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Example research essay topic: Jem And Scout Kill A Mockingbird - 4,365 words

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Chapter 1: To Kill a Mockingbird begins, "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow... When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewell's started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out" (9). Only after one finishes Mockingbird does the significance of Jem's broken arm become apparent. How did it happen?

Harper Lee refers to the subject only one other time at the end of the book, turning her attention instead to describing the setting and introducing her main characters. Through six-year old Scout, her narrator, Lee draws an affectionate and detailed portrait of Maycomb, Alabama, a small, sleepy, depression-era town. She writes, "People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of stores around it, took their time about everything.

A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy, and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County" (11). In chapter one we meet Atticus, Scout's father, who left his home, Finch's Landing, down the river from Maycomb, to study law in Mobile, Alabama. Atticus returned to Maycomb to practice law and help his brother, Jack, through medical school. About Atticus, Scout relates, "He liked Maycomb, he was Maycomb County born and bred; he knew his people, and they knew him, and because of [his father's] industry, Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in the town" (11).

We meet Calpurnia, the Finch's housekeeper who Scout describes as "all angles and bones... her hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as hard" (12). Scout, opinionated and vocal, faced Calpurnia's discipline often. She tells us, "our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side" (12). Finally, we meet six-year old Dill a neighbor boy visiting for the summer from Meridian, Mississippi.

Jem and Scout spot Dill hiding in a collard patch and proceed to interrogate him. Dill prides himself on his ability to read and impresses Jem by revealing that his mother entered him in a beautiful baby contest, won five dollars, and gave the winnings to Dill who used the money to visit the picture shows 20 times. Having passed Jem and Scout's tests, Dill quickly becomes the Finch children's best friend. The three playmates spend their time acting out scenes from their favorite books and dreaming about Boo Radley. "The Radley Place fascinated Dill.

In spite of our warnings and explanations it drew him as the moon draws water, but drew him no nearer than the light-pole on the corner" (14). Thus begins the fascination with Boo Radley. According to Maycomb lore and the children's vivid imaginations, Boo is a "malevolent phantom" (15) often blamed for the unexplained bad things that happened in town from time to time. Boo ran with the wrong gang when he was a kid and got into trouble one night. Instead of sending him to an asylum or locking him up in the courthouse jail, Boo's father took him home on the promise that Boo would cause no more trouble. Since then Boo remained shut in his house while rumors swirled about his mental state and his legend grew.

Although Atticus urges the children to leave the Radley house, now occupied by Boo, his mother, and his brother, Nathan, Jem, Dill, and Scout succumb to their curiosity. The chapter ends with Dill daring Jem to run inside the Radley's fence and touch the house. Jem takes the dare. Chapter 2: The summer has ended with Dill returning to Meridian and Scout starting her first day of school.

Miss Caroline, Scout's first grade teacher, scolds Scout because she already knows how to read. "Your father does not know how to teach" (24) Miss Caroline pronounces of Atticus. She forbids Scout from reading with Atticus and begins the year upset with, perhaps, her smartest student. Miss Caroline is new to Maycomb so she doesn't know any of the students, their families, or their family's eccentricities. Determined to help her learn Maycomb's ways and egged on by her fellow students, Scout offers Miss Caroline pointers on how to get along with folks such as Walter Cunningham. Miss Caroline offers a quarter to Walter (whose father's name is also Walter Cunningham) who did not bring a lunch to school with him. When Walter refuses to take the quarter but Miss Caroline insists, Scout interjects, ."..

you " ll get to know all the county folks after a while. The Cunningham's never took anything they can't pay back - no church baskets and not scrip stamps. Thy never took anything off of anybody, they get along on what they have. They don't have much, but they get along on it" (27). As she was with the fact that Scout already reads, Miss Caroline is not pleased with Scout's imprudent behavior. Scout describes her reaction: "Miss Caroline stood stock still, then grabbed me by the collar and hauled me back to her desk. 'Jean Louis, I've had about enough of you this morning, 's he said. 'You " re starting out on the wrong foot in every way, my dear" (28).

She pats Scout's hands with a ruler and sends Scout to stand in the corner. The chapter ends with Scout and her class filing out to lunch at the sound of the noon bell. Chapter 3: Terribly upset by the poor impression she made on Miss Caroline, Scout grabs Walter Cunningham and starts a fight. Jem stops the fight and invites Walter over to the Finch house for lunch. Walter agrees and the three of them make their way home. Calpurnia prepares a nice lunch for the family and gives Walter syrup on his request.

