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To Kill A Mockingbird – Novel Study Activity Guide
by Harper Lee
This timeless classic is told from the point-of-view of young Scout Finch who lives in the small southern town of Maycomb, Alabama. The setting is the Depression of the 1930s preluding the African American Civil Rights Movements. This is very important because one of the plots in the novel centres on Scout’s father’s defense of an African American man accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. Although it has been eight years since the Civil War and the freeing of slaves, the Negroes of the south are still being oppressed by the attitudes of the Southerners. Their survival still depends on service to the white man. Segregation is a fact of life. Despite this fact, Atticus Finch, a lawyer, decides to defend the accused Negro, Tom Robinson. This decision puts Atticus’s life, as well as his family’s, in danger.
At the beginning of the novel, Scout and her brother, Jem, are being raised by their widowed father and by their Negro housekeeper, Calpurnia, who is considered one of the family. The children spend their time in imaginative activities, the most common of which is plotting to get a peek of their reclusive neighbour, the town bogeyman, “Boo” Radley. When their father is called upon to defend Tom Robinson, the family’s idyllic life begins to unravel. Scout and Jem find themselves caught up in events that are very difficult for them to understand. As a result of facing the taunts of school children and the sharp tongues of the towns’ folk, they learn that there is an undercurrent of violence in their Christian town. The children soon learn that their father is a man of strong principles who is willing to stand up for his belief that justice must be equal for all. They are crushed when the all-white jury brings back a guilty verdict and Atticus loses the trial, despite having proven Tom’s innocence. The children no longer have any illusions about the division that exists between the races and the classes within their community.
By the end of the novel, the reader learns that Ms. Lee is a master at tying together plotlines when she has Boo Radley, the feared phantom, rescue the children from the true evils of Maycomb. The children learn another valuable lesson—people are not always what they appear to be on the surface.
This memorable and touching novel is very successful at addressing the themes of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up. It will help the reader understand the turmoil and unrest of Southern life prior to the Civil Rights Movement. That it is considered a very worthy historical novel is proven by the fact that Ms. Lee was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1961.
For more information on the novel, please visit the publisher's website.