To Kill a Mockingbird - Characters

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Atticus

Atticus: The single parent of Jem and Scout and is the lawyer of Maycomb. He defends Tom Robinson. 

  • Atticus shoots a mad dog to protect the community (Ch 10)
  • Atticus sits outside the Maycomb jail to protect Tom Robinson from a lynch mob (Ch 15)
  • Atticus defends Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rapin' a white woman (Ch 17-21)
  • Atticus agrees to keep quite in regards to the datails of the incident with Bob Ewell (Ch 30)

"we were ... free to interrupt Atticus for a translation" - Atticus uses formal language yet he is patient and happy to explain things. He believes in being honest and respectful to his children

"Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets" - Atticus is always consistent and courteous. Normally a good thing, but his principles can put him and his family at risk in society

"He sat in the livingroom and read" - He is a studious lawyer; not young and active. He doesn't conform to society's views of a Southern gentlemen and is in some way a loner

"he's the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long" - A persuasive lawyer, he's determined to give Tom Robinson a free trial despite of his skin colour. He can't win, but will still try

Don't only discuss what Atticus does, but also how he does it and what his actions show. Could be seen as Lee's "spokesman": embodies the theme of justice and tolerance, trapped in the society he lives in.

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Scout

Scout: The narrator of the novel. Scout tells the story of her childhood and perspective of the trial

  • Scout discovers hidden gifts in the tree near the Radley house (Ch 4)
  • Scout finds her father outside the Maycomb jail, helps bring end to a dangerous situation (Ch 15)
  • Scout is present at the trial of Tom Robinson (Ch 17-21)
  • Scout attends a Maycomb Missionary Society Meeting (Ch 24)
  • Scout performs in the Halloween pageant and is attack on her way home (Ch 28-29)

"she discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste" - Scout's teacher disproves of her advanced reading skills but she has grown in a house of newspapers and book

"You're also growing out of your pants a little" - Uncle Jack is referring to both Scout's cheeky behaviour and her tomboy nature - this will get in the way of her becoming a "lady"

"when you ... are grown maybe you'll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn't let you down" - Through the perspective of the child and adult Scout, the narrator supports and even idealises Atticus despite his limitations

"there wasn't much else left for us to learn, except possibly algebra" - Scout's words show how much she's been through. She's been strengthened, not altered, by her recent experiences

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Jem

Jem: Scout's brother and constant companion. 4 years older than Scout and she clearly looks up to him as show by "in all his life, Jem had never declined a dare"

A sensible, rational and intelligent boy. When Jem behaves out of character (e.g. cutting off Mrs Dubose's camellies Ch 11) he learns his biggest lesson about courage

As Jem grows up and goes through a period of phyhsic and mental change, his mood and behaviour at times reflect this

  • Jem is a natural leader. His creative and resourceful nature is brought out in the games he plays with Dill and Scout
  • Jem is idealistic and thoughtful. In contrast to Scout, he takes it to heart when he sees that Tom Robinson is declared guilty as he has a strong sense of justice
  • Jems's maturity is charted in the novel, for instance when he tells Atticus about Dill having run away
  • Jem is a mirror of Atticus, even in his ambition to become a lawyer to bring about change
  • In Jem, Harper Lee seems to imply that what has not been achieved by Atticus may later be achieved by Jem - reassuring us that there will be people like Atticus in the future
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Calpurnia

Calpurnia: The Finch family cook, but also plays a big part in bringing up and educating Scout and Jem, being the only motherly figure in the Finch family. She's gained Atticus's respect as a "faithful member" (Ch 14 pg 142) of the family. She is strict with the children but also has a sense of compassion and is kind to them when they find life difficult.

  • Calpurnia represents the bridge between the white and black communities
  • Calpurnia gives Atticus and the children information about the Robinson family
  • Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to the black community church, thus providing the children with valuable information that will inform them during the trial
  • Atticus uses Calpurnia to thank the black community for their gifts to him after the trial, but reminds her to tell them that they must not do this again as life is hard
  • Calpurnia is the person that Atticus chooses to accompany him to tell Helen Robinson of her husband's death (Tom Robinson)
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Dill

Dill: Comes from Mississippi every summer to stay with his aunt, Rachel Haverford, and to play with Jem and Scout who live next door. He features largely in the first part of the novel where he is greatly interested by Boo Radley, and goads Jem and Scout into trying to see this mystery figure. In the second part of the novel, Dill is only present as a contrast to Jem and Scout - we do not see his character mature as we do with the others

As Dill is only a Maycomb inhabitant during the summer, he can be used to provide information to the reader at key moments in the novel when Scout and Jem fill him in

