To Kill a Mockingbird

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Scout and Jem's widowed father, and Alexandra and Jack's brother. He employs Calpurnia, but thinks of her as family. A distinguished lawyer in Maycomb, Atticus believes in moral integrity, and stands up against the racism of Maycomb to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, falsely accused of rape by a white man, Bob Ewell. Yet as much as Atticus believes in acting morally, he does not believe in righteously condemning those who don't always act morally. Instead, Atticus teaches his children to search out and respect the dignity of every human being, to try to see the world from their individual point of view. Atticus Finch has become one of the great father figures in American literature.

Atticus Finch Quotes in To Kill a Mockingbird

The To Kill a Mockingbird quotes below are all either spoken by Atticus Finch or refer to Atticus Finch. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Good, Evil, and Human Dignity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Warner Books edition of To Kill a Mockingbird published in 1960.
Chapter 3 Quotes
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
Related Characters: Atticus Finch (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Scout has returned home from school upset and indignant that her teacher, Miss Caroline, wants her to stop reading at home. She expects that her father will share her righteous anger, but instead, Atticus takes a different tack. He may believe strongly that reading to Scout is important and healthy – indeed, he doesn't stop doing it merely because Miss Caroline said so – but he is unwilling to conclude that Miss Caroline is evil as a result. Instead, he suggests that neither he nor Scout should judge Miss Caroline's actions or behavior, since they don't know exactly what prompted her to say such a thing, nor where she's coming from in general. 

Atticus suggests in this passage that it takes time and effort to understand another person's point of view. He doesn't simply suggest that this effort is necessary in order to be able to justify criticizing someone; he implies that the more one tries to understand another person, the less one will be moved to condemn the other person at all. Atticus, as we see for the first time here, doesn't think that human nature is constant and unchangeable. Rather, he thinks that the way people act often stems from their past,  from their environment, and from their opportunities or lack thereof – and therefore that it makes little sense to put strict moral labels on others.

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Chapter 9 Quotes
"If you shouldn't be defendin' him, then why are you doin' it?"

"For a number of reasons," said Atticus. "The main one is, if I didn't I couldn't hold up my head in town, I couldn't represent this county in the legislature, I couldn't even tell you or Jem not to do something again."



"Atticus, are we going to win it?"

"No, honey."

"Then why-"

"Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win," Atticus said.
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Atticus Finch (speaker), Tom Robinson
Page Number: 100-101
Explanation and Analysis:

Once again, Atticus teaches Scout a difficult lesson about morality – one that goes counter to her own childhood impulses. Scout has heard other children at school criticize Atticus, and when she asks why, he tells her that he has decided to defend in court Tom Robinson, a black man accused of murder, even though he knows there's no chance of winning. Until now, Scout has considered that physically fighting and winning is what it means to be courageous. Now, her father attempts to explain to her that it can show even more courage to strive for something even when one knows that failure is inevitable.

Rather than acting because he will win, Atticus chooses to defend Tom Robinson because he knows that it is the right thing to do. Interestingly, even though many people in town are prejudiced and disagree with Atticus's choice, for Atticus it is the fact that everyone in town knows him and his own beliefs that serves as another motivation for him to act according to his beliefs. He believes that only by standing up for his ideas can he then, in turn, be seen as a representative of the community (even if the community disagrees with some of those beliefs). In order to be morally consistent, Atticus believes, he must act on behalf of human dignity – and more specifically, this man's dignity – regardless of the end result.

Chapter 10 Quotes
"Remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
"Your father's right," she said. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Atticus Finch (speaker), Miss Maudie Atkinson (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mockingbird
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

The air rifles that Atticus gives Scout and Jem for Christmas come with a warning: never to kill a mockingbird. Scout rightly notices how rare Atticus's strong language here is. Usually, when she tries to make a judgment or condemn someone or something, Atticus immediately tries to draw her back, to help her to understand where the person is coming from, and to gain a more nuanced view of the situation. 

Miss Maudie, who usually has just as subtle an understand of human actions as Atticus, is nonetheless is in agreement with him on this exception. The moral world of To Kill a Mockingbird is far from simple, but there are rare elements in it that are, in fact, purely simple. Miss Maudie is obviously describing real, physical mockingbirds in this passage, but her description also holds for human beings – people who are endlessly generous, who give rather than take, such that they deserve only appreciation and care. It will be Scout's task to attempt to apply the lesson from Miss Maudie and from Atticus to the people around her, as she develops a more advanced understanding of how good and evil interact in the world.

