To Kill a Mockingbird A digital, teacher's guide to the play by Christopher Sergel, based on the novel by Harper Lee

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"To Kill a Mockingbird" runs February 12th - 28th, 2016 at the Judy Bayley Theatre, on the campus of UNLV

The Novel and the play

By Marlo Ihler

In 1960, author Harper Lee published what was to become one of the most influential novels in American history, "To Kill a Mockingbird." Ironically when it was first published she was told not to expect it to sell more than a couple thousand copies. It quickly became a sensation, and now, over fifty years later, it has never been out of print, has sold over thirty million copies and has been translated into forty languages (Harper Collins, 2008). It also received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961, among other awards garnered over the years.

Lee, born in 1926, has stated that her novel is not an autobiography, though the basis of the story and its characters reflect her life growing up in Monroeville, Alabama, during the Great Depression. The central family’s last name, Finch, is the same as Lee’s mother’s maiden name; her father was a lawyer, like Atticus Finch; Lee, too, studied law before pursuing her writing career; her best friend growing up, Truman Capote, was the inspiration for the character of Dill; the trial in the novel reflects a famous trial of the time (the Scottsboro trial); the fictional setting of Maycomb County bares resemblance to Monroeville (Joyce Moss and George Wilson, Literature and Its Times, 1997, vol. 3, p. 390, 395).

Within two years of publishing the novel, it was adapted by director Robert Mulligan into a highly acclaimed film, starring Gregory Peck. The film won three Oscars, including one for Peck’s portrayal of Atticus.

By 1970, writer Christopher Sergel was working on a stage adaptation. Lee was always very cautious and careful about whom she would permit to use her story. Sergel was given permission to copyright his adaptation, which premiered in 1991 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. During the twenty years it took him to adapt the play, he made countless revisions, and even after it premiered he continued to revise it. Interestingly, it was originally intended for middle schools and high schools, but has since become a popular favorite of regional theatres across the nation (

It also enjoys an annual performance at the courthouse in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville every spring, though Lee, who still lives there, does not attend. She remains “deeply private and defiantly silent” about her novel. The play has basically become a Passion play for the community, and “with its strong moral statement . . . has inspired the citizens of Monroeville” (Albert Murray, New York Times: Long Lives the Mockingbird, Aug. 9, 1998).

Sergel’s version of To Kill a Mockingbird was only one of many stage adaptations he did during his lifetime. He loved the theatre and did dramatic adaptations of other well-known books including Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, which ran on Broadway, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Mouse That Roared, Up the Down Staircase, and Black Elk Speaks. He also wrote other plays and musicals, including Fame, Get Smart, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Outsiders, and Pillow Talk.

In 1970, the same year he began adapting "To Kill a Mockingbird," he became president of Dramatic Publishing, a play publishing and leasing company founded in 1885 by his great uncle, Charles Sergel. According to their website, his “greatest adventures and deepest love” in life was the work he did at Dramatic Publishing...

Photo of the author Harper Lee - Hulton/Getty, Time Inc. Books 6/26/15

Other work by the author - "Go Set a Watchman"

Although written before her first and only other published novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird—and initially promoted by its publisher as a sequel—it is now more widely accepted as an earlier draft. The title comes from Isaiah 21:6: "For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth." It alludes to Jean Louise Finch's view of her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral compass ("watchman") of Maycomb, and has a theme of disillusionment, as she discovers the extent of the bigotry in her home community. The book's unexpected and controversial discovery, decades after it was written, together with the exceptional eminence of the author's only other book—an American classic—caused its publication to be highly anticipated. According to the publisher, Go Set a Watchman, "...tackles the racial tensions brewing in the South in the 1950s and delves into the complex relationship between father and daughter." It includes versions of many of the characters who appear in To Kill a Mockingbird.


1930's Maycomb, Alabama. Maycomb is a fictionalized town that is reminiscent of the town the author is from, Moneroeville, Alabama.

Small town life circa 1930

The story

By Jennifer Van Buskirk

Atticus Finch fights for what is right while his children, Jem and Scout Finch, learn about the injustices of adulthood in Maycomb County, Alabama during the Great Depression.

