"To Kill A Mocking Bird": Chpts 1-2

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Discussion of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, Chapters 1-2
(Text in this post is taken from http://sparknotes.com/)

SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 1
The story is narrated by a young girl named Jean Louise Finch, who is almost always called by her nickname, Scout. Scout starts to explain the circumstances that led to the broken arm that her older brother, Jem, sustained many years earlier; she begins by recounting her family history. The first of her ancestors to come to America was a fur-trader and apothecary named Simon Finch, who fled England to escape religious persecution and established a successful farm on the banks of the Alabama River. The farm, called Finch’s Landing, supported the family for many years. The first Finches to make a living away from the farm were Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, who became a lawyer in the nearby town of Maycomb, and his brother, Jack Finch, who went to medical school in Boston. Their sister, Alexandra Finch, stayed to run the Landing.

A successful lawyer, Atticus makes a solid living in Maycomb, a tired, poor, old town in the grips of the Great Depression. He lives with Jem and Scout on Maycomb’s main residential street. Their cook, an old black woman named Calpurnia, helps to raise the children and keep the house. Atticus’s wife died when Scout was two, so she does not remember her mother well. But Jem, four years older than Scout, has memories of their mother that sometimes make him unhappy.

In the summer of 1933, when Jem is nearly ten and Scout almost six, a peculiar boy named Charles Baker Harris moves in next door. The boy, who calls himself Dill, stays for the summer with his aunt, Miss Rachel Haverford, who owns the house next to the Finches’. Dill doesn’t like to discuss his father’s absence from his life, but he is otherwise a talkative and extremely intelligent boy who quickly becomes the Finch children’s chief playmate. All summer, the three act out various stories that they have read. When they grow bored of this activity, Dill suggests that they attempt to lure Boo Radley, a mysterious neighbor, out of his house.

Arthur “Boo” Radley lives in the run-down Radley Place, and no one has seen him outside it in years. Scout recounts how, as a boy, Boo got in trouble with the law and his father imprisoned him in the house as punishment. He was not heard from until fifteen years later, when he stabbed his father with a pair of scissors. Although people suggested that Boo was crazy, old Mr. Radley refused to have his son committed to an asylum. When the old man died, Boo’s brother, Nathan, came to live in the house with Boo. Nevertheless, Boo continued to stay inside.

Dill is fascinated by Boo and tries to convince the Finch children to help him lure this phantom of Maycomb outside. Eventually, he dares Jem to run over and touch the house. Jem does so, sprinting back hastily; there is no sign of movement at the Radley Place, although Scout thinks that she sees a shutter move slightly, as if someone were peeking out.

SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 2
September arrives, and Dill leaves Maycomb to return to the town of Meridian. Scout, meanwhile, prepares to go to school for the first time, an event that she has been eagerly anticipating. Once she is finally at school, however, she finds that her teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, deals poorly with children. When Miss Caroline concludes that Atticus must have taught Scout to read, she becomes very displeased and makes Scout feel guilty for being educated. At recess, Scout complains to Jem, but Jem says that Miss Caroline is just trying out a new method of teaching.

Miss Caroline and Scout get along badly in the afternoon as well. Walter Cunningham, a boy in Scout’s class, has not brought a lunch. Miss Caroline offers him a quarter to buy lunch, telling him that he can pay her back tomorrow. Walter’s family is large and poor—so poor that they pay Atticus with hickory nuts, turnip greens, or other goods when they need legal help—and Walter will never be able to pay the teacher back or bring a lunch to school. When Scout attempts to explain these circumstances, however, Miss Caroline fails to understand and grows so frustrated that she slaps Scout’s hand with a ruler.

FOR DISCUSSION OF CHAPTERS 3-6, GO HERE: http://www.bookcrossing.com/---/530207

 

 

shugga 14 yrs ago
Ch. 2
As an elementary teacher. I cringed when I read about how Miss Caroline belittled Scout for knowing how to read. I could feel the pain of that little girl, being so proud of her reading ability and then being shot down!
reminds me to listen to all my children's "stories" even if it takes a few minutes away from the curriculum.
I haven't completed Chapter 2 yet.