After my bout with Cecil Jacobs when I committed myself to a policy of cowardice, word got around that Scout Finch wouldn't fight any more, her daddy wouldn't let her.
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Atticus Finch (speaker), Cecil Jacobs
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Scout has long prided herself on what she has considered to be courage: refusing to back down when others insult her or her family, and fighting as strongly as she can. But she has slowly come to accept Atticus's quite different view of courage. For him, courage does not only mean striving for something when you knows that failure is inevitable; it also means having the strength of character to accept what others may say about you without physically fighting back. Instead, he teaches that keeping your head held high, confident of what the right decision really is.

Scout still uses the word "cowardice" to refer to her decision not to fight, but the word is mainly a relic of her instinctive attitude towards courage – she is slowly beginning to accept her father's alternative approach instead. 

Chapter 11 Quotes
It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Atticus Finch
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, it is actually Atticus who is telling Scout and Jem about the courage of another person, Mrs. Dubose, who, with the help of Jem's reading lessons, was battling her morphine addiction before she died. As Atticus explains what makes such an act courageous, Scout is able to connect this story with Atticus's own courage. In school she has learned a limited definition of courage, one that is restricted to war heroes and to those who face violence and physical danger. She is still having to adjust her expectations for what counts as courage as Atticus defines it: adhering to one's ethical principles, regardless of how unpopular those principles may be.

The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.
Related Characters: Atticus Finch (speaker)
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

Atticus is attempting to explain to Scout and Jem what it is that made Mrs. Dubose's quiet, persistence fight against morphine so courageous. His reference to "majority rule" reflects his own expertise as a lawyer, deeply schooled in the Constitution and in the laws and history of the country. In the United States, of course, we live legally by majority rule – a majority elects a president, a majority of politicians vote for our laws, and even in a jury, a majority can convince the minority enough to ensure a unanimous sentence. Usually, this process works well enough, and Atticus obviously isn't calling for a radical dissolution of majority rule.

Still, he shows in his comments here both that there are profound weaknesses to the idea of majority rule, and that there are other, significant elements of human existence – a person's conscience, for instance – that don't abide by this standard. Majority rule, for instance, pays little attention to ideas that may be unpopular, so it can confirm existing prejudices. Atticus suggests, however, that a person's conscience always knows, deep down, what is good and evil, what is right and wrong. On an individual level, then, one must fight against what on a social level is accepted and widespread.

It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.
Related Characters: Atticus Finch (speaker)
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

As in the rest of his lesson to Jem and Scout, here Atticus emphasizes what to him is the true definition of courage, a definition that, he is aware, could easily seem counterintuitive to them. He is focusing on the concrete example of Mrs. Dubose, a woman who may certainly be prejudiced, but in other ways is courageous (and so his willingness to recognize her courage is also part of Atticus's nuanced, complex understanding of the meaning of good and evil).

Here, Atticus expresses a bit more optimism than he does elsewhere. Courage means persisting, seeing something through even if – perhaps especially when – you know that you are most likely to fail. But Atticus also suggests that such a process is not absolutely condemned to failure. Indeed, holding out hope that you may win can be a powerful way to motivate yourself, even while remaining realistic and committed despite overwhelming odds.

Chapter 14 Quotes
Dill's eyes flickered at Jem, and Jem looked at the floor. Then he rose and broke the remaining code of our childhood. He went out of the room and down the hall. "Atticus," his voice was distant, "can you come here a minute, sir?"

Beneath its sweat-streaked dirt Dill's face went white. I felt sick.



Jem was standing in a corner of the room, looking like the traitor he was. "Dill, I had to tell him," he said. "You can't run three hundred miles off without your mother knowin'."

We left him without a word.
Related Characters: Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem) (speaker), Jean Louise Finch (Scout), Atticus Finch, Charles Baker Harris (Dill)
Page Number: 187-188
Explanation and Analysis:

Dill has run away from his own house in a town that is quite some distance away, and has snuck into the Finch's home, where Jem has found him hiding under the bed. As Scout watches, Jem calls to their father in order to tell him that Dill is here. Immediately, a line is drawn between Jem, on the one hand, and Scout and Dill, on the other.

