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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: A Teacher Explains: 5 Keys to Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird

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hey guys my name is Miss Guevara and I

teach high school English today we're

gonna be talking to you about the 5 keys

to understanding To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird is

set in the 1930s in the small racially

divided town of make'em Alabama the

novel centers on the clever tomboyish

scout and her older brother Jem and

their widowed father Atticus Finch who's

an attorney the Finch household also

includes Calpurnia a black woman who

cooks for them and watches over the kids

in the first part of the book Scout Jem

and their friend dill obsess over Boo

Radley a mysterious neighbor who never

leaves his house the kids spend the

summer inventing crazy stories and games

about Boo but they're forced to stop

when Atticus catches them and gives them

a stern lecture saying that he doesn't

want to see them bothering boo again the

story shifts when Atticus agrees to

defend Tom Robinson a black man falsely

accused of raping a white woman through

Tom's trial Scout comes face-to-face

with prejudice injustice and violence

although clearly innocent Thomas found

guilty by a racist jury and is later

killed when he tries to escape custody

this event forces Scout to confront the

racism and Prejudice in her community

but even though she witnesses humanity's

inherent evil her interactions with boo

in the second half of the novel allow

her to see the good in people and to

understand the importance of extending

compassion to those who need it the most


in the first sentence of the novel Scout

says that Jem broke his arm she starts

to explain what happened but then she

says she needs to go back and provide

the necessary context in order for the

story to make sense the rest of the

novel is the background context for gems

broken arm at the end of the novel Bob

Ewell who was humiliated as a result of

Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson

attacks Jem and Scout on their way home

from the Halloween pageant Jem breaks

his arm in the struggle the story of the

broken arm serves as a narrative device

book ending the entire novel with scouts

telling the story while initially the

reader might assume that Jem broke his

arm through innocent childhood games by

the end of the novel we understand the

darker more complicated truth behind the



a protagonist is a character who drives

the action of the novel and who changes

over the course of the story if you are

asked to identify the protagonist of To

Kill a Mockingbird how would he respond

take a second to think about your answer

did you choose scout

she's the most obvious choice of the

protagonist but if you chose Atticus

instead you aren't wrong strong cases

can be made for both scout and Atticus

as the protagonist of the story Scout

makes many choices that drive the action

such as spying on Boo Radley and later

confronting the men who form a lynch mob

outside Tom Robinson's jail cell

throughout the book Scout transforms

from a naive judgemental kid to a more

mature young woman who can empathize

with others both of these factors make

her a good candidate for the protagonist

now let's look at Atticus the decision

Atticus makes to defend Tom Robinson

incites the central action of the book

and drives the plot

Atticus remains a wise and caring father

from beginning to end

however Scout and gems perception of

Atticus changes over the novel they

start out thinking of him as dry and

kind of boring but after watching him

defend Tom Robinson they recognize how

courageous he is and they truly respect

and admire him in these ways Atticus can

also be described as the protagonist


there are two lies at the heart of

tequila Mockingbird the first light

destroys an innocent man the second

light prevents the destruction of an

innocent man taken together the two lies

reflect how deception can be used to

harm or protect social status also

determines who is allowed to tell a lie

in the novel during the trial the

prosecutor asks Tom if he is accusing

mela of lying

even though tom knows that Mayella is

lying he cannot say so because he is

black and mela is white

Atticus on the other hand who was white

male and of a higher class status than

Mela can accuse her of lying when he

suggests that it was really male his

father not Tom who Peter



Calpurnia a black woman who works for

the finches is the closest thing Scout

has to another while scout describes her

as a strict demanding and unsentimental

tyrannical presence she also treats

Calpurnia with more genuine respect and

obedience than she treats the female

members of her own family such as her

aunt Alexandra to modern readers

Calpurnia may seem like the

all-too-familiar variation of the

stereotype of the contented slave in

fact all the black characters in the

novel seem at least primarily to serve

as props for the stories of the white

characters that surround them to kill a

mockingbird is a novel filled with

simplified characters so it may be

unfair to single out Calpurnia for not

representing the complexities of her

circumstances but in a novel so

interested in the issue of racism the

treatment of Calpurnia is worthy of

critical exploration


we've talked about five keys to

understanding to kill a mockingbird and

we've shown you where to go in the

sparknotes literature guide to find

in-depth analyses plot summaries and

tons of other information about the

novel our literature guides can help if

you're doing research for an essay

studying for an exam or trying to get a

better grasp on a reading assignment

whether that's for To Kill a Mockingbird

or any of the more than 500 literature

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