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To Kill a Mockingbird – Revision Notes
How to use this pack:
This pack contains essential notes on the following areas:
• • •
Imagery and Symbolism Characters Themes
In your exam you might be asked a question about any of these areas. It also includes: • • •
A Chapter-by-Chapter Summary Social and Historical Context Some Key Quotations
In order to use this pack effectively you must use it as a ‘starting point’ for your own revision. Use it to guide you when writing essays; supplement it with notes of your own. The notes here are not exhaustive and you will need to use other sources (notes taken in class, your own thoughts and opinions, even online or published notes) in your own independent study to ensure that your knowledge of the text is as broad and deep as possible. Further notes on the historical context of the novel have been attached to the end of this pack, as have suggestions for revision tasks to use over the course of the year.
Synopsis Chapter-by-Chapter Summary Social and Historical Context Why is the Novel Called 'To Kill a Mockingbird'? The Importance of Part One Imagery and Symbolism The Mockingbird Other Symbolism Characters Scout and Adults Atticus Themes Growing Up Courage Prejudice Parents and Children/Family Man’s Inhumanity to Man Moral Education Some Key Quotations (with chapter references) Revision Tasks Character Grid Scout and Jem: Similarities and Differences Examining the Courtroom Scene
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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee tells the story, mainly through Scout’s eyes, of the events that led up to Jem breaking his arm when he was nearly thirteen. The reader follows Scout through the novel and sees how she matures and develops, and also how Jem matures and develops, often shown by Scout being puzzled about the way he behaves. Having given the reader a history and context for the novel (Maycomb, Alabama, USA), the author introduces key characters, including neighbours such as the Radleys, Mrs Dubose, Miss Maudie and Miss Stephanie. The visiting Dill creates a dare about the Radley house, concerning Arthur Radley (known as Boo), who is described as a ‘malevolent phantom’. Scout’s first days at school allow Harper Lee to criticise aspects of the education system in Alabama and to reveal the views of Atticus, the lawyer father and single parent of Jem and Scout. The early chapters concern the children’s games designed to see Boo or entice him out of his house. They fail to notice Boo’s interest in them; he rescues and attempts to mend Jem’s pants when Jem is caught in the Radley garden, and he leaves gifts for them in the knot-hole of a tree. Snow falls in Maycomb and Miss Maudie’s house catches fire. The children’s view of their father, Atticus, as old and useless is challenged when he shoots the rabid dog, Tim Johnson, and neighbours refer to him as ‘One-Shot Finch’. They are also told by Atticus, when given air rifles, that it is a ‘sin to kill a mockingbird’. Jem learns about true courage when he has to read to Mrs Dubose, the dreaded neighbour whose camellias he has decapitated, as he finds out that she was determined to defeat her morphine addiction before she died. Part Two of the novel begins when a visit with their black maid Calpurnia to First Purchase African M.E. Church gets the children thinking about race. They are confronted with Lula’s racism, and are introduced to Helen, wife of Tom Robinson, who has been imprisoned. Tom Robinson’s trial, in which he is defended by Atticus, takes up the central part of the novel. Chapter XIII sees Harper Lee give an expanded portrait of Maycomb, and this is followed by the arrival of Aunt Alexandra, who is to look after the children while Atticus is busy with the trial. Other key citizens are introduced. The children sneak into the courtroom and sit in the Coloured Balcony, witnessing the evidence of Heck Tate, Bob Ewell, Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson. It is at the point of Atticus’s summing up that the novel is firmly cemented as taking place in and around 1935. To the children’s horror, Tom is convicted. Scout reflects on class, all reflect on racism and Harper Lee introduces material that prompts the reader to think about legal reform. The aftermath of the trial takes up the rest of the novel. Scout succumbs to Aunt Alexandra’s urgings to be less of a tomboy and wear a dress. She witnesses the hypocrisy and racism of some of the members of the ladies’ Missionary Circle. Her return to school prompts reflections on Hitler, democracy and dictatorship, and the last part of the novel concerns Bob Ewell’s attempts to wreak havoc: his attempted burglary of Judge Taylor’s house and his attack on Jem and Scout after a Halloween pageant. Jem breaks his arm but is carried home. Bob Ewell dies of a knife wound. The end of the novel sees Heck Tate protecting Boo Radley, who has rescued the children and carried Jem home, and Atticus slowly grasping that Boo, not Jem, killed Bob Ewell. Scout finally sees Boo; in an emotional last chapter she takes him to see Jem, escorts him to his home and sees the events of the novel flash before her.
Because this is a long novel it is sometimes hard to get the shape of it and to find key events. The summary below may help you to identify how characters are introduced, what kind of background is being given and the key events.
Part One Chapter I • History and context. • Neighbours introduced: the Radleys, Mrs Dubose, Miss Stephanie Crawford. • Dill and Jem’s dare at the Radley house. Chapter II • Scout’s first day at school. • Miss Caroline and the Cunninghams introduced. • Scout almost 6; Jem almost 10. Chapter III • Walter Cunningham to lunch. • Burris Ewell and the cootie. • Idea of climbing into someone’s skin. • Atticus’s post mortem on school. • Dill’s aunt Miss Rachel Haverford. • The irony of Boo being kept from the industrial school. Chapter IV • The knot-hole. • Dill’s return. • The Boo Radley play. Chapter V • Miss Maudie introduced. • The note for Boo. Chapter VI • Trying to see Boo through the shutters. • Mr Nathan’s shotgun. • Dill’s last night. • Retrieving Jem’s pants. Chapter VII • Scout almost 7; Jem almost 11. • The knot-hole cemented.
Chapter VIII • Death of Mrs Radley. • Snow and the snowman of Mr Avery. • Miss Maudie’s fire and the mysterious blanket. • Jem’s sudden awareness. • Scout fighting Cecil Jacobs. Chapter IX • Tom Robinson introduced. • The Finches introduced: Christmas at Finches Landing, Uncle Jack, Aunt Alexandra, Francis. • Scout eavesdrops on Atticus talking about the trial. • Atticus as old and useless. Chapter X • Air rifles: a sin to kill a mockingbird. • Tim Johnson introduced. • Arrival of Heck Tate. • Atticus as One-Shot Finch. • Zeebo takes the dead dog away. Chapter XI • Mrs Dubose. • Jem’s decapitation of the camellias. • Jem reading to Mrs Dubose. • Mrs Dubose’s death: real courage.