Scout takes it for granted that one must never tell on another child – that there are secrets that can't be shared with adults. Jem, however, no longer adheres to this assumption: instead, he acts based on the knowledge that Dill's parents will be worried about him, and that it's the right thing to do to tell Atticus that Dill is here. From Scout's perspective, Jem is a traitor, but this is because she is still a child, while he has begun to grow up. The book doesn't necessarily paint adulthood as always better and more advanced than childhood, but it does suggest that moving into adulthood is an important step, one that Scout isn't yet ready to take.

Chapter 22 Quotes
They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep.
Related Characters: Atticus Finch (speaker)
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

Jem tells Atticus that he can't understand how the jury could have convicted Tom Robinson based on the evidence and based on the arguments from Atticus and from Mr. Gilmer. Here, Atticus implicitly returns to what he told his children at the very beginning, and has repeated again and again: that good will won't necessarily conquer evil, and that sometimes prejudice will win out over both evidence and human dignity. 

While Atticus has done his best to educate Jem and Scout so that they lose some of the weaknesses and errors of childhood, here he shows himself to be convinced that childhood holds some major moral advantages over adulthood. Children are still innocent enough – they still have been little enough affected by the world – to be able to notice and be devastated when something unjust happens. Unlike adults, they have not yet learned to grow bitter or even just used to the way things are. This state of shock and anger, Atticus implies, is a powerful reminder for adults not to become complacent.

Chapter 25 Quotes
Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Atticus Finch, Tom Robinson, Mayella Ewell
Page Number: 323
Explanation and Analysis:

As Scout reads Mr. Underwood's editorial, which compares Tom Robinson to a mockingbird, she thinks about how prejudiced and wrong the blasé attitude of the rest of Maycomb is. Maycomb residents think Mr. Underwood is just trying to be "poetic," but here Scout summarizes what she really believes to be the lesson of the piece. Atticus's battle against prejudice had lost, not because he wasn't a good enough lawyer, and not because he didn't provide sufficient evidence to make the case for Tom's innocence, but because prejudice was so ingrained in the hearts of Maycomb people that they would never be able to be convinced that Tom wasn't guilty. In this context, any time black people are accused of anything, guilt will be the presumption – a danger that Scout is only beginning, soberly, to recognize.

Chapter 31 Quotes
A boy trudged down the sidewalk dragging a fishing pole behind him. A man stood waiting with his hands on his hips. Summertime, and his children played in the front yard with their friend, enacting a strange little drama of their own invention. It was fall, and his children fought on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Dubose's. . . . Fall, and his children trotted to and fro around the corner, the day's woes and triumphs on their faces. They stopped at an oak tree, delighted, puzzled, apprehensive. Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house. Winter, and a man walked into the street, dropped his glasses, and shot a dog. Summer, and he watched his children's heart break. Autumn again, and Boo's children needed him. Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem), Atticus Finch, Arthur Radley (Boo), Charles Baker Harris (Dill), Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose
Page Number: 374
Explanation and Analysis:

After Bob Ewell's attack on the Scout and Jem was thwarted by Boo Radley, Scout accompanies Boo Radley back to his house. She pauses on the Radley porch and looks out at the street. Briefly, we relive the entire trajectory of the novel, from the most significant highlights to the descriptions of everyday life in Maycomb, but through Boo Radley's eyes from within his house. Atticus's lesson, which Scout has remembered from long ago, was that you shouldn't judge someone based on first impressions: instead, you should try to see things from his or her perspective, try to really understand the person behind the appearance. Now she tries to do so, seeing herself and Jem as if they were someone else's children, viewed by a sympathetic stranger.

Of course, Scout has not really pierced Boo Radley's character – she hasn't really gotten to know him – merely by standing on his porch. But her revision of the events of the last year or so are a child's earnest attempt to try. She sees how Boo Radley could have developed a close emotional connection to her and her family even without ever speaking with them. The goodness and empathy that he shows is not on the surface, in the way he talks or looks, but in fact is far more profound.

