The protagonist of the novel is Atticus Finch, who is the prime initiator and coordinator of various events in the novel. In his involvement with the poor whites of the community, like Walter Cunningham, as well as the deprived blacks, like Tom Robinson, he is portrayed as a just, sincere and a greatly considerate human being. He has clear-cut values and beliefs, and it is his sincere wish that his children too grow up with a broad outlook and an unprejudiced way of thinking. He is indifferent to what others have to say or think about his actions, and he is steadfast in his beliefs of equality and liberty.
Bob Ewell serves as the perfect villain in the novel, with his laid-back way of living and the utter disregard he has for other human beings. In the beginning he comes across only as a slovenly figure, uncaring about his family and brash in his dealings with others. But after the Tom Robinson episode, it is alarming to discover him an unfeeling, pretentious nogooder who has no qualms about sending an innocent bystander to the gallows. Even after winning the case, on realizing that he has lost his respect in the people (because of Atticus), he even attempts harming Atticus’ children, thus leaving not an iota of sympathy for himself in the reader.
The events in the novel build up to the singularly important and climactic scene of the courtroom, where Atticus tries to defend Tom Robinson from the allegations of Bob and Mayella Ewell. The tension is maintained throughout the trial as to whether Atticus would or would not win the case. Though the audience feels strongly for Tom’s plight and it is apparent that he is innocent, the jury delivers the verdict that Tom is guilty. The immediate response to this is extreme disappointment and dejection, but the jury’s verdict is final.
The most surprising and touching thing is that instead of rebuking Atticus for losing the case, the black community showers him with food, as a gesture of their appreciation for having at least taken up the case and defending Tom. Tom is obviously the most upset, but Atticus is only quiet and exhausted. Ewell, on realizing his lost standing in the community, tries to make life miserable, first for Helen Robinson, Tom’s widow, and then even Atticus. He finally resorts to harming Scout and Jem, but in the process loses his own life. Simultaneously, Scout’s long cherished dream of meeting Boo Radley is also fulfilled. Thus the trial reveals a number of accidental as well as expected outcomes.
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird mainly revolves around a small family of three -- Atticus Finch, an attorney, and his two children, Scout and Jem. As the novel proceeds certain characters are linked with the three main characters to form a dramatic story of events, attitudes, prejudices and values.
The novel is set is the quiet town of Maycomb; but the serenity is only superficial. The town is comprised of three communities: the white folk, the black community, and the ‘white trash’. Outwardly there is peace among the three, but underneath prevails a combination of hostility, racial prejudices, and friendlessness.
Jem and Scout go to school together. On their way to school, they pass the Radley house; it is a terrifying place to them, for it houses Boo Radley, who has been labeled a lunatic. At the same time, their curiosity pushes them to try out ways to make Boo come out of the house. Their overtures are, however, suppressed by Atticus who does not want them to torment Boo.
The main plot of the novel revolves around the trial in which Atticus defends Tom Robinson, a black, who has been accused of having molested a white girl, Mayella Ewell. She is part of the ‘white-trash’ community. The children follow the case proceedings avidly and are inconsolable when their father loses the case.
The case is lost simply because it was still impossible (despite statutory laws protecting them) for a black man to attain victory over a white in the South. This amply reveals the deeply ingrained racial prejudices still prevalent among the white society which cannot give an equal status to a black.
The relation between the children and Boo Radley resurfaces at the end, when it is Boo who saves them from imminent death at the hands of the vicious Bob Ewell. It is ultimately revealed that Boo is not a lunatic, but a simple-minded person with failing health and a childish attachment for Scout and Tom.
The story of the mockingbird recited by Atticus is linked to the theme of the novel. It is considered a sin to kill a mockingbird, since it is a harmless bird which only sings to please others. Boo Radley and Tom Robinson are also harmless people. By letting Tom die, the sin of killing a mockingbird has been committed. But by not revealing the facts of Boo’s heroism in rescuing the children, the sin is avoided, and Boo is left to his seclusion. Tom’s death is a defeat of justice and an insult to humanity, and the readers can judge for themselves how much of a sin it is.
The maturing of Scout and Jim is portrayed as well as the exemplary character of Atticus, who is without any racial prejudices or biased views. He is a highly ethical character, who chooses to fight against the ‘old traditions’ of his own community.