Part Two Chapter XII • Atticus at state legislature. • Visit to First Purchase African M.E. Church • Zeebo’s literacy, Reverend Sykes, Lula’s racism. • Collection for Helen Robinson. Chapter XIII • Arrival of Aunt Alexandra. • Portrait of Maycomb. • Summary of residents. Chapter XIV • Struggle between Atticus and Aunt Alexandra. • Dill introduced. Chapter XV • Heck Tate and Link Deas bring Atticus news of Jem. • Atticus with friends: Mr Underwood introduced.
• • •
Maycomb jail. Scout talks to Mr Cunningham. Mr Underwood has been covering Atticus.
Chapter XVI • Dolphus Raymond mentioned. • Other Maycomb citizens identified from yard. • Outside the courtroom. • Reverend Sykes finds children seats in Coloured Balcony. Chapter XVII • Heck Tate’s evidence. • Bob Ewell’s evidence. • Bob Ewell left handed. Chapter XVII • Mayella Ewell’s evidence. • Tom Robinson’s dead left arm. Chapter XIX • Tom Robinson’s testimony. • Link Deas’ intervention. • Tom says he felt sorry for Mayella. • Scout takes Dill out crying. Chapter XX • Dolphus Raymond introduced. • Atticus’s summing up. • Novel firmly placed in 1935. Chapter XXI • Calpurnia arrives • Home for tea. • Back for verdict. Chapter XXII • Jem’s tears. • Gifts for Atticus. • Miss Maudie’s reactions. • Bob Ewell’s threats. Chapter XXIII • Jem and Atticus discuss the trial. • The arguments for legal reform. • Scout reflects on Cunninghams.
Chapter XXIV • The Missionary Circle. • Miss Maudie’s support for Scout. • Particular focus on the theme of hypocrisy. • Death of Tom Robinson.
Chapter XXV • Scout remembers Dill’s account of visit to Helen Robinson. • Mr Underwood’s editorial. Chapter XXVI • School restarts. • Atticus re-elected to state legislature. • Hitler, democracy and dictatorship. • Jem’s dilemmas. Chapter XXVII • Link Deas gives Helen Robinson a job. • Threat to Judge Taylor: Bob Ewell’s intimidation. • Halloween: Scout as a ham. Chapter XXVIII • The Halloween pageant. • The attack on Jem and Scout. • Boo rescues Jem and Scout, who are unaware of him. • Bob Ewell’s death. Chapter XXIX • Jem’s broken arm. • Heck Tate’s inquiry. • Scout identifies Boo. Chapter XXX • Heck Tate, Atticus, Scout and Boo on front porch. • Atticus slow to grasp the situation. • Heck Tate protects Boo. Chapter XXXI • Scout takes Boo to see Jem. • Scout takes Boo home. • Summary of the novel.
WHY IS THE NOVEL CALLED 'TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD'? The first mention of the mockingbird is: Atticus tells Jem and Scout , “It is a sin to kill a mockingbird.” (ch10) The children are shocked because Atticus rarely says something is a sin, so they go to Miss Maudie who verifies Atticus’s statement, “…they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us”. It is important to include Atticus’s attitude to guns here. He wants the children to learn that “courage is not a man with a gun”. He has also hidden from the children his gift of marksmanship. What does this say about his character? At key moments in the novel, the mockingbirds are silent: “The trees were still, the mockingbirds were silent, the carpenters at Miss Maudie’s house had vanished” (ch10) as Atticus steps out into the street to shoot the rabid dog. At Tom’s trial when the jury returns with its verdict, Scout compares the atmosphere to when Atticus shot the dog, Tim Johnson. “Exactly the same as a cold February morning when the mockingbirds were still and the carpenters had stopped hammering on Miss Maudie’s new house." (ch21) Editorial about the "senseless slaughter of songbirds" written Mr BB Underwood (ch25) “High above us in the darkness a solitary mocker poured out his repertoire in blissful unawareness of whose tree he sat in, plunging from the shrill kee, kee of the sunflower bird, to the sad lament of Poor Will, Poor Will, Poor Will.” (ch28, as Jem and Scout walk to the pageant) The bird sits in Boo Radley’s tree and the irony is that it is Boo who will save Jem’s and Scout’s lives later on. The final mention of the mockingbird is when Scout comments to her father “…it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?”The image of the mockingbird helps unite the two sections of the novel; the first half with Boo Radley and the second Tom Robinson. IMPORTANCE OF PART ONE ( CHAPTERS 1 - 11 )
It is vital to have an overview of the first 11 chapters as they set the scene, establish the main characters and introduce the themes. You need to now start making appropriate notes in your copy of the text by linking ideas together. You could be asked anything in the exam so you will need to be prepared for everything.
Devise a notes system (colour coded or symbols i.e. A = Atticus , Cou = courage ). If you do not you will have a difficult time finding quotes and important information quickly. Choose a system and stick with it! (1) Female characters: Scout, Calpurnia, Miss Maudie, Mrs Dubose, and Miss Stephanie Crawford, Aunt Alexandra (Can you divide the females into two? Are some more respectable than others, who is prejudiced, who do you feel most sorry for? ) (2) Male characters: Atticus, Jem, Dill , Boo, Nathan Radley , Walter , Francis, ( Which are the strongest male characters, the most misunderstood, the most prejudiced...etc. Try to get a feel for what Harper Lee is trying to draw attention to through these characters ) (3) Themes:
1. 2. 3. 4.