 

lightwavz 14 yrs ago
Not READ?!
I felt the same way!! I can't even imagine telling a child not to read (and then not to write because they won't be taught cursive for two more years!)... it really made me wonder how much of this story was autobiographical or typical of the age in which it was written.

I can't wait to get more details about Dill and the kids at school. Though I can still see Gregory Peck and all of the scenes in black and white, I am still enthralled by these extra, added details (and how closely the movie has followed so far).

On to the next chapters!

 

mojosmom 14 yrs ago
Re: Ch. 2
I always found that bit quite shocking! Perhaps because I was reading in kindergarten, and remember quite well being taken around to the first grade classes to read to them!

But, like Scout, I did feel sorry for the teacher. She was new, in a strange environment, and she was probably facing things they never taught her in normal school.

You do all know that the character of Dill is based on Truman Capote?

 

greedyreader 14 yrs ago
Re: Ch. 2
> You do all know that the character of Dill
> is based on Truman Capote?

I actually was envisioning him as a young Andy Warhol (just with the small, white thing going on). Haven't seen the movie & haven't read the book since high school (back in the dark ages).

As much as I didn't like the teacher admonishing Scout for reading, it is totally plausible given the make-up of the town and the time in which the story took place.

 

I've read this book several times, but it's always fun to go back to it with others. Comments...
1. Scout's reading - I WAS that kid, at least as far as reading was concerned...and as a former teacher, I would have loved to find children already reading. My daughter was already reading when she went to kindergarten - at a very small town country school. One day I went into the classroom and found tiny little Sarah Kate sitting crosslegged on a table, reading a book to the entire class, plus the first grade, all of whom had been called in to listen to her, too. The teacher just shrugged her shoulders at me and said, "She wanted to read to them." I'd give anything to have had a camera that day.
2. Small town - I live in a small southern town, after having lived in the south all my life, and so much of what Lee wrote rings very true to me. There are so many "characters" in my town who would probably just get lost in a big city, but here, they are a part of the landscape.

 

Yes, that scene with the teacher bothered me too. Especially since my daughter entered kindergarden last year reading at Grade 4 level.

 

tutmarie 14 yrs ago
Re: Ch. 1+2
I know I'm a bit late in replying to this thread, but I just came home from a lovely vacation in Prague (bragging here, hehe). I read the first few chapters while I was there, so now I just hope I can catch up with you guys. Interesting to read all your comments.

I, too, was shocked at the thing about not being allowed to read. I remember the dissappointment I felt when I started in the pre-school kindergarten class (børnehaveklasse)at 5 or 6. I'd been looking so much forward to going to school and continue learning to read and write, and all we could do that year was learn the alphabet, and I already knew that. But telling a child to forget everything she's learnt so far? How cruel is that?

I also find the language very appealing. Just recently finished reading Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, which also has a child narrator, but was quite disappointed because I didn't find the language credible. I do with TKAM (although I know Scout's telling the story later on when she's older).

Do we know why she's called Scout?

 

This is the first time I have read this book, and I am surprised as to how quickly I have begun to care about the characters. An interesting point - the film was shot in black and white in 1962, at a time when other movies had switched to colour.

 

The first thing that I was struck by was the beauty and clarity of the writing. I had just choked my way through 2 books that were poorly written, so found harper lee's prose to be incredibly refreshing. It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to see a story unfold in your mind because of the way the author has shaped the words. The characters already see reaal and alive- I feel as if I am truly listening to Scout talk- Scout as a real person, not a fictional creation.

When I last read this I was an adolescent, living in the midwest. As an adult living in the south, who has a taste for regional literature, I recognize the pattern of small southern towns. Though it is a different time period from my own experience, there is a common heritage.

I am looking forward to reading more. I told Idioteqnician that I got a brand new copy of TKAM for this, and have the same feeling opening its' pages that I used to get going to school the first day, with brand new notebooks, and freshly sharpened pencils.....

