The story of "To Kill a Mockingbird" begins at summertime in Maycomb - an idle town in the north of Alabama. Scout and Jem Finch conspire together with Dill Harris, a boy from Mississippi who came to visit his aunt for the summer, and make a secret plan to tempt their mysterious neighbour Boo Radley to come out of his house, which he hasn''t left in a long time.
Boo supposedly stayed at home all this time because he''s been extremely violent in the past, up to a point when he stabbed his father using a pair of scissors. After that it was agreed that his family should be responsible for keeping him inside.
The narrator is Scout, a 6 years old girl with witty and profound insights regarding life and people. Harper Lee does not limit Scout''s vocabulary to that of a 6-year-old, but manages to keep a 6-year-old''s point of view, nevertheless.
The Finch children were brought up by their father, Atticus, a lawyer with a strong social conscience and a zeal for un-popular cases. Their mother died abruptly when Scout was 2 years old. Calpurnia, the African-American cook who works for the Finch''s, helps raising the kids. She often settles their frequent quarrels with great wisdom and love.
Dill''s arrival gives Lee the opportunity to present plenty of background information, as Scout introduces herself, her family and her town to the new kid. The Finch children have a spark of their father''s spirit - a well developed sense of justice, willingness to serve others and a tendency to trust people. Atticus is a small-town layer. He knows everyone in Maycomb, he serves everyone and he trusts them to pay him whenever they can (and most of them indeed pay eventually). The children, who refer to their father by his first name, discuss social issues with him at length; especially they way black people are treated in their town.
When Tom Robinson, a black man, is being charged of raping Mayella Ewell - a white woman, Atticus takes his case. Tom is barely saved from lynching by a raging mob, thanks to the unintentional interference of Scout and Jem on his behalf. Meanwhile, many of the town''s people turn against Atticus for representing Robinson in this case. During the months that proceed the trial Scout and Jem are being constantly harassed at school by their classmates. The opening of trial creates somewhat of a carnival in town, and the Finch children watch it secretly from the court balcony, where only black people are supposed to sit, so their father won''t see them.
Atticus proves in court that it is absolutely impossible that Tom had committed the crime he''s being accused of, but here prejudices take the lead and Tom is found guilty. This un-just verdict is very troubling to Scout and Jem. After the trial Tom tries to escape prison and is killed in that attempt. Later, when Mr. Ewell gets drunk and tries to attack Scout and Jem, Boo Radley comes through for them, saves them from harm, and teaches them an important lesson. This lesson echoes throughout this novel - appearance can be misleading.