Growing up (moving from childhood - adulthood; moving from ignorance to understanding. Concentrate mainly on Jem.) Who doesn't get a chance to mature and grow? Why not? Prejudice (racial prejudice and prejudice towards class) Comment on racist language, general attitudes... Sexism / attitudes towards women (consider constant jibes at Scout for being a "girl", Mrs Dubose's comments and those of Aunt Alex.) Refer to chapter 5, chapter 11. Courage. Many characters show real courage as well as moral courage. Start looking in chapters 6, 8, 11. Note Atticus' important teaching about courage in chapter 11. Think about Miss Maudie, Boo Radley, Jem, Mrs Dubose. Moral Education. Atticus' important lessons / principles or standards by which he lives. Note his comments on the mockingbird. How much effect do his teachings have on his children? (4) Family groups or class groups within Maycomb. Give an overview of the different type of families in the town. What do they represent and are there any tensions between family groups? The Finch family, the Cunninghams, the Ewells, the Radleys, the Negro community.
IMAGERY AND SYMBOLISM
Character is established through imagery. The description of Bob Ewell ("A little bantam cock of a man rose and strutted to the stand") precisely conveys his cockiness; Mayella's underlying nervousness is conveyed by the description of her as, “a steady-eyed cat with a twitchy tail." Dill is described as," a pocket Merlin" while Walter Cunningham's poverty is emphasised by the phrase, “He looked as if he has been raised on fish food." Scout's disgust of Mrs Dubose is conveyed through vivid imagery," Her face was the colour of a dirty pillow-case, and the corners of her mouth glistened with wet, which inched like a glacier down the deep grooves enclosing her chin." The mockingbird is the most significant symbol in the novel. This repeated image (or motif) and its key symbol of an innocent creature make it a strong image. The mockingbird first appears in chapter 10 when Atticus is telling the children how to use their shotguns, “Shoot all the bluejays you want ... but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Miss Maudie explains that this is because mockingbirds are neither harmful nor destructive and only make beautiful music for people to enjoy. Thus these birds are symbols of innocence and goodness. The symbol for Boo Radley and Tom Robinson is not drawn together until Scout's comment at the end when she recognises that the public exposure of Boo Radley would be "sort of like shootin' a mockingbird."
Both characters have mockingbird traits: • They both show kindness - Boo to the children; Tom to Mayella. • They are both innocent - Boo of the evil persona with which he is associated and Tom of the crime of rape. • Both are victims of prejudice. • Both are imprisoned and potentially vulnerable - Boo is imprisoned in a separate world to protect him from people's prejudice if exposed. Tom is imprisoned and later killed as the result of people's prejudice. Atticus is a mockingbird also. Atticus does not shoot, even though he is the best shot in Maycomb county because he thinks his skill with a gun gives him an unfair advantage over other people. Atticus has also sung Tom's song of truth to the people of Maycomb but has not been heard. His humanity and acceptance of others epitomises the mockingbird theme. The children learn the importance of not killing innocent creatures shown in the way that Jem tells Scout not to squash an insect.
This theme is kept alive throughout the novel, constantly reminding the reader of its importance: • After the mad dog incident • When waiting for the jury's verdict, "when the mockingbirds were still."
In Mr Underwood's article about Tom's death, "The senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children." This imagery develops the theme of heartlessness and inhumanity in Maycomb county. When Scout and Jem are on their way to the pageant "High above us in the darkness a solitary mocker poured out his repertoire in blissful unawareness of whose tree he sat in."The mocker in the oak tree as Jem and Scout pass the Radley lot in chapter 28 represents Boo who could be said to sing his heart out for "his children" when they need him.
Harper Lee invites the reader to consider the word "mocking" and all its associations: • The children mock Boo's life as they make fun of and imitate it. • Mayella accuses Atticus of mocking her • The trial is a mockery of justice • The missionary tea ladies' hypocrisy is a mockery of the Christian life they pretend • Human values are mocked Other symbols: Symbolism is also evident in the novel in a less obvious way: • The Radley house with its closed doors and shutters and austere front presents the privacy, isolation and unfriendliness of the Radley place. The closed shutters become symbolic of the Radley's closed minds and intolerance. Boo moving the shutters to watch the children symbolises Boo wanting to break through the imprisoning attitudes of his family. The oak tree beside the Radley place represents Boo's character and his desire to communicate when presents are left in the tree. When the children stand near the tree, Boo establishes contact again by delicately placing a blanket on Scout's shoulders without her realising. Boo saves the children's lives under the oak tree and Bob Ewell is found dead under the tree. Scout and Jem's snowman represents how superficial skin colour is to the essence of a human being. Mrs Dubose's camellias represent the prejudices which cannot be brushed off easily. They have to be tugged by their roots. The fact that Mrs Dubose leaves a camellia for Jem after her death is so as to remind him of courage and tolerance.
• • •
FORM AND STRUCTURE
The form of To Kill a Mockingbird is that of a novel. It is a well-developed story, within a frame. The frame is that the narrator, Scout, is retelling and explaining the events that led up to her brother, Jem, breaking his arm when he was nearly thirteen. The reader is told this in the first sentence of the novel and he breaks his arm in Chapter XXVIII, just before the end. There is, however, a further frame. The novel starts with the children’s curiosity about Boo Radley, the ‘malevolent phantom’ and their never having seen him. At various points in the novel they fail to recognise his presence. At the end of the novel Scout meets Boo and recognises him. The events are told in chronological order and take place over three years. There are several distinctive features of Harper Lee’s use of the novel form: • • • • • • she presents most events through the eyes of Scout, the narrator she divides the novel into Parts One and Two she introduces background material about history, society and families which Scout could not have known at the stage when she is recounting the story she uses irony, particularly when statements are made that come true later, but which the reader and the characters could not know about she introduces each new character to the reader before an important event in which they are involved, so the reader knows who they are she tends to have two or three important elements, aspects or events in each chapter.
POINT OF VIEW
Most events are told through Scout’s eyes, but there are passages where Harper Lee introduces material through one of a number of devices: • • • • • background material a character providing information or ideas an event narrated, e.g. Scout recalling Dill’s account of his visit to Helen Robinson material that forms the basis of some of Harper Lee’s ideas about the law, society, families, social justice, moral justice, legal justice a description of Maycomb from the Finch yard.