Walter pours syrup all over his food and Scout, never one to hold her tongue, asks him "what in the sam hill he's doing" (30). Angry at Scout for reproaching an invited guest in such a manner, Calpurnia summons Scout to the kitchen and says, "'There's some folks who don't eat like us, 's he whispered fiercely, 'but you ain't called on to contradict 'em at the table when they don't. That boy's yo' comp " ny and if he wants to eat up the tablecloth you let him, you hear?" (31). With this incident, Scout gets one of her first lessons in manners and humility when faced with people who are different from her. The three children return to school. Scout arrives to find Miss Caroline in horror over a "cootie" in Burris Ewell's hair.

The Ewell's, who live behind the town dump, are the poorest people in the area. Bob Ewell, Burris' father, drinks up the money from their welfare check and let's the children run wild. They do not eat or bathe properly and they rarely attend school. One of Miss Caroline's pupils explains, "'He's one of the Ewell's, ma " am... Whole school's full of 'em. They come first day every year and then leave.

The truant lady gets 'em here 'cause she threatens 'em with the sheriff, but she's give up tryin' to hold 'em. She reckons she's carried out the law just getting' their names on the roll and runnin' 'em here the first day. You " re supposed to mark 'em absent the rest of the year... " (33). Miss Caroline shows concern for Burris but he angrily storms out of the classroom never to be seen in school that year again. Miserable, Scout returns home from her first day of school and complains to Atticus that they " re no longer allowed to read together.

She argues that she should never have to go to school but Atticus encourages her to compromise: "If you " ll concede the necessity of going to school, we " ll go on reading every night just as we always have. Is it a bargain?" (38). Scout enthusiastically agrees to continue going to school and Atticus holds his end of the deal by reading the newspaper to Scout and Jem before bedtime that night. Chapter 4: Scout describes her first year of school as "an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics" (39). Quite bored with school, Scout anticipates her afternoons playing her yard with Jem. Jem, however, leaves school thirty minutes after Scout so Scout walks herself home passed the Radley house.

One day, as she passes the house, she notices something shiny in the knot of an old oak tree that stands on the border of the Radley property. Scout examines the object and realizes it is a two pieces of chewing gum. Scout takes the gum and tells Jem about the incident when he arrives home. Scared by the fact that Scout found the gum on the Radley lot, Jem orders Scout to spit out the gum. On the last day of school, Scout and Jem pass the oak tree together and find a shiny package made of gum wrappers containing two, polished Indian-head pennies. The children wonder who left the pennies in the tree but decide to take the pennies until they can ask their friends at school next Fall if they'd lost the pennies.

Scout has no idea who placed the pennies in the tree but Jem seems to have an idea. Dill arrives shortly from Meridian. As usual, the three friends play act stories that they have read. This summer, however, they find themselves bored with the stories they " ve already done and want to try something new.

Dill, still fascinated by the legend of Boo Radley, wants to act out Boo's story. The three take roles: Scout plays Mrs. Radley, Dill plays Mr. Radley, and Jem gets to play Boo.

For several days the threesome play "Boo Radley" in their front yard, acting out the scene in which Boo stabs his father with a pair of scissors. The neighbors notice the game and alert Atticus. Atticus takes the scissors away and scolds the children who lie by saying they are not talking about the Radley's. Atticus leaves the situation alone but the children's enthusiasm about the game wanes. Chapter 5: Chapter Five opens with Scout lamenting over Jem and Dill's growing relationship, "Dill was becoming something of a trial anyway, following Jem about. He had asked me earlier in the summer to marry him, then promptly forgot about it...

I beat him up twice but it did no good, he only grew closer to Jem" (48). To occupy her time while Jem and Dill spent their afternoons in their treehouse, Scout turned to her neighbor, Miss Maudie. A kind and patient woman, Maudie also had her own eccentricities. Unlike most other proper Maycomb ladies, Maudie spent most of her time outside, working in her garden. She treated Scout with respect and allowed her to be herself rather than criticize her for her tomboy ways. Maudie and Scout spend one summer afternoon discussing the history of the Radley family.

Miss Maudie describes Mr. Radley, Boo's father, as a "foot-washing" Baptist who believed that pleasure was sin. Foot-washers, according to Maudie, believe that flowers and women are also sins by definition. Scout wonders if this is the reason why they locked Boo in the house, to keep him away from women and flowers. Although Maudie offers no explanation for Boo's reclusion, she does warn Scout against believing all the gossip she hears about Boo. After Scout recounts all of the wild details she's heard about Boo, Maudie answers, "That is three-fourths colored folks and one-fourth Stephanie Crawford [the town gossip]...

Stephanie Crawford even told me once she woke up in the middle of the night and found him looking in the window at her. I said what did you do, Stephanie, move over in the bed and make room for him? That shut her up a while" (52). The day after her conversation with Maudie, Scout finds Jem and Dill plotting to send a note to Boo by attaching a piece of paper to a fishing pole.