  • Dill's family background is very different to that of Jem and Scout. His father seems to have little contact with him and his family show little concern for his well-being
  • At the trial, Harper Lee contrasts Dill's snesitive nature with the logical and rational Jem
  • Whereas Jem wants to confront prejudice, Dill decides to accept things the way they are and make the best of them - consequently his choice of profession will be a laughing clown.
  • Dill has a curious and quick thinking nature
  • Dill dwells in his "own twilight world" (Ch 14 pg 149-150) and gives the impression that his wild imagination is stimulated by unhappiness in his life
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Tom Robinson

Tom Robinson: Like Boo Radley, his character is not explored in depth. However, a large proportion of Part Two is concerned with Tom's story, and he is crucial in developing the overall themes and symbols of the novel. Both he and Boo, it can be argued, are the mockingbirds of the novel (innocent people ruined by evil)

We see from scenes such as the one with the Missionary society women that at the time when the novel was set, that black people were not always seen as fully round people. Any negative traits, like the anger of the black community following the trial for instance, seem to be seized upon by the white community. Perhaps Harper Lee was aware of such attitudes in wider society and therefore made a conscious effort to focus on the good in the black characters in her novel

  • Tom is married to Helen and they have 3 children. The family is part of the respectable, church-going black community
  • Tom is revealed as polite and honourable in court, where he was shown to be happy to help Mayella for no payment. His manners, according to Scout, "were as good as Atticus's" (Ch 9 pg 101)
  • Tom's perception of Mayella's loneliness and need, however, gets him in trouble
  • Atticus proves innocence by drawing attention his weakened left arm. However, as a symbol of the black community, Tom is found guilty
  • In despair, Tom tries to escape from jail and is shot in cold blood
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Boo (Arthur) Radley

Boo Radley: A largely mysterious figure who is mocked by the wider community, as well as by Jem, Scount and Dill as they become fascinated by this man of whom never leaves the house. His character gradually emerges but it is not until the end of the novel that he emerges, and is seen by Scout, both physically and metaphorically. This only takes place when he rescues Jem from Bob Ewell. His childhood misdemeanours have led to a lifetime's imprisonment by Mr and Mrs Radley and his older brother Nathan.

  • Boo becomes the focus of Scout, Jem and Dill's childhood games as they try to catch a glimpse of him
  • Boo leaves gifts for the children in the hole of the tree at the Radley place
  • Boo wraps a blankert around Scout's should during the fire
  • Boo emerges as a lonely, kind figure, harmlessly watching over Scout's and Jem's lives
  • After she is rescued by him, Scout recognises that exposing Boo to the public would be "sort of like shootin' a mocking-bird"
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Aunt Alexandra

Alexandra Finch: Atticus and Uncle Jack's sister, Jem and Scout's aunt, Francis's grandmother. She lives at Finch's Landing, which is associated with a past of cotton-growing and slave-owning. Unlike her brothers, she has not moved away and made a new life for herself and perhaps consequently, as Scout discovers, she holds onto traditional views and is obsessed with family heredity. Although Aunt Alexandra is not favourable portrayed by Scout, she has several redeeming moments, and these give a more rounded picture than if he character had remained the same throughout.

  • Aunt Alexandra first features in the sroty when Atticus, Jem and Scout go to spend Christmas at Finch's landing
  • Aunt Alexandra disapproves of Scout's tomboy ways. She is very concerned with turning her niece into a "lady", and thus provides a contrast to other main adult characts like Atticus and Miss Maudie
  • Aunt Alexandra becomes a major character in the plot when she invites herself to stay at the Finch home to help Atticus with the children during the difficult trial period
  • Aunt Alexandra and Atticus have fundamentally different attitudes to child rearing and servant supervision, Aunt Alexandra displaying a prejudiced behaviour and applying strict rules of conduct
  • When Aunt Alexandra expresses sympathy for Atticus at the news of Tom Robinson's death, detaching herself from the hypocritical Missionary Society meeting, Scout is suddenly able to appreciate the dignity of her aunt's behaviour
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Miss Maudie Atkinson

Miss Maudie Atkinson: Scout and Jem's neighbour, who is always working in her garden, Miss Maudie is a source of information and company for the children. As with Calpurnia, the reader feels positive towards this character because Scout and Atticus like and value her. Major role in the plot seems to be to reinforce Atticus's philosophy, and a constant and reassuring model for the children when Atticus is busy.

Miss Maudie may be a mouthpiece for Harper Lee's views, as at certain times are Atticus and Scout. For instance, Miss Maudie shows her disapproval of "foot washers" who "think women are a sin by definition" (Ch 5 pg 51). She despises prejudice of any kind. This is shown by Scout's first description of her - she "loved everything that grew in God's earth" (Ch 5 pg 48) with the exception of nut grass, which is hugely symbolic of prejudice that can sweep through a society.