DRAMATIC TENSION There are many places in the novel where drama is created. Sometimes it is the suspense
of not knowing what will happen; sometimes it’s an exciting event. Tension may be built up in the following ways: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • description simile abrupt actions exclamations adjectives to indicate urgency suspense through apparently unnecessary description questions different points of view creation of atmosphere repetition of structures words like stage directions series of simple actions emotive language asides.
How to Create a Character Study
The key to studying a character is as follows:
1. know what the key episodes are in which the character is involved. Select episodes that typify the character and show different sides of him/her
2. study what the character says and does and what others say about him/her; remember to think about the character’s relationships with other characters
3. think about what Harper Lee makes the reader feel about the character and think about how she does that. It may be what the character does, what s/he says, the language s/he uses, the language used to describe him/her
4. think about whether the character has a specific purpose in the novel. Mrs Dubose, for example, is a scary and unpleasant person, but she does represent a certain kind of courage.
On the following page you will see a worked example of a character study.
Let’s think about the character of Miss Maudie. The main episodes she is involved with are:
1 2 3 4
her introduction in Chapter V the destruction of her house by fire in Chapter VIII her reaction to the trial in Chapter XXII her behaviour at the Missionary Circle in Chapter XXIV.
Let’s look at the first of these episodes (her introduction) in some detail. Some points about her we could note are: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • she lets the children play on her lawn Scout says ironically ‘Miss Maudie hated her house’ she loves gardening; she is associated with what is ‘natural’ she is formal she is generous, baking cakes for the children like Atticus, she answers the children honestly about Boo Radley also like Atticus, she tries to steer them away from awkward topics she has known the Finch family for a long time she is a liberal, inveighing against the ‘foot-washing Baptists’ she teaches the children (about Miss Stephanie being a gossip) she has a sense of humour (‘Stephanie Crawford even told me once she woke up in the middle of the night and saw him [Boo] looking in the window at her. I said what did you do, Stephanie, move over in bed and make room for him? That shut her up a while’) she lightens heavy topics (mention of the poundcake)
Other important aspects of Miss Maudie are: • • • • • • • • • her concern for others even as her house is burning her stoicism about the fire she makes sure the children understand what Atticus is like the ways her body language reassures and supports Scout her independence from the bigotry of the ladies at the Missionary Circle her sharpness of tongue with Mrs Merriweather her understanding of politics her admiration for Atticus her love for the children
Scout and Adults
"Calpurnia was all angles and bones... her hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as hard." "Our battles were epic Calpurnia always won.” and one-sided.
"Jem and I found our father satisfactory; he played with us, read to us, with courteous detachment." "Atticus always took her side." "Atticus never Radley's." talked much about the
"I felt her tyrannical presence as long as I could remember " "We looked at her in surprise for Calpurnia rarely commented on the ways of white people." "In Calpurnia's teaching, there was no sentimentality; I seldom pleased her and she seldom rewarded me." “ Calpurnia sent me through the swinging door with a stinging smack. I told Calpurnia to just wait: I'd fix her..."Hush your fussin'" she said."
" Atticus's only answer was for him to mind his own business and let the Radley's mind theirs, they had a right to.; but when it happened, Jem said Atticus shook his head and said,"Mm, mm, mm." "Atticus shook his head at me again."
"I've no intention of getting rid of her, now or never. You think about how much Cal does for you, and you mind her, you hear now?"
More writing about Scout
Scout seems to be a very feisty, hotheaded character. ( She dares Jem to jump off the roof p20, she stands up to her teacher p27, she beats up Walter p28, is rude to Walter and Calpurnia; and tells her father to sack Calpurnia - not bad for a 6 year old!!! )
Atticus stands for all Harper Lee admires in a father, citizen, a lawyer, a Southern gentleman and a Christian. He has a wisdom and a perspective that make him the conscience of his town. Atticus embodies the humanitarian values Harper Lee wishes to present, the tolerance and understanding she sees as essential for life in a civilised society. In many ways he is an idealised character but this is no doubt why Scout admires her father so much. His humanitarian principles are summed up in his statement that you cannot understand another person,"Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." At every opportunity he demonstrates to his children how important this "Simple trick" is. Eventually Jem and Scout come to follow his example and they come to understand not only their father, but Mrs Dubose, Mayella Ewell and Boo Radley. These experiences form an important part of their moral education. Yet he allows the children to learn from their own experiences as far as possible, rather than playing a heavy-handed father figure. He is a conscientious father. He is a contrast to the way that Mr Ewell and Mr Radley treat their children, He is honest and straightforward with them. He is always there as a reassuring presence. He always listens to their opinions and deals with their questions, even embarrassing ones. When Atticus sends Jem off to apologise to Mrs Dubose, Scout says that she hates him for putting Jem in danger. She soon ends up in Atticus' arms, getting the reassuring explanation that she needs. Atticus always does what is best for his children, despite others attacking him for his parental style, notably Aunt Alexander. As a citizen he is highly respected and he has a highly developed sense of responsibility. He was elected unopposed to the state legislature and is the only man considered by the judge to be capable of defending Tom Robinson. Even though he knows that he probably will not win his case, his reasoning is testimony to the high morals of the man," Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win. " For Atticus it is a matter of what is right. He believes in defending the truth and will not be swayed from doing so, despite threats from ignorant townsfolk. He feels it is his duty to break down prejudice and even though Scout questions his involvement in the trial, for him it is a matter of conscience. "If I didn't, I couldn't hold up my head in town."
Atticus is also a Christian in the true sense of the word. His attitudes throw into relief the kind of Christianity that can condemn and execute an innocent man. His character exposes the hypocrisy of Maycomb and societies within the town that profess to stand for Christianity. The white ladies of Maycomb embody the narrow-minded attitudes which Atticus is trying to overcome. Miss Maudie recognises Atticus as a truly religious man, "We're so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we've got men like Atticus to go for us," a statement which again suggests the Christ-like position of Atticus in the novel. Only through his own suffering can he hope to "redeem" his town. When Miss Maudie says,"
We're paying the highest tribute we can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It's that simple," she echoes what Harper Lee is trying to promote. Lee expresses her moral philosophy through Atticus integrity and courage.