In the summer of 1935 Atticus Finch prepares to represent Tom Robinson who is on trial for the rape of Mayella Ewell. During the height of the Great Depression the town of Maycomb County, Alabama struggles to survive while issues of racism and morality plague the town with Tom Robinson’s upcoming trial. Through Jem and Scout’s neighbors and the Maycomb community they learn the harsh realities and injustices of racism, as well as a moral lesson in how both good and evil can simultaneously exist as adults.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, a poet and playwright during the Great Depression, captures Jem and Scout’s transition into adulthood perfectly in her poem “Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies.”

Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age. The child is grown, and puts away childish things. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies. Nobody that matters, that is.

Photo of a courtroom similar in style to the one in To Kill a Mockingbird.



Imagine a world where everyone with blue eyes got to give orders to everyone with brown eyes. If you're born with blue eyes, you get the good jobs, the good schools, the good houses, and all the fair trials you could want. If you have brown eyes—too bad. It's menial labor, rudimentary education, and a house by the dump.

It doesn't make any sense. And if it happened overnight, there'd be massive protests. But what if it happened gradually, and what if generations after generations slowly came to accept it? Pretty soon, you'd have people arguing that brown-eyed people are just naturally inferior, and that's Just the Way It Is. And if you're living in a hidebound, one-horse town like Maycomb, there's even less reason to question the status quo. And that's where we are in "To Kill a Mockingbird:" a town even more traditional-bound than the rest of the South, where it's not just black people who Are the Way They Are, but the white families, too.

Questions for stUdents About Racism

  • How does the novel portray its African-American characters? Are there elements of racism in these portrayals?
  • How is the African-American community similar to the white community in Maycomb? How is it different? How might these similarities and differences affect how the two communities see each other?
  • How might Maycomb, and the events of the novel, be different if there were more than two races represented in the town?
  • Does the novel seem to think that racism will eventually be overcome? Or will there always be an element of racism in Maycomb?
African American children in a segregated classroom and a Ku Klux Klan rally with children in Klan robes. Photo Elliot Erwit/Magnum from Time Inc. Books 6/26/15
Chew on this

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

  • The black characters in To Kill a Mockingbird contribute to the development of the white characters rather than appearing as individuals in their own right.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird suggests that racism is learned, so can be unlearned.

Justice and Judgement

Ideal: a jury of one's peers dispassionately determine guilt or innocence based on the fact. Reality: a group of white men who aren't influential enough to get out of jury duty have decided the case before they even enter the courtroom. In "To Kill a Mockingbird," justice is a privilege, not a right. You want a fair trial? Well, we sure hope you were lucky enough to be born white.

Questions for students About Justice and Judgment

  • Does Tom Robinson receive a fair trial under the law? Why or why not? Would having an all-black jury have resulted in a different verdict?
  • According to the novel, is it ever justified to act outside the law in order to ensure justice? If so, when is it justified? If not, what do you do when the law allows injustice?
  • What's the novel's take on the American legal system? What are its strengths, and what are its weakness?
Civil rights marchers with Dr. King in Alabama. Photo Off/AFP/Getty from Time Inc. Books 6/26/15
Chew on this

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, the criminal court system may be broken, but it's still the best chance for justice.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird contrasts court-justice and vigilante-justice to show that they both have strengths and weaknesses.


Early in To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel paraphrases Franklin D. Roosevelt's inaugural address: "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Right on: fear can be very scary when it hijacks people's reason and compassion for others. As another great statesman, Yoda, put it, "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." And where does that all leave us? The Dark Side, or in this case, racism, injustice, harassment, and senseless killing. Fear makes people lash out against what scares them to restore the familiar order, even if they have to destroy innocent lives along the way.