  • Miss Maudie is an especially important female role model for Scout
  • After major stressful events, Miss Maudie is always there for the children to provide sensible human philosophy
  • When Miss Maudie's house burns down she  does not seem too upset at losing her largest aterial possession, her reaction has a big impact on the children
  • Miss Maudie disapproves of neighbourhood gossip. She dislikes how the town comes out to watch "a poor devil on trial for his life"  (Ch 16 pg 165), and silences Mrs Merriweather over her hypocrisy at Aunt Alexandra's tea-party
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The Ewells

The Ewells: A poor, ill-educated family, who represents the prejudiced element in the community. The comments about Burris Ewell at school help to build an impression of a dysfunctional and uncared for family, and Mayella Ewell is the white woman who accuses Tom Robinson of ****.

Mayella has no mother and has no help in bringing up a large family. She is shown to be lonely and neglected. This lack of love, warmth and human contact leads Mayella to grab Tom, as she wants to be kissed by a man. She is a pathetic figure at the trial.

Robert Ewell, the father, has his major scene at the trial, where he is rude, bigoted and foul-mouthed. There is a strong indication that he abuses Matella and that it was he who beat her up. His vicious acts of revenge against Tom, Atticus and Judge Taylor are the driving force of the final chapters.

Through Robert Ewell's death at the end, the novelist seems to be saying that he is beyond hope, or perhaps that justice must be seen to be done. Perhaps his death represents hope for the future, as the fear he caused, which created a barrier to truth and understanding, has been removed. Mayella's flowers at the Ewell residence can now begin to flourish.

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The Cunninghams

The Cunninghams: A poor family, but in contrast to the Ewells who are from the city, they are country folk, whose pride is evident from the outset, when Walter refuses to accept something he cannot repay on his first day of school. Mr Cunningham also shows his family trait by paying Atticus for his law work in ways other than money. He shows a basic goodness by dispersing the racist mob once his eyes are "opened" by Scout.

A different member of the family, on of the jurors, has great difficulty finding Tom guilty. Harper Lee is showing that if groups of people like these can, if only for a moment, stand in another's shoes and see their viewpoint, there there has to be hope for the future.

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Mrs Henry Lafayette Dubose

Mrs Henry Lafayette Dubose: Another Finch neighbour, who is known as the "meanest old woman who ever lived" (Ch 4 pg 41). She is an important character as Jem has to read to her after he beheads her camellia bushes, and when she dies the children learn that she was struggling to combat a morphine addiciton. Atticus uses this episode to teach them a lesson on courage

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Minor Characters (1/2)

Mr Heck Tate: A key witness in the trial and the town sheriff, who later takes justice into his own hands

Judge John Taylor: The elderly judge in the Tom Robinson trial, of high moral calibre and displaying unconventional behaviour

Mr Gilmer: the solicitor representing Mayella Ewell

Mr Link Deas: an owner of a cotton-picking farm who offers Tom and Helen Robinson work. He speaks up for Tom out of turn in court and defends Helen Robinson against Bob Ewell

Mr Underwood: The owner, editor and printer of The Maycomb Tribune who "despises" black people (Ch 16 pg 162), but the Lynch mob incident and his artible about Tom's death suggest he despises injustice more

Doctor Reynolds: Maycomb's doctor and Finch family friend

Miss Caroline Fisher and Miss Gates: Scouts schoolteachers.

Little Chuck Little: A member of Scout's class, a poor background but a "born gentlemen" (Ch 3 pg 141)

Cecil Jacobs: Scout's classmate and neighbour, who tauns Scout with prejudice against her father. He also jumps out on Jem and Scout on their way to the pageant

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Minor Characters (2/2)

Mr Dolphus Raymond: A white man from a rich family who lives with a black woman and their children. The white community looks down on him as he looks permanently drunk, but Scout and Dill learn tthat by pretendingto drink he is giving the white community a "reason" for his chose way of life

Zeebo: Calpurnia's son. He reads hymns at the black community church and is the local rubbish collector

Lula May: A black woman who objects to Scout and Jem being at the black community church

Reverend Sykes: The leader of the black community church. He finds seats for Jem, Scout and Dill at the trial and offers his view of events

Miss Stephanie Crawford: A Finch neighbour, concernced with triviality and local gossip

Mrs Grace Merriweather: A prominent, devout figure of the Maycomb Missionary Circle and organiser of the pageant

Misses Tutti and Frutti Barber: Maycomb sisters who are old and deaf

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