 

Harper Lee's writing makes you feel like you are there walking down the street taking it all in-it all seems too real.
I love books that are so creative like this one, it just opens up your imagination.
I've never been to the south, but this book takes me there.
Have to go read some more...

 

Dill was based on Truman Capote. I use to love watching him on Merv, what a character! I read this book back in the 60's and it was always one of my favorites. I'd like to think I was Scout, a little tomboy with long blonde hair. I love all the descriptions of the old south and how much simpler life was back in the 50's. Wouldn't it be great if we could go back in time, when people didn't lock their doors and kids could walk to school!

 

They did lock their door because they were afraid of Boo and the kids ran to school or had nothing to eat. They referred to blacks as niggers and kids in school had cooties.

 

- Harper Lee's ability to bring us all immediately into the story, despite our diverse backgrounds. That's part of what I meant about good writing. We may read things that to today's world are unacceptable or foreign to our experiences/mentality, but we are right there in the story.

 

The writning is so beautiful but I can't remember if she ever wrote anything else. She is a she isn't she? I am enjoying this second time reading,having read this almost 40 years ago. I still remember it quite well. And the movie-wonderful. I,too ,can picture its black and white scenes. Besides the portrayal of small town life ,I am enjoying the feeling of freedom and the joy of childhood.

 

Harper Lee is, in fact, a she. She has not published anything since "To Kill a Mockingbird".

 

I wonder why she never wrote another. A sequel would be wonderful. Doesn't the book make you want to know how they turned out as grown-ups?

 

No, Harper Lee never wrote anything else. It's undertandable - to have written such a great book as this one, it must have taken alot out of her, and the sophomore effort would be disappointing. Case in point - Donna Tartt did a "Harper Lee" and for 10 years after publishing "The Secret History", she had not published another. When her "Little Friend" finally came-out, it was a disappointment as nothing could measure-up to her debut.

 

My copy fell apart in my hands, so bought a new copy for this Read-Along. I love the first 2 chapters! Especially the first chapter when the characters and the town is introduced. The narration is so discriptive that it sucks you into the story. I can almost smell the ladies "like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum" by nightfall. I also love Scout's POV of her ancestry. The first 2 chapters is making me yearn for life as it was, when everything went by slowly. Scout's discription of playtime with Jem and Dill is also making me nostalgic about my childhood.

 

andreda 14 yrs ago
The town
It amazes me the way that Harper Lee manages to convey the feeling of a small town, 'urban myth' included (Boo Radley). Also, Scout's perceptiveness for a 6-yr-old is something to behold (her and her father are my favourite characters).

I don't know whether someone here's taken courses in education, but it is interesting to see how John Dewey's philosophy was adopted and implemented at its early stages...

 

I started reading yesterday. i am one of few who never saw the movie, or read the book so i did not know what to expect at all.

The first thing I noticed was the old language.
Cause I am Dutch i had to get used to that. There were some words in there I had never heard of, but they sounds beautiful.
Like assuaged,apothecary,piety.
Also the dialoges sounded at first a bit funny to me.
But after a while I got used to it.

I do like the book so far, I can picture the town, and feel for the teacher.

 

I find the descriptions of life in a small town fascinating. Not unlike the one I live in now actually. When I read the book first time round I was at school and I didn't know much about the background of the American South etc so much of it went over my head - Scout's reference to the judge not wanting to put Boo in jail with the negroes for example. I'm enjoying going back to it and finding things that I missed.

 

I alsovery much enjoy Harper Lee's description of the town and the way she introduces all the characters in the novel.

 

p. 5 "Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frontings of sweat and sweet talcum. People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see...."

 

tutmarie 14 yrs ago
Dewey
> I don't know whether someone here's taken
> courses in education, but it is
> interesting to see how John Dewey's
> philosophy was adopted and implemented at
> its early stages...

This Dewey system doesn't sound good - but I don't think I've ever heard of it. Can anyone explain?

