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To Kill a Mockingbird


So you just finished the last page of "To Kill a Mockingbird" but now what? You know that starting tomorrow in English class you’re going to get called on. There’s going to be class discussion, quotation analysis, you’re going to have to write papers on this book. And the idea of all these things makes you break out in a cold sweat. Well, you should be glad that I’m here.

My name’s Linda Hirw and this course is just for you on To Kill A Mockingbird. This is actually probably one of my top five favorite books. So I’m really going to bring some passion to it, and I hope that that will be catching. I hope it’s contagious and that you have that passion as well.

Today we’re going to start really basic. We’re going to do some plot summary and book summary, and we’re going to move into some more general ideas, nothing too extreme for the first day. If you feel like you’re ready, let’s get started.

What do you think about when I say the words, America in the 1960s? If you’re like me, you want to focus on the fun stuff, like a Scooby Doo van, a 1960s VW van, you want to think about people hula hooping. You want to think about crazy hair, like the flip and the afro. But you know what, the 1960s in our country were not just about fun and fads. It was the end of the Civil Rights era. So there was a lot of really significant stuff happening in our country. And that’s when our book, to kill a mocking bird, was published and really became quite successful.

It’s important though when we think about To Kill A Mockingbird, that we don’t confuse some time periods here. The book was written and published by Harper Lee in 1960. However, the setting for this book is in 1930. So a 30 year time span so there are a lot of things that we need to keep clear in our mind with the differences between the two.

Let’s think about 1930. That’s when Harper Lee was a child. Those were her formative years. And I want to tell you a little bit about something that was happening during that time frame, in the '30s. In 1931, nine young black men were put on trial in Alabama, and they were accused of raping two white women on a train. Does it sound familiar at all to you? It was a really long and highly publicized trial in Scottsboro, Alabama. Are you seeing some similarities here? There are a lot of things that seemed to point in the direction that Harper Lee based the trial in To Kill A Mockingbird on this very famous Scottsboro trial. In an interview, once she denied it, but I think you’ll see when we examine the two, there are so many parallels that it really can’t be a coincidence. Let’s check it out.

Parallels in the trial are many. The first one, both trials involve wrongfully accused black men and an all white jury. The charges were rape. And later in both situations, the person who made the original charge recanted their original statements and said no it didn’t really happen. Additionally, there was wrongful imprisonment. The accusers were poor white women and the setting was in southern Alabama. Let’s think about that.

Doesn’t that sound a little bit too coincidental to you? I’ve got to think so, no matter what Harper Lee says. If you’re interested in some more of these parallels, check out what I’ve got linked in the bonus material section. There is even more than just this, that the two different trials have in common. So the Scottsboro trial was one of the most famous trials in American history. And it was really key when it came to race relations in our country. Now that’s kind of our background information, let’s get into the book.

Are you excited? Because I am psyched to start talking about this book. To Kill A Mockingbird is a coming of age story. Have you heard of that before? Lots of great movies and literature are coming of age. What that really means is that, we have a character, who’s had kind of a standard sheltered existence maybe, and something large happens that affects their entire outlook on life. It’s really the basis for a lot of real works of literature and even movies like The Goonies, which you should totally check out if you haven’t seen it before. It’s coming of age for Scout, probably for Jem. Other characters as well. It’s significant to keep that in mind as we talk about the rest of the book.

Now there are really two story lines in this book. And the first one has to do with Boo Radley. Now let’s think about Boo and kind of what his situation is. He’s very reclusive. He doesn’t come out of his house, or he’s almost like a hermit. We know some bad things happen to him when he was a little boy and it’s really given him this reputation, almost of being a monster. But, as the book progresses we realize he’s a good guy, he’s misunderstood and he’s really just been a victim if you think about it, of prejudice. It might not be racial prejudice, but it’s people forming opinions about him, when they don’t even know him. And that is essentially the idea of prejudice.

Our second storyline has to do with Tom Robinson’s trial. Now we just talked about some details with that and how it parallels the Scottsboro trial. But just to review, Tom Robinson was a black man who is wrongfully accused of raping a white woman named Mayella Ewell. Now, we find out later that he really was just over there at her house helping her out with something that she asked for. And if advances were made, they’re really on her part. They were caught kissing by her father who then had this idea, because he couldn’t handle the idea of his daughter with a black man. That they were going to accuse him of this crime. He was then taken to trial, with an all white jury. And even though almost all the evidence pointed to the fact that he didn’t do it, he was still found guilty.

