The narrator, Jean Louise Finch, who goes by the nickname Scout, begins to tell the story of how her brother Jem broke his arm. She starts with her family history: Simon Finch fled England to escape religious persecution. In America, he bought some slaves and built a plantation called Finch's Landing on the banks of the Alabama 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 her Aunt Alexandra runs Finch's Landing.
Through the story of Simon Finch, the opening of Mockingbird touches on the hypocrisy, racial prejudice, and the evil men do to each other that in general and in Maycomb. Finch's religion made him a persecuted man in England, but rather than shun persecution in all its forms, as soon as he came to America he bought slaves in order to make himself rich.
Maycomb is a small Southern town suffering through the Great Depression. The Finch's 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.
Description of the main characters of the story and their place in Maycomb. Also note how young Jem and Scout are: Part One of Mockingbird is about youth and growing up.
One year when Scout is six and Jem is nine, a small and imaginative seven-year-old named Charles "Dill" Baker Harris comes to spend the summer with Miss Rachel Haverford, his aunt and the Finch's neighbor. The children become friends.
With his small stature and intense imagination Dill is both a character and a symbol for childhood.
Soon, Dill becomes fascinated with the nearby Radley house, and more particularly with the legendary Boo Radley who lives inside. As Maycomb legend tells it, Boo got into trouble with the law as a youth and was shut up in his house by his father. Fifteen years later Boo stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors, but his father refused to send Boo to an asylum. No one had seen Boo since, but he supposedly comes out at night and eats cats and things like that. After Boo's father died, his brother, Nathan Radley, came to run the house.
Because they're kids, Scout, Jem, and Dill accept town legends as truth and have a simple (and simplistic) idea of good and evil: Boo is evil; their other neighbors are good. The town legend about Boo also shows a glimpse of Maycomb life, where everyone knows each other's business and history and gossips about it as entertainment. It also shows how Maycomb treats those who are different.
Dill tries to think of ways to get Boo to come out, but settles on a dare: he'll give Jem a Gray Ghost comic book touches the Radley house. Jem does it. Scout thinks she sees someone watching them from behind a curtain inside the house.
Scout's sighting of movement in the Radley house is her first connection to Boo. Also, note the comic book. It will make a second appearance in Mockingbird, providing a link back to this innocent time.