Atticus is also portrayed as the author's idea of the perfect Southern gentleman. He is courteous to all, treating the abusive Mrs Dubose with great politeness and patience. His children are embarrassed by his seeming lack of " manly" virtues but Atticus faces a mad dog, risks his life protecting Tom from the lynch mob which he does so without fuss. It is also Atticus who rescues Miss Maudie's favourite chair from the fire. " I thought it sensible of him to save what she valued most." Typical of a man who is thoughtful, sensitive and perceptive. Is he weak at any point? Some argue that he takes undue risk with the lives of himself and his children. He must have known what Bob Ewell was capable of, especially when Bob spits in his face saying he'd get his revenge. In chapter 23 Atticus asks his children to," stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute. " and continued to reassure them that," We don't have anything to fear." Atticus seems too optimistic in his view of people. Indeed he ends the novel in response to Scout's assertion that Boo" was real nice" professing ," Most people are when you finally see them." Is this naive and unrealistic or an example of his generous heart and optimistic view of human nature. His stance is to find the best in people and see people for what they really are. He is not a paragon or an ideal but in many ways is simply a lovable man whom we watch suffer for what he believes in. Behind his service to others, lies a deep humility of spirit, "Atticus' eyes filled with tears. He did not speak for a moment. ' Tell them I'm very grateful,' he said. 'Tell them - tell them never to do it again. Times are too hard...." Atticus' response to being given lots of food from the poor black community, grateful for what he did for Tom Robinson. His only interest was in truth and justice, not what he could personally gain from the trial. A man had needlessly lost his life due to the unrelenting prejudice and racism in Maycomb. Rather than the novel ending on a bleak note, it is a hopeful and enduring one of a father who is there for his children, protective over their well-being, always doing what is right, upholding truth and morality, despite the constant threats and conflicts from society.
The novel is concerned with many themes unified into the moral landscape of a small town. The key themes in the novel are: • • • • • • Growing up Courage Prejudice Parents and children/family Man's inhumanity to man Moral Education
There are also other themes highlighted throughout the novel, which make this novel so absorbing and real. These include: religious bigotry, justice and the law, loneliness, society, family life, education. Although all of these ideas can be looked at separately, all of the themes work together to present Harper Lee's firm convictions.
Courage Two major types of courage are emphasised in the novel: "real courage" when you continue what you are doing even though you are fighting a losing battle ( e.g Mrs Dubose's battle with her morphine addiction, Atticus' decision to defend Tom Robinson ) The other type is about fighting against evil and prejudice. Act of bravery are needed to override prejudice. Example are: Mr Underwood's article about Tom Robinson, Boo Radley's heroic act when he rescues Jem from Bob Ewell, Atticus' stand against prejudice and hypocrisy in the Maycomb community. Look at how Jem rescues his trousers at night from the Radley place, Little Chuck standing up to Burris Ewell in class, Miss Maudie's optimism after her house has burnt down, the way that Mr Link Deas speaks out for the Robinsons.
The main focus of growing up is on Scout and Jem. They become aware of changes within themselves. Some changes are physical, as in Jem's adolescent growth, and some are to do with understanding other people and a growth in social and moral awareness. The children have to learn about the prejudice that is "as much Maycomb as missionary teas" and they discover "the simple hell people give other people." In the process of growing up the children learn the value of selfcontrol, tolerance and respect.
The story is narrated by Scout. Her naivety and childish view of the world is highlighted by the reader, often understanding events better than Scout herself. Over the course of the novel, Scout learns various lessons: • • • • •
From Calpurnia that politeness should be shown to all people even if their manners differ from your own. From Atticus to control her hot-headed rashness and to appreciate the various meanings of courage From Atticus to learn tolerance and to be able to turn the other cheek From Aunt Alexandra the value of being a lady From Heck Tate and Atticus, the destructive implications of society's prejudice
At the end of the novel, Scout has successfully managed to take on Atticus' key lesson - that of seeing another person's point of view. Her behaviour with Boo has dramatically transformed from that at the beginning. (compare her earlier fears born out of ignorance and superstition with what reality now presents to her ) Jem's growing up is quicker and radical. At the beginning of the novel, Jem likes to play superstitious games about Boo Radley with Scout and Dill. The start of Jem's period of maturing is marked when: • Jem goes to get his trousers and Scout comments, "Jem and I first began to part company." Jem begins to recognise Boo's human side and the childish games discontinue. He weeps for Boo when he realises what Boo's life must be like.
Jem becomes more separate from Scout and Dill, particularly after his punishment involving Mrs Dubose. He breaks "the remaining code of our childhood" by telling Atticus that Dill the runaway is in the house. Jem is also proud of showing Scout his first signs of physical maturity and he suffers teenage angst in his response to the injustices of the trial. Although not a child anymore, he has problems in coming to terms with the adult world, which poses a number of contradictions to him. It is through emulating Atticus' fine example that Jem comes through this painful period. He has learned from Atticus' example when he tries to comfort Scout about her mistake after the pageant."Jem was becoming almost as good as Atticus at making you feel right when things went wrong."
This is arguably the most prominent theme. Prejudice is directed towards groups and individuals in the Maycomb community.
(1) Racial prejudice: Look at the trial of Tom Robinson, Aunt Alexandra's attitude to Calpurnia, The Missionary tea ladies, black and white segregation in Maycomb, the lynch mob, attitudes to black people in general....