So those are the two general story lines for the majority of the book. They’re kind of separate. But in the end of the book, storylines one and two come together for the climax of the novel.

Now after a while, Mr. Ewell, Mayella’s dad, kind of has this grudge against Atticus Finch. He wants to get back at him. He finds or feels that he has been ruined because Atticus pointed out all these things about his daughter and the truth kind of came out in the trail that maybe she was basically trying to get with this black guy. And in this time period, in this community, it’s completely an unacceptable idea. So in the end to get back at Atticus, Mr. Ewell actually goes and attacks his children; Jem and Scout. Jem and Scout are saved by Boo Radley. So now we see these two plot lines coming together.

That’s a really basic summary, but I've got to stress this, because I’m a teacher and it’s kind of, I might get fired if I don’t say it. You have to read the book. What I just did is not going to substitute for you actually picking up the novel and reading every single page of it. And the movie is fantastic. It’s an Oscar winning movie. It has great acting, it’s absolutely incredible, but it’s not a substitute for the book either. In fact, there are some characters in the book that don’t even make it to the movie. So don’t be stupid and think you can get away with it, because your teacher is not dumb.

Now we talked some real general plot information, but you also kind of need to know more specific things. Next we’re going to look at a way that you can keep some plot points organized and simple.

There is a lot of details and plot points that you need to keep straight for this book. I’m going to show you a couple of different ways that you can do that. Now if you check out the bonus materials section, I’ve linked a resource of graphic organizers. You should really check it and find a graphic organizer that works for you. Now traditionally, you’ve probably seen a plot diagram that kind of looks like this. That’s what I was taught in school. That’s probably what they’ve been teaching in school for years and years. I find that this works really well for a short story.

It’s got this whole thing with the rising action, and the climax, and the falling action, and the resolution. But with this story we like To Kill a Mockingbird, that is very detailed and we were just talking about the different storylines that run through it. I find this a little bit restrictive. It’s hard to just pick one point and call it the climax, or pick just one thing that could be a rising action. There’s so much going on, that I don’t know that this really works the best. If you like it though, go for it. Use it. Or if you find another graphic organizer in the bonus materials that gave you, use that. It’s really up to what you’re most comfortable with.

Now believe it or not, what I’m most comfortable with is, it almost looks like a timeline. So if this is the course of the book, what I would do is just do a little line for each chapter. And then on that little line, after I’m finished reading a chapter, just jot down some main ideas about what happened. If you do that for all 31 chapters, you’re going to create this amazing resource for yourself in which you could use it as a reference. Maybe you can’t remember which chapter was it that Boo started leaving presents in the tree? You can go back to your little timeline, and you’ve got that reference there. So I put one together for you.

It’s going vertically. Whatever works for you. This just usually works better on a piece of paper with lines going up and down. So you can see what I’ve done, chapter seven, more gifts in the tree. Chapter eight, fire at Miss Maude’s house. I’ve really just taken one or two things that I think are significant in the plot and placed them on my little timeline. That’s really all there is to it.

You might be saying, I just finished reading the book, I’m not going to go and read the book again and do this. I don’t want you to read the whole book again. Really if you just flip through it, kind of scan or skim each chapter, you’ll pick up on what’s important. So this is my suggestion to you, but again, find whatever you’re most comfortable with. One little word of caution, don’t go for the spark notes summaries or quick notes or something like that. They’re often filled with inaccuracies. One of my students pointed out from one of the helpers that she was using that they described Scout’s Halloween costume as a ham, which if you read the book, which you better have read the book, we know that’s not true. She was in a school play, it wasn’t Halloween. There is no Halloween in the book. So just be weary of things like that.

To wrap it up, what I’m telling you is find a graphic organizer that works for you, mine is the timeline. But if that doesn’t work for you, it’s cool. Find what works for you and use it.

We covered a lot in this first episode, but in case you were spending a little too much time trying to think of the ultimate senior, don’t use, “what a long strange trip it’s been”. Here is the gist of what you missed.

We talked about social and historical context. So I gave you some background information for what was happening at the time the book came out, and also the time that the book is set. The other things we did were talk plot. I gave you two major storylines and showed you how at the beginning they are kind of individual, but they come together at the end. I also share with you some really cool graphic organizers. You can use those to keep track of plot. Try them out today, tomorrow, with the next book you read. They are really great and resourceful tool.

So the next thing we’re going to do since we’ve already covered background and plot and context, is we’re going to move on to the people. The people of the book and the author. So if you’re ready, I’m ready. Let’s move on to the next episode and get into character.

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