 

http://www.infed.org/---/e-dew-pc.htm

Like most philosophies, his was used and abused.

 

I'm reading this for the second time; the first time I read it was in 2000, and I can hardly remember anything from that reading. I haven't seen the movie yet.

The summary was helpful to read, as I was still trying to figure out the exact year the book is set. I was thinking it was the 1940s or '50s, but it makes more sense now that I know it's set after the Great Depression. I'm afraid I don't know American history very well!

Just a couple of questions: when Scout begins to describe the town of Maycomb, she says the people were told they "had nothing to fear but fear itself". Is that a quote, from a president or someone like that?

Also, why was straw put on the sidewalk in front of the Radley's when Mr Radley was dying?

 

To the best of my knowledge, straw was put to muffel or deaden the the sounds (early on) of horses hooves on the street outside the home of the dead or dying (letting them die in peace, rest in peace and to not dsiturb the mourning). I believe it is a British custom that traveled here. The tradition carried on in small towns, even with the automobile's introduction, but has fallen by the wayside (roadside?) in modern times.

 

The quote is from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was president of the US during the Great Depression. He told the US that the citizens "had nothing to fear but fear itself," something that might be a good motto for this day and time, I think.

 

Nelle 14 yrs ago
Small town
I grew up in a rural community and the description of the characters is very true to life. There is a cross section of people to be found in almost every area.
I have to confess I saw the movie and, though it was good, found it sadly lacking in the rich detail found in the book.

 

>> I have to confess I saw the movie and, though it was good, found it sadly lacking in the rich detail found in the book.

I agree. Much as I loved the movie (on its own terms), and as iconic as it has been in my life, I don't believe it holds a candle to the book. Reading the book, I could feel the humidity in the summer, the first chill of autumn, I could SMELL it. And there's so much more depth -- there are stories told in the book that the film barely touches on.

On the other hand, the book didn't have Gregory Peck ;-))

 

Yes, it is famous, but I somehow never did. I'll have to watch it some day. :-)

 

For the non-Americans among us, what is the cultural meaning of Roosevelt's quote? If he was saying it with regard to the Depression, does it have to parts of America turning on each other due to the fear of the Depression? I understood that Lee was referencing the quote for a reason, but I'm not clued in enough to know what it means.

 

It's from Roosevelt's First Inaugural Speech. Here's the whole of it, so you can read the context: http://www.bartleby.com/---/pres49.html

This phrase, like JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country", resonated with the people. The "fear" that he spoke of was not so much fear of each other, as fear for one's livelihood, one's family, one's future. "What is to become of us?" Take the homeless that we see on the streets today and multiply that a thousandfold, and you will understand the fear he spoke of. Read "The Grapes of Wrath", and understand whole families seeing their homes bulldozed and being turned out with their belongings piled on a car to find work. Imagine children riding the rails, begging from door to door. There were no jobs. Then there was Roosevelt, and the Works Project Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps, and people had hope again.

 

Thanks for that response and link, mojosmom. By coincidence, in the same day that I read a reference to Roosevelt's quote in TKAM, I also read a reference to it in Sontag's "AIDS and Its Metaphors". That book can be applied to all sorts of panic buttons, not just AIDS. Like Roosevelt's speech, Sontag calls for reason and rationality over passion and paranoia. Anyway, thanks for providing more insight into the time period of TKAM.

 

I haven't read this book before so it is all new to me. The first two chapters sailed along. It wasn't until I came on here and glanced over the summary that I noticed just HOW MUCH happens in the frist two chapters. After reading academic-type texts lately, it's nice to read some storytelling.

Scout's thoughts seem a little advanced for a six year old. I sense that Lee is setting things up to show that Scout is unique, but her ability to understand things, especially concerning the Cunningham boy in her class, seem a tad unbelievable?

 

>> Scout's thoughts seem a little advanced for a six year old. I sense that Lee is setting things up to show that Scout is unique, but her ability to understand things, especially concerning the Cunningham boy in her class, seem a tad unbelievable?

