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Free Study Guide: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Free BookNotes

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: ONLINE NOTES / PLOT ANALYSIS

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Aunt Alexandra

Aunt Alexandra is Atticus’ sister, who used to stay at the ancestral Finch landing before she arrives at Atticus’ house to stay. She is very unlike Atticus in all respects, and the children do not take a liking to her in the beginning. For a start, her reason for coming is to bring some ‘feminine’ influence to the house, and that fact itself is negated by the children since (according to them), Calpurnia is a sufficient feminine influence. Aunt Alexandra is so unlike her brother Atticus that Scout cannot help wondering whether the real sister had been switched with some other child, at the time of her birth itself. This belief is nurtured by her because of some old folk-tales she has heard about changelings.

Aunt Alexandra, initially comes across as a cold, unfeeling and an unloving person. She embodies all the local prejudices of the Maycomb society, like the snobbishness over the black society and the hard heartedness for the poor whites. She, therefore, is very easily accepted into the Maycomb society. But she annoys Scout by her insistence on ladylike behavior and she even irks the otherwise patient Atticus by her racial prejudices and her insistence on ousting Calpurnia from the house.

But even Aunt Alexandra comes down from her presumptuous pedestal by the end of the novel. She shows her loyalty to her brother by standing him. When she hears of Tom’s death, she is very upset, and immediately agrees to send Calpurnia to help Helen, Tom’s wife. Her intense concern over her brother is noticed when she tells Miss Maudie, "I just want to know when this [trial] will end. It tears him to pieces." Her warm concern for the children when they have been rescued from Bob Ewell’s clutches, also reveals the genuine love beneath Aunt Alexandra’s tough and forbidding exterior: she possesses a very kind and loving heart.

Boo Radley

Arthur Radley, called Boo by the children, is an enigma in himself. As a young boy, he had been a pleasant, good-natured boy, but had fallen into the company of the unruly Cunningham boys and had created some mischief. As punishment his father had sentenced him to a lifetime confinement to their house.

Though having gained the reputation of a lunatic, Boo is basically a harmless, well-meaning person; childlike in behavior sometimes, and as Jem and Scout realize, hankering for some love and affection. When Scout and Jem discover little gifts for them, the reader can easily understand that this is Boo’s attempt to extend a hand of friendship to them. But these attempts too are thwarted by his father.

When Boo emerges from the house to rescue Jem and Scout, and is finally introduced to the children, it can be seen that due to his long confinement, his health has weakened and he is unable to even stand the harsh living room lights. Scout feels sorry for him and understands the sheriff’s reason to save Boo from the menacing limelight, which would inevitably fall on him if the truth is exposed. Scout surmises correctly that it would be like killing a mockingbird, a sin which should be avoided as far as possible.

Bob Ewell


Bob Ewell is the useless, brutal father of a brood of children who have to live in extreme filth and shabbiness; with hardly any food to eat, surrounded by poverty and disease thanks only to him. Bob drinks away all the money got from the relief checks; is ignorant, foul-mouthed and arrogant. He has no qualms about submitting a poor, innocent black to death, for the apparent concern over his daughter, for whom he anyway has no great love or concern.

Even after winning the case, he continues to torment Tom’s widow Helen. He does not even leave Atticus in peace and brings a great deal of stress by trying to scare Atticus and later, attempting to harm the children. The reader feels no sympathy whatsoever for him, and in fact are glad at his subsequent death at the hands of Arthur Radley.

Mayella Ewell

Mayella, though Bob’s daughter, is different in some ways. She attempts at keeping the house clean and looking after her younger brothers and sisters. But she has never had any friends, nor any love or affection in her life, and the only person who has been decent to her is Tom Robinson. Under such circumstances, one can understand her desperation to make sexual advances at Tom. She is to be pitied rather than condemned for her act, because it was a step taken through utter desperation. At the same time she is willing to lie in court and condemn Tom, so as to save her own life virtually, from the torturous treatment that may be meted out to her by her father. But she is certainly a better and more humanly person than her father and her crime is even pardonable unlike her father’s.

Tom Robinson

Tom is a young, harmless, innocent, hardworking black. As Scout realizes, he would have been a fine specimen, but for his left hand, which had been injured in an accident. Tom was married, with three children and worked for Mr. Link Deas in his farm.

The only mistake he made was that he took pity on Mayella and often helped her by doing small household chores for her. He pitied Mayella for her deplorable condition and so helped her whenever possible. But the racial prejudices in Maycomb county are still too dominant for this concern to be outweighed, and so Tom lost.

Tom’s courtesy and innate goodness is revealed during the court scene, when he refuses at first to repeat the foul language used by Bob Ewell. He never openly accuses Mayella of lying, he just feels that she must be "mistaken in her mind". All this endears him to the reader and his eventual death brings about a profound sense of sorrow and despair at the injustice prevalent in the society.

The Black Community

By including the black community in her novel, Harper Lee has very effectively revealed the striking differences between the two communities: the white and the black. Her main reason in writing about this community is of course to portray the outright oppressive manner in which the blacks were treated during those times. Her book is a bid to the readers to acknowledge the respect and regard due to this section of society.

Atticus’ interest in this society is seen in almost every aspect of his life. His housekeeper is a black and he has utmost faith in her to raise the children in the right way. Atticus never fails to support their cause whenever the need arises. Tom Robinson’s case is the best example of Atticus’ attitude towards the blacks. It is a case no lawyer would have touched. Atticus takes it up, knowing full well the futility of it. His main concern is showing sympathy towards them any not leaving any stone unturned in bettering their lot.

The blacks in this novel are portrayed as better individuals than the whites. They are honest folk, always maintaining cleanliness, who do any work to eke out a living. This is so unlike the Ewells who though white (are called ‘white trash’) and are dirty, lazy, good-for-nothing people who have never done a day’s hard work.

Even the African tribe which Mrs. Merriweather speaks of reveals a sense of warmth and familial feeling amongst them, which is truly lacking in the whites.

The whites always draw away from the blacks and even speak badly about them, but when Scout and Jem visit the church with Calpurnia, they are treated with respect and are not jeered by the blacks. Calpurnia herself has always treated the children like her own, and has instilled worthy values in them.

Through the court scenes, the reader realizes that Tom had treated Mayella with respect, and had actually felt sorry for her plight. Yet he is wrongly convicted and has to pay for a crime which he never committed. As Atticus points out in his final speech the white have always assumed that "All Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro women are not to be trusted around our men." The truth, he insists, is that there "is not a person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman with desire."

Harper Lee has thus depicted a race which has always been looked down upon, because of their color, and she has tried to mitigate such feelings of racial hatred and prejudice in the reader.


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