Questions for students About Fear

  • Tom is disabled and seems like a nice, unthreatening guy. So why is Maycomb so scared of him?
  • Why is Mayella so frightened on the witness stand? Who is frightening her?
  • What does the novel say about what things should be considered scary, and what shouldn't?
  • What's the relationship here between fear and race?
Chew on this

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

  • Maycomb is afraid that if Mayella's accusation is revealed as false, other African-American men will commit the crime of which Tom is falsely accused.
  • For Scout, her fear of growing up is linked to her fear of change.
More themes to think about
  • Education
  • Morality
  • Social Injustice
  • The Innocence of Youth
  • Law and Order
  • Courage

Photo of African American families circa 1930

Symbols and Motifs

There are several different symbols and motiffs in the novel.

A Mockingbird

A Mockingbird

"...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."

Possible themes linked to this symbol:

  • Innocence
  • Purity
  • Selflessness


Azaleas in bloom
Camellia in bloom
Geraniums in bloom

"...However, against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson. People said they were Mayella Ewell's"

Possible themes linked to this symbol:

  • Understanding
  • Trust
  • Bravery

The Radley House

That creepy house that everyone in the neighborhood is afraid of.

"...would not pass the Radley Place at night, he would cut across to the sidewalk opposite and whistle as he walked. The Maycomb school grounds adjoined the back of the Radley lot; from the Radley chickenyard tall pecan trees shook their fruit into the schoolyard, but the nuts lay untouched by the children: Radley pecans would kill you. A baseball hit into the Radley yard was a lost ball and no questions asked."

Possible themes linked to this symbol:

  • Fear
  • The unknown
  • Mystery

Mad Dog

Rabies or Racism (photo of Rabies virus)
Mad dog foaming at the mouth

"...Tim Johnson (the mad dog) was not much more than a speck in the distance, but he was closer to us. He walked erratically, as if his right legs were shorter than his left leg. He reminded me of a car stuck in a sandbed...Calpurnia stared, then grabbed us by the shoulders and ran us home...Tim Johnson was advancing at a snail’s pace, but he was not playing or sniffing at foliage: he seemed dedicated to one course and motivated by an invisible force that was inching him toward us. We could see him shiver like a horse shedding flies; his jaw opened and shut; he was alist, but he was being pulled gradually toward us."

Possible themes linked to this symbol:

  • Mob injustice
  • Aggression towards the Finch family
  • Racism


Are there other symbols or motiffs that you have discovered in the novel?

Photo of Harper Lee and her father, A.C. Lee. The fictionalization character of Atticus may be loosely based on A.C. Lee. Photo by Donald Uhbrock/Life Images Collection/Getty. Time Inc. Books 6/26/15

Characters in the Story

Jean Louise “Scout” Finch - The narrator and protagonist of the story. Scout lives with her father, Atticus, her brother, Jem, and their black cook, Calpurnia, in Maycomb. She is intelligent and, by the standards of her time and place, a tomboy. Scout has a combative streak and a basic faith in the goodness of the people in her community. As the novel progresses, this faith is tested by the hatred and prejudice that emerge during Tom Robinson’s trial. Scout eventually develops a more grown-up perspective that enables her to appreciate human goodness without ignoring human evil.

Atticus Finch - Scout and Jem’s father, a lawyer in Maycomb descended from an old local family. A widower with a dry sense of humor, Atticus has instilled in his children his strong sense of morality and justice. He is one of the few residents of Maycomb committed to racial equality. When he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man charged with raping a white woman, he exposes himself and his family to the anger of the white community. With his strongly held convictions, wisdom, and empathy, Atticus functions as the novel’s moral backbone.

Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch - Scout’s brother and constant playmate at the beginning of the story. Jem is something of a typical American boy, refusing to back down from dares and fantasizing about playing football. Four years older than Scout, he gradually separates himself from her games, but he remains her close companion and protector throughout the novel. Jem moves into adolescence during the story, and his ideals are shaken badly by the evil and injustice that he perceives during the trial of Tom Robinson.

Arthur “Boo” Radley - A recluse who never sets foot outside his house, Boo dominates the imaginations of Jem, Scout, and Dill. He is a powerful symbol of goodness swathed in an initial shroud of creepiness, leaving little presents for Scout and Jem and emerging at an opportune moment to save the children. An intelligent child emotionally damaged by his cruel father, Boo provides an example of the threat that evil poses to innocence and goodness. He is one of the novel’s “mockingbirds,” a good person injured by the evil of mankind.