When they finally saw him, why he hadn't done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice. . . ." His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them." He turned out the light and went into Jem's room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.
Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (Scout) (speaker), Atticus Finch (speaker), Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem), Arthur Radley (Boo)
Page Number: 376
Explanation and Analysis:

Back at the family home, Scout tries to explain to Atticus what she has realized about Boo Radley: that all the suspicious rumors and prejudice against him actually have no basis in fact. Atticus is not shocked by this revelation. Indeed, he has told the children not to judge people before they stand in their shoes not so that they wait to judge until they understand better, but rather so that they learn that they have little right to judge at all. Atticus believes deeply that most people are good at heart, but are led astray by prejudice and by temptation. He is not naive – he does recognize the existence of evil in the world that must be fought against – but for him this evil is not located permanently in specific people but rather moves around, always able to insert itself in a given situation, but always able to be challenged as well.

Scout and Jem have, through the events of the novel. learned to take such a subtle approach to good and evil as well. They have lost much of their childhood innocence as a result. Still, having gained these difficult lessons, they are still in a transition period between childhood and adulthood. Atticus's great gift to them is to accompany them through this transition, watching over them as they make it.

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Atticus Finch Character Timeline in To Kill a Mockingbird

The timeline below shows where the character Atticus Finch appears in To Kill a Mockingbird. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Good, Evil, and Human Dignity Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Small Town Southern Life Theme Icon
...River. Finch's Landing passed from son to son until the present generation, when Scout's father, Atticus, became a lawyer in Maycomb, Alabama. Her Uncle Jack is a doctor in Boston, while... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Small Town Southern Life Theme Icon
...aren't rich, but they are comfortable enough. A black woman named Calpurnia cooks and helps Atticus with the children during the day. Atticus's wife died when Scout was two. (full context)
Chapter 3
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During lunch, Walter talks with Atticus about farm work like a grown up. He says he can't pass first grade because... (full context)
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That night, when Scout says that Miss Caroline wants her to stop reading at home, Atticus counsels that instead of getting angry, Scout should try standing in Miss Caroline's skin to... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Growing Up Theme Icon
...Jem comes up with a new game: they're going to act out Boo Radley's story. Atticus catches them playing. Jem lies and says they weren't impersonating the Radley's. (full context)
Chapter 5
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...begins to spend more time with Miss Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor who grew up with Atticus. One evening, Scout asks Miss Maudie why Boo Radley never comes out. Miss Maudie says... (full context)
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...to slip a note through a window of the Radley house with a fishing rod. Atticus catches them and tells them to stop bothering Boo Radley just because he seems peculiar. (full context)
Chapter 7
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...the next day Nathan Radley cements the knothole. He says the tree was dying, but Atticus tells Jem it wasn't. Jem stares at the Radley house for a long time. Scout... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...with snow to make a snowman that looks remarkably like Mr. Avery, an unfriendly neighbor. Atticus is impressed, but then sees the resemblance and kindly asks them to disguise the snowman... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Students at school start saying that Atticus "defends niggers." When Scout asks why, Atticus says he's defending a black man named Tom... (full context)
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Growing Up Theme Icon
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...with Scout's dreaded Aunt Alexandra and her awful grandson Francis. At Finch's landing, Francis calls Atticus a "nigger-lover." Scout punches him, and Francis claims she hit him for no reason and... (full context)
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...Uncle Jack why she hit Francis, but makes him promise not to say anything because Atticus said she shouldn't fight anyone over the Tom Robinson case. Later that night, Scout overhears... (full context)
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Then Atticus says the trial will be bad, since "reasonable people go mad when anything involving" a... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Atticus is older than other kids' parents, and Scout and Jem are sometimes embarrassed by their... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Courage Theme Icon
...Finch's street. It's still far off, and Heck Tate, the sheriff of Maycomb, says only Atticus is marksmen enough to hit the dog from such a distance. Atticus kills the dog... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Growing Up Theme Icon
...an old woman who harasses Scout and Jem whenever they walk past her house, condemns Atticus for defending Tom Robinson. Jem, enraged, rips the flowers off her camellia bushes. (full context)
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As punishment, Atticus makes Jem go and read to Mrs. Dubose each afternoon. Scout goes with him. At... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...is crushed when Dill doesn't arrive because his mother got remarried. To makes matters worse, Atticus has to leave for two weeks to serve in the state legislature. (full context)
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Calpurnia, who's in charge when Atticus is away, invites Scout and Jem to attend her church that Sunday. The all-black congregation... (full context)