Scout reluctantly joins the boys but their plan fails as the paper remains attached to the fish hook and Atticus catches them in the act: "Son... I'm going to tell you something and tell you one time: stop tormenting that man. That goes for the other two of you" (56). Atticus issues his final warning and scold the children for the "Boo Radley" play they had thought he had forgotten. Atticus firmly believes all people, including Boo, deserve respect and should be treated decently regardless of their class, race, or strange behavior. Chapter 6: In recognition of Dill's last night in Maycomb and the end of summer vacation, the children decide to try to see Boo Radley one more time.

They wait until nightfall then sneak out behind the Radley house through the collard patch. Slowly, the threesome make their way to the back porch and Jem, brave as ever, volunteers to climb the porch to peer in the back window. A few minutes after he positions himself under the back window the shadow of a man crosses the porch. Steadily, the shadow moves from one side of the porch to the other, stopping over Jem as Scout and Dill watch in terror. As the shadow disappears the children race away from the house in complete fear.

Dill and Scout clear the Radley back fence but Jem, larger than his playmates, gets stuck under the fence as shotgun fire rings out above. Dill and Scout rush back to help Jem out of his trousers. With Jem in his underwear, the three dash safely back to the Finch house, leaving Jem's pants stuck to the Radley fence. Alarmed by the shotgun blasts, neighbors gather in front of the Radley house. Nathan Radley, Boo's brother explains that he fired at some Negroes trying to steal from his collard patch. The children join the growing crowd.

Atticus notices Jem standing in his underwear and asks him to explain himself. Dill interjects with a story of Jem losing his pants in a game of strip poker and the three temporarily escape punishment. That night, however, Jem frightens Scout as he ventures back to the Radley house after bedtime to retrieve his trousers. Chapter 7: Short and descriptive, Chapter Seven finds Scout entering the second grade and the Finch siblings finding numerous gifts in the knot of the Radley oak tree. Jem and Scout find twine, soap carvings of a boy and a girl, more chewing gum, a spelling medal, a pocket watch, and a knife. The soap carvings look like Jem and Scout so the children know for sure that the gifts are meant for them.

But who could have carved these figures? Jem knows that Boo Radley has been giving the gifts to them because he had also found his trousers mended and folded over the fence the night he returned to retrieve them off the Radley property. The children want to thank Boo for his generosity so they write a thank you note to Boo. When they return to the oak tree to leave the note, however, they find that the knot in the tree has been filled with cement.

Chapter 8: A cold snap hits Maycomb County. The town experiences its first snowfall since 1885. Coincidentally, Mrs. Radley, who no one had seen for many years, dies during this winter. Atticus and the neighbors gather round the Radley house as Mrs. Radley's body is taken away by the county mortician.

The children frolic in the snow and marvel at how it changes look and feel of their small world. Jem and Scout make a snowman by packing heaps of mud together then covering the mud with snow. The snowman bears an uncanny resemblance to a neighbor, Mr. Avery. When Atticus sees the creation he exclaims to Jem, "Son, I can't tell what you " re going to be - an engineer, a lawyer, or a portrait painter. You " ve perpetrated a near libel here in the front yard.

We " ve got to disguise this fellow" (75). The jovial mood ends, however, when night falls, the temperature drops, and the family scrambles out of the house as fire engines roar down their street. Miss Maudie's house goes up in flames. As numerous fire engines from Maycomb and other nearby towns race to save neighboring houses, the Finch family stands across the street from Maudie's gazing helplessly at the fire. Atticus manages to save some of Maudie's furniture before the whole house burns down. When the action subsides, the children realize how cold it is outside.

As they move back in the house, Scout realizes that someone has placed a blanket around her shoulders to protect her from the cold. In her dazed preoccupation with Maudie's fire, Scout failed to notice the person who had acted so kindly towards her. One suspects, however, that everyone knows that once again Boo Radley had intervened on the children's behalf. Meanwhile, Miss Maudie, glad to be rid of her old house, makes plans to move in with Stephanie Crawford.

Chapter 9: Back at school, Scout defends herself against classmate, Cecil Jacobs, who accused Atticus of "defending niggers" (82). Scout lets her fists fly against Cecil but she can't forget the accusation. At home that day she asks Atticus about it. Atticus replies, "I'm simply defending a Negro - his name's Tom Robinson. He lives in that little settlement beyond the town dump.

He's a member of Calpurnia's church, and Cal knows his family well. She says they " re clean-living folks. Scout, you aren't old enough to understand some things yet, but there's been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn't do much about defending this man" (83). When Scout pushes Atticus to explain why he's defending Tom, Atticus states, "For a number of reasons...

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 Jem not to do something again" (83). Atticus warns Scout that there is going to be a lot of ugly talk about him and the case over the course of the trial which will take place during the coming summer. Scout still does not understand why Atticus agreed to take the case: "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 (84). With that, Scout agrees not to fight over the case again. The Finch family goes to Aunt Alexandra's house to celebrate Christmas.