Well, I think we need to remember that the story is being told by an adult Scout, and so is colored by the adult memory. Then, too, Scout's mother died when she was so young that she barely remembers her. She was raised by Atticus, and it's pretty clear from his character that he was the sort of parent who explains things, doesn't just say, "because I say so", and that he was raising Scout and Jeb to be the sort of children who would try to understand others. That was important to him. So it's not all that surprising.

 

I haven't read the book before and I never saw the movie, so everything is new for me. I don't know how life was in America or how it is now. I like this kind of story, when one character tells you what happened. It's like listening to a new friend telling you how his life was until now.

I will never understand racism. I don't get it why some people have problems with the colour of someone else's skin. For me it's important who that person is, not how they look or where they come from.

I learnt how to read in school, in first or second grade. I started to read books when I was in eighth grade. That's when I began to love books. I don't understand Scout so well until now. Why do you have to know how to read until you go to school?

 

I love Lee's writing. It's does sail along, like idio said and I find I'm already liking the characters. I love how the kids toalk to each other, egging each other on and so forth. And I'm not sure why, but I always love the idea of a girl (espeacially so young) hanging out with her brother and other boys....and keeping up with them. I'm looking forward to the next read-along "section".

A couple of sidenotes:
1) a customer of mine at work knows I'm a bookcrosser and asked what I was reading right now. I told him about our TKAM read-along and he told me he was watching a program on TV where they rated the Top Movie Heros of all time. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch was #1. I promise to ask him what program it was next time I see him and I think i'll watch the movie when we're finsihed reading.

2) the copy I have of TKAM is pictured on my bookshelf. The picture of the girl on the front, Scout I suppose, looks so much like me (and my younger sister) when we were young, it's *eerie*. check it out idio
http://www.bookcrossing.com/---/1260920

 

I can't tell if it looks like you because I can't get the image of our sister, Littletortuga, out of my head when i look at it. The physical aspects are very similar but the expression in her eyes is too.

 

...last post 9 hours ago!
I've never seen the movie and I'm reading the book for the first time. And so far, I'm really enjoying it. I like these "old" words that we don't see around that much anymore, and as mentionned before in this thread, it' really easy to get attached to the characters.
Now, many of you mentionned the depiction of the South and of a small town, and how real it seems - which I wouldn't know since I'm from neither. But... that family does appear to me to be "different", in the sense of not part of the majority for that place and time (the father spending so much time with his children, for example, as well as his outlook on life - he appears to be quite a liberal (in a philosophical sense). So I wouldn't say the family is characteristic, is it?

 

No, I don't believe that this family was characteristic of the rest of the community. Atticus seems to be one of the few white collar workers in the town.
The fact that there is no wife in the picture also makes their family different, I think most men at that time would have married again after the death of their wife.
So I do believe that Atticus was very different than most others in the town.
As you get on in the story you will see just how liberal he is, even compared to the rest of his family.

 

I'm late getting here, too, but I'll catch up.

I haven't read this since I was about 12, and I'm sure I never realized how delightful a depiction of childhood it is. Forget Southern, forget rural - my sister and I were raised on the streets of the Bronx, and our fears and delights and misinformation mirror Scout's and Jems's.

 

I can't seem to bring myself to read more than one book at a time and that time is very limited these days.
I have never read this book before or seen the movie, so it is all very new to me. I thank you idio for organizing this as it is really nice to see everyone's input.
I love Scout's personality and find her to be very strong willed. I at first thought she was a young boy, but then learned he was a she when addressed in school,(It really confused me at that point).
She seems to look up to her brother Jem and I loved the way Dill entertained them throughout the summertime with all his stories and his daring Jem to get Boo out of the house.
Really enjoyable read and I look forward to reading the next few chapters.

 

The first two chapters really set the mood and you definitely want to learn more about Scout and her family.

It's my first time reading the book and I didn't see the movie, but I'll probably rent it when I am done reading! :oD

 

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