(2) Class and family prejudice: a) Look at Jem's comments about family,, Tom's sympathy for Mayella, treatment of the Cunninghams, Aunt Alexandra's snobbish obsession with educating the children about their superior family background, how the Finches are treated.... b) The Radleys and the Ewells. The Ewells are seen as the lowest class of whites; the Radleys are misunderstood - why? c) Prejudice against girls / women:- Look at Jem's comments to / treatment of Scout Atticus' views, Scout's education of a woman's position in society ( Miss Maudie religion - chap 5, Atticus - law of all male jury -chap 23, Aunt Alex - conduct and dress code -look for a sense of inequality ' abuse of women ( Mayella ) Individuals: (4) Boo Radley: Look at how prejudice is fed by fear, rumour, superstition, ignorance) Consider the devastating effect of prejudice on Boo's childhood / adulthood. Contemplate the general attitude towards Boo, Scout's fear, the way Nathan treats his brother, etc... (5) Tom Robinson: Look at his treatment before and during the trial; consider the aftermath and his death, particularly Maycomb's reactions. Tom is disadvantaged not only by his skin colour, but also by his class and gender. Note how Harper Lee wants us to perceive him (as an honest, hard-working, honourable man) in comparison with the distorted misrepresentations that he has to suffer. (6) Those who challenge prejudice and stereotypes: Look at how Atticus directly challenges prejudice; consider his maxims (standing in another's shoes, tolerance, sympathy, courage to stand up for what you believe in, preserve justice) How far does Atticus actually challenge prejudice, given the verbal attacks he received for defending a black man?
Parents and Children/Family Atticus shows his children love and respect. He does his best to bring them up to be rational, tolerant and sensitive. Aunt Alexandra criticises his parenting; her attitudes to parenting are in sharp contrast to those that Atticus adopts. Calpurnia is also a mother figure in the children’s lives: Atticus is grateful to her for this role and he trusts her implicitly. Scout and Jem are fortunate in the adults who
care for them. They learn something form each, and know that they are loved. What sort of parents are Tom and Helen Robinson? Other children have less happy experiences. Bob Ewell is not a good parent. His children are filthy, unhealthy and uneducated. There is a hint that he has molested Mayella and there is clear evidence of physical violence within the household, directed at his children. Mayella's pathetic and dangerous attempt for some affection shows how damage Bob Ewell has inflicted. She lives out of fear of her father who cares little for his parental responsibilities. Dill and Boo Radley are also damaged children. Dill suffers from his parents' indifference and finds a substitute parent in Atticus. Dill is starved of love making him only able to live in the world of dreams and fantasies. Boo is the victim of a bigoted father who sacrifices his son's emotional and physical health to his own prejudices. This family, with its secrets and its closed shutters, demonstrates the damage that can be done when human beings are deprived of the emotional environment they need to grow to their full potential. His confinement and stunted development leave him a broken shell, unable to cope in the outside world.
Man's Inhumanity to Man
Dolphus Raymond's remark epitomises what happens within the closed society of Maycomb. There are many examples of the "hell" of isolation, of being outcast, of being denied what is necessary to sustain human happiness. • • • • • • • • The negroes have no education and are by and large illiterate Black people receive pitiful wages and have no job prospects yet they are expected to be grateful for any mercies. Black people are derided and insulted. At best they are referred to as "niggers"; at worst they are seen to be immoral and criminal. The casual way in which Nathan shoots at black people demonstrates a society who totally disregard black people as human beings with rights. Miss Maudie doesn't treat the black people as outcasts. Indeed, she challenges such prejudice, along with Atticus. Children are emotionally and physically abused within the loose family structure (Mayella, Boo Radley) Parents mistreat or ignore their children (Dill) There is also the hell of class consciousness which keeps sections of the community in isolation from one another. Look at how Scout tells Cal that Walter is not "company" as he is a Cunningham. Later she learns from her mistake and is deeply upset that Aunt Alex refers to Walter as "trash." Aunt Alexandra tries to reinforce class divisions by showing her horror that Calpurnia took the children to church. The injustice of the trial. Tom is imprisoned and later killed as a result of people's prejudice. The trial is a mockery of justice. The missionary tea ladies speak out against prejudice and yet mistreat their fellow human beings.
• • • •
The first part of the novel is, in large part, about education in some form. Scout is learning through experience all the time and is guided in this by the wise and tolerant Atticus. She is also educated by her older brother Jem, whilst Jem himself is also learning from the events around him and from his father.
Scout and Jem learn:
• • • • • • • • • • • • •
Adults are not always wise Calpurnia is a friend (uncompromising, straight, but loving) Poverty and ignorance are enemies Fighting isn’t an appropriate response to ignorance Compromise is better than conflict Prejudice is caused by fear and ignorance Privacy is to be respected; other people’s feelings must be considered Life is not always fair State education can be restrictive rather than stimulating Being a gentleman has nothing to do with possessions Dogmatic (strict) religion can be cruel and harsh Courage can be ‘doing nothing’ – Atticus teaches them what true courage is It’s a sin ‘to kill a mockingbird’
The type of ‘artificial’ education that Miss Caroline is a proponent of is unsuccessful; Miss Caroline, a young and inexperienced teacher, rigidly follows the techniques she has been taught in college. She is in sharp contrast with Atticus, who is much older and wiser; he understands that the most important lessons in life are moral lessons. Instead of teaching his children in a rigid, structured manner, Atticus allows them the freedom to learn informally; Scout and Jem can both read from a young age, in spite of having had no formal instruction. Scout is allowed to dress as she pleases, even though it contravenes societal norms; the children have freedom to roam much of the neighbourhood (within certain reasonable boundaries) and he does not tell the children who they can and can’t play with – for example, although Walter Cunningham is of much lower social status than the Finches, he is invited to dine with them and Atticus treats him with respect and understanding. This leads to the children developing their own views on the world around them based on their own experiences. This method of teaching demonstrates Harper Lee’s own feelings on the subject; by the end of the book Jem and Scout have grown to become much more rounded, knowledgeable and understanding young people, thus demonstrating that their education under Atticus has been a success.
