In this chapter, a brief introduction of the Finch family is given by Scout. Simon Finch established a homestead, ‘Finch’s Landing’, on the banks of the Alabama River. He died a rich and prosperous man. One of his sons, Atticus, studied law; the other had studied medicine. Although both sons left Finch’s Landing, Alexandra, their sister, remained.
Atticus practiced law in Maycomb, where he lived with his two children, Jem and Scout, and the cook, Calpurnia. Atticus’ wife died when the children were young, and Scout hardly remembers her.
The children’s boundaries for roaming were Miss Henry Lafayette Dubose’s house and the Radley house. The Radley house had always fascinated the children with its spooky exterior. The children used to imagine that a vicious phantom resided in the house. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Radley were a couple who kept to themselves. Their son, Boo Radley is believed by children to have maniacal tendencies and so is kept at home. The children played games around the Radley house and dare one another to touch the wall of the house to prove how brave they are.
This chapter merely gives the reader a view of the Maycomb society and its inhabitants. The main characters, of course, are Atticus and his family. Scout, his daughter, narrates the entire story in first person. Since the entire novel is a narrative seen through Scout’s eyes, the visualization is purely from a child’s point of view. This includes the depiction of her morbid fear of the Radley house, about which she has heard a number of stories, drawn out of proportion by the local gossips. The description of Boo, therefore, is a larger than life one: "he was six-and-a-half feet tall, dined on row squirrels -- there was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped and he drooled."
The father’s relation with his children seems superficial in the beginning -- "he played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment," yet the fact that the children call him by his name, and even later, as his outlook and conduct are revealed, they only point to the genuine love he has for his children.
Dill is introduced in the chapter. He is a child searching for love in a loveless family; he also has a tendency to fantasize and exaggerate. During the course of the novel, he will prove to a be a good friend to both Jem and Scout.
Scout is to begin school, and Jem is assigned to escort her on the first day. Jem makes it clear to Scout that she is to stay with the first graders and not try to follow him or ask him to play with her. Scout is excited about her first day at school but is disillusioned because she is rebuked for already knowing how to read and write. It turns out that Atticus and Calpurnia had introduced her to reading and writing at a very early age, but the teacher is unable to see the genuineness of this attempt and feels that it is only a hindrance to further learning.
When Scout tries to explain the reason why Walter Cunningham would not accept her money for buying lunch, she is punished by the teacher.
In this chapter, the reader is made aware of the narrow-minded and idealistic approach to learning which insists on a step-by-step approach. The fact that Scout already knows how to read and write is not appreciated, but is judged by the teacher an irritant to further learning.
The chapter also shows a section of the Maycomb society, where people, like the Cunninghams, are dirt-poor, but honest and hardworking. Scout’s teacher, Miss Carolina, who comes from North Alabama, is unfamiliar with Maycomb society, and Scout’s simple explanation about Walter Cunningham only serves to irritate the teacher all the more. Gradually, the intricacies of Maycomb society are being unraveled by the author.