Aunt Alexandra, Atticus's sister, lives on Finch Landing with her husband, Jimmy, and her grandson, Francis, the son of Alexandra's only son. Scout dislikes Aunt Alexandra because Alexandra scolds her and disapproves of her unladylike qualities. Cold and aloof, Alexandra does not know how to handle girls, especially headstrong ones like Scout. Scout does her best to stay out of Auntie's way by reluctantly playing with boring cousin Francis. Fortunately, Uncle Jack, Atticus's brother, arrives bearing gifts for Scout and Jem that he picked out on Atticus's request. The gifts turn out to be air guns which Atticus and the children discuss in the following chapter.

After opening presents Scout and Francis wander outside again and shortly begin to fight. Francis calls Atticus a "nigger lover, " driving Scout into a rage. Scout jumps on Francis but is quickly stopped by Uncle Jack who has no patience with Scout's fighting. Jack reprimands Scout without hearing her side of the story. Scout, who loves Jack, sulks for the rest of the Christmas visit. Upon returning Maycomb, however, Jack reaches out to Scout to mend their temporarily damaged relationship.

Scout reveals Francis's attack on Atticus and Jack apologizes for racing to Francis's defense. Jack tucks Scout into bed then retires to the living room where he and Atticus discuss the upcoming case and the trouble Scout has been getting into. Scout overhears their conversation: "You know what's going to happen as well as I do, Jack, and I hope and pray that I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb's usual disease. Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don't pretend to understand...

I just hope that Jem and Scout come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town. I hope they trust me enough... " (97) Chapter 10: Chapter Ten begins, "Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty. When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he got started late, which we felt reflected his abilities and manliness" (97). Scout spends most of chapter ten looking for things that Atticus can "do. " She and her brother mistakenly assume that "doing something" means being able to hunt or play football. They don't realize that Atticus is capable of so many things beyond those physical activities and his strengths lie in areas not stereotypically considered manly. However, Atticus proves during this chapter that he has more abilities than his children give him credit.

Atticus, who gave Jem and Scout air rifles for Christmas, teaches the children how to use their toy guns. "I'd rather you shot tin cans in the back yard, " he says, "but I know you " ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (98). This is the first reference to the title of the book and the explanation for Atticus's remark on mockingbirds becomes important as the book progresses: 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 corncrib's, they don't do but one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (98).

Chapter Ten ends with a dramatic scene in which Atticus shoots a rabid dog who has wandered onto their street. The neighbors reveal that Atticus used to me named "One-Shot Finch" because he was the surest shot in Maycomb County. Jem and Scout's admiration of their father is restored but Atticus brushes off the incident, almost as if he wishes his children had not witnessed it. Clearly, Atticus does not want his children, especially Jem, to grow up thinking that manhood is measured by one's ability to use a gun. He wants his children to learn to use their minds and to rely on their strength of character. Chapter 11: Throughout the book, Scout mentions an old, mean neighbor, Mrs.

Dubose. Confined to a wheelchair, Mrs. Dubose snaps at Jem and Scout from her seat on the front porch as they pass. One afternoon, as Jem and Scout pass Mrs. Dubose on their way into town, Mrs.

Dubose makes a loud and disparaging remark about Atticus "living for niggers" (110). She growls, "Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" (110). The children bristle with anger as they run off to town. On their way home Jem storms into Mrs.

Dubose's yard and tramples her prized camellias. As usual, Atticus has already heard about Jem's behavior before he returns home from work. That evening the children hear Atticus enter the house and they know they " re in deep trouble. Atticus disciplines Jem for killing the camellias by requiring him to read to Mrs. Dubose everyday after school for a month.

Scout accompanies Jem on his first trip to Mrs. Dubose's house and the two encounter an interesting scene. When Jem and Scout enter Mrs. Dubose's room they find her lying in her bed, "her face the color of a dirty pillowcase" (115). At first, while Jem reads Ivanhoe, Mrs. Dubose corrects Jem meticulously.

As time passes, however, Mrs. Dubose drifts off until an alarm goes off and Mrs. Dubose's nursemaid enters the room to give Mrs. Dubose a dose of medication. Everyday for a month the children follow the same pattern while the time until the alarm sounds steadily increases.

Finally, Jem completes his sanction and life returns to normal. Soon after, however, Mrs. Dubose dies and Atticus reveals to Jem why he made Jem read to her in the first place. Mrs. Dubose, Atticus explains, was a morphine addict and knew she was dying. She vowed that she would leave this world "beholden to nothing and nobody" (120).

She did break her habit before she died and Atticus wanted to witness this process. Atticus states, "son, I told you that if you hadn't lost your head I'd have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her - I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. 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. Mrs.

Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew" (121). Chapter 12: Jem and Scout learn some important lessons in Chapter Twelve. Calpurnia t...


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