Shortly after the novel begins, Scout starts her first year at school. The educational system in Maycomb leaves much to be desired. Scout is ahead of her classmates because Atticus has taught her to read and write, and Calpurnia has even taught her script. However, once her teacher discovers this, she punishes Scout and tells her not to learn anything else at home, because her father does not know how to teach her properly. This is the first clear conflict between institutionalized education and education in the home. Atticus clearly takes great pride in instilling a powerful sense of morality in his children. He truthfully answers whatever questions they ask, and encourages their inquisitive minds by treating them as adults and encouraging them to grow intellectually and morally as much as possible. On the other hand, Scout's teacher has a very specific understanding of what children should learn when, even if this schedule requires holding a child back. For example, when she asks Scout to write during class and Scout writes in script, she chides her and tells her that she should not be doing that for many years, because it isn't taught in school until much later. Scout feels frustrated that her teacher does not understand her and only wants to hold her back. Scout comes to Atticus with concerns about her education and he helps her understand that she must get an education, even though she might find the process frustrating, and that he will continue to read with her and teach her at home. Clearly, Atticus understands the faults of the educational system, but also knows it is necessary for his children to pass through this system to be a part of society. However, his teaching at home, both morally and otherwise, is far more valuable to his children than anything they learn in the classroom. Scout notices this most obviously when learning about the Holocaust. Her teacher explains that such oppression of one group of people could never happen in the United States and Scout is astonished. She heard Miss Gates outside the court house during Tom Robinson's trial saying that, referring to black people, she thought it was, "time somebody taught them a lesson, they thought they was getting' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us." Scout sees Miss Gates's statement about blacks in clear conflict with her statement about the equality in America. Scout receives the majority of her education in the home, and doesn't believe school will do much for her. At the end of the novel, she notes that she has learned probably all there is to learn, except maybe algebra. Clearly, Scout understands that life experiences are the true teachers, and that Atticus has taught her more than school ever will. Clearly, Lee is expressing a lack of belief in the institutionalized educational system, and in fact suggests it might do more harm than good. Perhaps a more valuable education can be found in the home.
KEY QUOTATIONS: CHARACTER
“Jem and I were accustomed to our father’s last-will-and-testament diction, and we were free to interrupt Atticus for a translation when it was beyond our understanding.” (ch3, p.35) “Atticus don’t ever do anything to Jem and me in the house that he don’t do in the yard.” (ch5, p.51) “Atticus ain’t ever whipped me since I can remember.” (ch6, p.62) “…all I can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe you’ll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn’t let you down.” (ch11, p.116) “…before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.” (ch11, p.116) “You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?” “I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody…” (ch11, p.120) “Every night Atticus would read us the sports pages of the newspaper.” (ch11, p.122) “That proves something – that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human." (ch16, Atticus referring to the lynch mob) "He liked Maycomb, he was Maycomb County born and bred; he knew his people, they knew him, and because of Simon Finch's industry, Atticus was related by blood and marriage to nearly every family in the town." (ch1, p5) "Atticus said professional people were poor because the farmers were poor." (ch2, p 23) "Atticus greeted Walter and began a discussion about crops neither Jem nor I could follow." (ch3, p26) "We couldn't operate a single day without Cal, have you ever thought of that?" (ch3, p28) "His fingers wandered to his watch pocket; he said that was the only way he could think." (ch3, p32) "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." (ch3, p33)
"Do you know what a compromise is? . . . an agreement reached by mutual concessions. 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?" (ch3, p34)
"Atticus said if I paid no attention to him, Jem would come down. Atticus was right." ( ch3, p35) "What are you doing with those scissors, then? Why are you tearing up that newspaper? If it's today's I'll tan you." (ch4, p45) "Atticus don't ever do anything to Jem and me in the house that he don't do in the yard..." (ch5, p51) "Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets." (ch5, p51) "'You want to be a lawyer, don't you?' Our father's mouth was suspiciously firm, as if he were trying to hold it in line." (ch5, p55) "Atticus saved Dill from immediate dismemberment. 'Just a minute, Miss Rachel,' he said. 'I've never heard of 'em doing that before. Were you all playing cards?'" (ch6, p61) "He said he often woke up during the night, checked on us, and read himself back to sleep." (ch6, p63) "Atticus strolled over to Miss Maudie's sidewalk where they engaged in an arm-waving conversation, the only phrase of which I caught was ' . . . erected an absolute morphodite in that yard! Atticus you'll never raise 'em!'" (ch8, p75) "I saw Atticus carrying Miss Maudie's heavy oak rocking-chair, and thought it most sensible of him to save what she valued most." (ch8, p77) "Atticus had promised me he would wear me out if he ever heard of me fighting any more..." (ch9, p82) "I'm simply defending a Negro . . . there's been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn't do much about defending this man." (ch9, p83) "If I didn't I couldn't hold up my head in town, I couldn't represent my county in legislature, I couldn't even tell you or Jem not to do something again." (ch9, p83) " . . .every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. . . . Try fighting with your head for a change . . " (ch9, p84)
"When a child asks you something, answer him . . . they can spot an evasion quicker than adults. . . all she needs is assistance sometimes." (ch9, p97)
" . . . I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness . . . 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 . . . " (ch9, p98) "Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty." (ch10, p98) "Atticus wasn't interested in guns . . . 'shoot all the blue jays you want . . . but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." (ch10, p99) "Atticus Finch was the deadest shot in Maycomb County in his time." (ch10, p108) "Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!" (ch10, p109)
“In all his life, Jem had never declined a dare.” (ch1, p.14) “Jem was a born hero.” (ch4, p.44) “Jem was not one to dwell on past defeats…” (ch6, p.57)
“Aunt Alexandra was Atticus’ sister… I decided that she had been swapped at birth.” (ch9, p.86) “… the only time I ever heard Atticus speak sharply to anyone was when I once heard him say, ‘Sister, I done the best I can with them!” (ch9, p.90) “Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches…” (ch9, p.90)
