators, even though Atticus forbade them from attending. In his defense, Atticus establishes that Tom was physically unable to attack Mayella, and suggests that in fact Mayella approached Tom for sex and Mayella’s father, Bob, beat her when he saw them together.
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The falling action of the book takes place on Halloween, a few months after the trial. Despite Tom’s conviction and death, Bob Ewell feels humiliated by the events of the trial, and seeks revenge on Tom’s widow as well as the judge.