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...gathers money to support Helen, Tom Robinson's wife. Scout realizes Tom Robinson is the man Atticus is defending, and asks what he did. Calpurnia tells her: Tom has been accused by... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...believe that the older a family's history, the better the family is. Alexandra even forces Atticus to teach Scout and Jem about their family history. But this strange change in Atticus... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...notice grownups in Maycomb talking about them. Scout hears the word "rape" again, and asks Atticus what it is. He tells her. (full context)
Good, Evil, and Human Dignity Theme Icon
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...leads to the story of going to Calpurnia's church. Aunt Alexandra is horrified. She and Atticus have an argument about Calpurnia. Alexandria thinks Calpurnia is no longer necessary. Atticus says she's... (full context)
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...antagonize Aunt Alexandra, but Scout objects to him telling her what to do. They fight. Atticus sends them both to bed. Scout steps on something while climbing into bed, and, with... (full context)
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Atticus tells Miss Rachel Haverford where Dill is, but lets Dill spend the night. Dill sleeps... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...Tate comes to the Finch's front lawn with a group of men to talk to Atticus. Tom Robinson is to be moved to the Maycomb jail and Heck says there might... (full context)
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Jem gets scared someone might try to hurt Atticus. When Atticus drives into town the next night, Jem, Scout, and Dill sneak out after... (full context)
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...leans out his office window holding a double-barreled shotgun and calls out that he had Atticus covered. (full context)
Chapter 16
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At breakfast the next morning, the day of the trial, Atticus says that Mr. Underwood never liked black people, which makes his behavior of the previous... (full context)
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Jem declares Mr Cunningham would have killed Atticus the previous night. But Atticus says Mr. Cunningham just has his blind spots like everyone... (full context)
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Though Atticus tells Jem, Scout, and Dill that they shouldn't attend the trial, they sneak in. They... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...prosecutor, questions Tate, who recalls Bob Ewell saying that Tom Robinson had raped Mayella Ewell. Atticus cross-examines: Tate says the right side of Mayella's face was heavily bruised. Next, Bob Ewell... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...a quarter, and that when she turned around Tom attacked and raped her. In cross-examination, Atticus shows that Mayella is terribly lonely. When Atticus asks Mayella to identify Tom, and Tom... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Atticus calls Tom Robinson to the stand. Tom says he often helped Mayella with chores. On... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Atticus is making his closing remarks when Dill and Scout get back to their seats. Atticus... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Calpurnia enters the courtroom. She tells Atticus that Jem, Scout, and Dill are missing. Mr. Underwood says they're sitting in the balcony.... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Jem cries. He can't understand how the jury could convict Tom. Atticus says they've done it before and they'll do it again and only the children will... (full context)
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...that the black community of Maycomb has brought them baskets of food in thanks for Atticus's defense of Tom. (full context)
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...that there are good people in Maycomb. For instance, it's no coincidence Judge Taylor appointed Atticus to take Tom's case. (full context)
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Suddenly Miss Stephanie Crawford runs up with gossip: Bob Ewell just threatened Atticus and spit in his face. (full context)
Chapter 23
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Jem and Scout are terrified Ewell will attack Atticus. Atticus, thinks Ewell has already gotten the need for revenge out of his system, though... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Tom Robinson is in prison. Atticus thinks he has a good shot of winning on appeal. If he loses, though, Tom... (full context)
Chapter 24
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..."sulkiness" since the Tom Robinson trial. Miss Maudie shames the woman for talking badly about Atticus while enjoying his hospitality. (full context)
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Just then, Atticus comes home and tells Calpurnia, Aunt Alexandra, Miss Maudie, and Scout that Tom tried to... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...it because it didn't do anything to her. Scout remembers that Jem was present when Atticus told Helen Robinson that Tom had died, and Helen collapsed in grief. (full context)
Chapter 26
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...of Boo Radley. She is confused, however, when the town, which was so set against Atticus defending Tom, reelects him to the state legislature that year. (full context)
Chapter 27
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Aunt Alexandra thinks Ewell has a grudge against everyone involved in the trial. But Atticus says Ewell will calm down when the weather cools. For Halloween that year, there's a... (full context)
Chapter 28
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...distance, she can see a man she doesn't recognize carrying Jem toward her house, and Atticus running out to meet him. Atticus calls for Dr. Reynolds and Heck Tate. Dr. Reynold's... (full context)
Chapter 30
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Atticus is sure Jem killed Bob Ewell and doesn't want it covered up. But Tate says... (full context)
Chapter 31
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When she gets back, Atticus is reading in Jem's room. Scout asks Atticus to read to her and rests her... (full context)