THE RADLEY FAMILY “A Negro would not pass the Radley place at night.” (ch1, p.9) “The Radley’s, welcome anywhere in town, kept to themselves.” (ch1, p.10)
“Mr Radley and his wife had lived there with their two sons as long as anybody could remember.” (ch1, p.10) “The shutters and doors of the Radley house were closed on Sundays, another thing alien to Maycomb’s ways: closed doors meant illness and cold weather only.” (ch1, p.10)
BOO (ARTHUR) RADLEY
“Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom”. (ch1, p.9) “If the judge released Arthur, Mr. Radley would see to it that Arthur gave no further trouble.” (ch1, p.11) “Mr Radley’s boy was not seen again for fifteen years.” (ch1, p.11) “… there were other ways of making people into ghosts.” (ch1, p.12) “I remember Arthur Radley when he was a boy. He always spoke nicely to me, no matter what folks said he did.” (ch5, p.51)
“Mr Radley walked down to town at eleven thirty every morning and came back promptly at twelve.” (ch1, p.10)
THE EWELL FAMILY
“They were people but they lived like animals.” (ch3, p.34) “They come first day every year and then leave.” (ch3, p.30)
“He was the filthiest human I had ever seen.” (ch3, p.29) “You ain’t sendin’ me home, missus. I was on the verge of leavin’ – I done my time for this year.” (ch3, p.30) “He’s a mean one, a hard-down mean one.” (ch3, p.30) “Ain’t no snot-nosed slut of a school-teacher ever born c’n make me do nothin’!” (ch3, p.31)
“A man spends his relief checks on green whiskey his children have a way of crying from hunger pains.” (ch3, p.34)
THE CUNNINGHAM FAMILY
“The Cunninghams never took anything they can’t pay back – no church baskets, no scrip stamps. They get along on what they have.” (ch3, p.22) “The Cunninghams are country folks, farmers, and the crash hit them hardest.” (ch3, p.23) “As the Cunninghams had no money to pay a lawyer they simply paid us with what they had.” (ch3, p.23) “Walter Cunningham’s face told everybody in the first grade he had hookworms.” (ch3, p.21) “He had never seen three quarters together at the same time in his life.” (ch3, p.22) "Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man . . . He just has his blind spots like the rest of us.” (ch16, Atticus)
“She was all angles and bones, nearsighted, squinted, her hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as hard.” (ch1, p.6) “Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side.” (ch1, p.6) “… when she was furious Calpunia’s grammar became erratic. When in tranquillity, her grammar was as good as anybody’s in Maycomb. Atticus said Calpurnia had more education than most coloured folks.” (ch3, p.27) “We couldn’t operate a single day without Cal, have you ever thought of that?” (ch3, p.28)
“…neighbourhood opinion was unanimous that Mrs. Dubose was the meanest old woman who ever lived.” (ch4, p.39) “Don’t you say hey to me, you ugly girl! You say good afternoon, Mrs Dubose!” (ch11, p.110) “what are you doing in those overalls? You should be in a dress and camisole, young lady!” (ch11, p.112) “Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!” (ch11, p.113) “I wanted you to see something about her – I wanted you to see what real courage is… she was the bravest person I ever knew.” (ch11, p.124)
“Miss Maudie hated her house: time spent indoors was time wasted.” (ch5, p.47) “Jem and I had considerable faith in Miss Maudie… She was our friend.” (ch5, p.49) “Miss Maudie puzzled me. With most of her possessions gone and her beloved yard a shambles, she still took a lively and cordial interest in Jem’s and my affairs.” (ch8, p.81)
KEY QUOTATIONS: THEME GROWING UP
“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.” (ch3, p.33) “I tried to climb into Jen’s skin and walk around in it.” (ch7, p.64)
“I was far too old and too big for such childish things, and the sooner I learned to hold in, the better off everybody would be.” (ch9, p.82) “It was the first time I ever walked away from a fight.” (ch9, p.85)
“Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common.” (ch9, p.83) “Do all lawyers defend n-Negroes, Atticus?” (ch9, p.83)
MORAL EDUCATION The children learn... From Calpurnia – that politeness and respect should be shown to all people, even if they are not like you. • From Atticus – not to fight, to appreciate different types of courage, to learn tolerance and be able to turn the other cheek. • From Aunt Alexandra – the virtues of being a lady. • • "The Dewey Decimal System consisted, in part, of Miss Caroline waving cards at us which were printed 'the,' 'cat,' 'rat,' 'man,' and 'you.'" (ch2, p20) "She discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste." (ch2, p19) "Your father does not know how to teach. You can have a seat now"' (ch2, p19)
"Running through our list of Dramas based on Oliver Optic, Victor Appleton and Edgar Rice Burroughs. [books]" (ch1, p8)
“Mr Radley shot a Negro in his collard patch.” (ch6, p.60) “Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common.” (ch9, p.83) “Grandma says it’s bad enough he lets you all run wild, but now he’s turned out a niggerlover we’ll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb again.” (ch9, p.92) “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.” (ch10, p.100) “Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for.” (ch11, p.113) “Cry about the simple hell people give other people without even thinking. Cry about the hell white people give coloured folks, without even stopping to think that they’re people too." (ch20, spoken by Dolphus) " I thought to myself, well, we’re making a step – it’s just a baby step, but it’s a step." (ch22, Miss Maudie after hearing that the jury took several hours to convict Tom) "That was the one thing that made me think, well, this may be the shadow of the beginning. That jury took a few hours." (ch23, Atticus) "Time somebody taught them a lesson, they thought they was getting' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us." (ch26, spoken by a teacher at the Maycomb school)
GENDER PREJUDICE “Jem told me I was being a girl, that girls always imagined things, that’s why other people hated them so, and if I started behaving like one I could just go off and find some to play with.” (ch4, p.45)
“Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches…” (ch9, p.90) “Boys don’t cook.” (ch9, p.91)
“…what are you doing in those overalls? You should be in a dress and camisole, young lady!” (ch11, p.112) PREJUDICE TOWARDS INDIVIDUALS
Use relevant quotes on Boo Radley.
CHARACTER GRID Use this to focus your notes
What are they like / general information? Atticus What others think of them? Role in the novel? Key quotes / page references.
JEM AND SCOUT – SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES
Brainstorm the similarities and differences between Jem and Scout. SCOUT JEM
EXAMINING THE COURTROOM SCENE Read through the courtroom scene and make notes using this grid:
HECK TATE: Actual facts (what happened, time, who was involved ) BOB EWELL (prejudiced comments, insinuations, how this witness acts in court, what evidence does he actually bring to the court ) ATTICUS In cross-examining Mr Ewell, Atticus is trying to lead the court to see the incident in a different light. Identify what and how he does this?!
At the end of chapter 17, are you convinced that Tom Robinson is guilty of rape? Explain your judgement fully at this point of the trial. Do you believe that the all white jury would believe Ewell's testimony?
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