Bob Ewell - A drunken, mostly unemployed member of Maycomb’s poorest family. In his knowingly wrongful accusation that Tom Robinson raped his daughter, Ewell represents the dark side of the South: ignorance, poverty, squalor, and hate-filled racial prejudice.

Charles Baker “Dill” Harris - Jem and Scout’s summer neighbor and friend. Dill is a diminutive, confident boy with an active imagination. He becomes fascinated with Boo Radley and represents the perspective of childhood innocence throughout the novel.

Miss Maudie Atkinson - The Finches’ neighbor, a sharp-tongued widow, and an old friend of the family. Miss Maudie is almost the same age as Atticus’s younger brother, Jack. She shares Atticus’s passion for justice and is the children’s best friend among Maycomb’s adults.

Calpurnia - The Finches’ black cook. Calpurnia is a stern disciplinarian and the children’s bridge between the white world and her own black community.

Reverend Sykes - is the reverend of the First Purchase M.E. African Church in Maycomb County. This is the church Tom Robinson attended. Reverend Sykes forces the congregation to donate 10 dollars for Tom Robinson's family since at the time, Tom's wife, Helen, was having trouble finding work.

Aunt Alexandra - Atticus’s sister, a strong-willed woman with a fierce devotion to her family. Alexandra is the perfect Southern lady, and her commitment to propriety and tradition often leads her to clash with Scout.

Mayella Ewell - Bob Ewell’s abused, lonely, unhappy daughter. Though one can pity Mayella because of her overbearing father, one cannot pardon her for her shameful indictment of Tom Robinson.

Tom Robinson - The black field hand accused of rape. Tom is one of the novel’s “mockingbirds,” an important symbol of innocence destroyed by evil.

Link Deas - Tom Robinson’s employer. In his willingness to look past race and praise the integrity of Tom’s character, Deas epitomizes the opposite of prejudice

Judge John Taylor - A man with a reputation for running his court in an informal fashion and an enjoyment of singing and dipping tobacco. He is unimportant to the children until he presides over the Tom Robinson trial, in which he shows great distaste for the Ewells and great respect for Atticus.

Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose - An elderly, ill-tempered, racist woman who lives near the Finches. Although Jem believes that Mrs. Dubose is a thoroughly bad woman, Atticus admires her for the courage with which she battles her morphine addiction.

Nathan Radley - Boo Radley’s older brother. Scout thinks that Nathan is similar to the deceased Mr. Radley, Boo and Nathan’s father. Nathan cruelly cuts off an important element of Boo’s relationship with Jem and Scout when he plugs up the knothole in which Boo leaves presents for the children.

Heck Tate - The sheriff of Maycomb and a major witness at Tom Robinson’s trial. Heck is a decent man who tries to protect the innocent from danger.

Mr. Underwood - The publisher of Maycomb’s newspaper. Mr. Underwood respects Atticus and proves his ally.

Mr. Dolphus Raymond - A wealthy white man who lives with his black mistress and mulatto children. Raymond pretends to be a drunk so that the citizens of Maycomb will have an explanation for his behavior. In reality, he is simply jaded by the hypocrisy of white society and prefers living among blacks.

Mr. Walter Cunningham - A poor farmer and part of the mob that seeks to lynch Tom Robinson at the jail. Mr. Cunningham displays his human goodness when Scout’s politeness compels him to disperse the men at the jail.

Walter Cunningham - Son of Mr. Cunningham and classmate of Scout. Walter cannot afford lunch one day at school and accidentally gets Scout in trouble.

The significance of names in "To Kill a Mockingbird." What's in a name?

Finch - The surname Finch is taken from the authors family, however it is interesting that the name is also of a slight bird. Much like the bird in the title. Perhaps Jem and Scout are innocents that are vulnerable to the racist world that is there home town.

Atticus - The name of Atticus comes from a great Roman orator who was famous for his impartiality and sound judgement, and from the Greek city state of Athens and the Solon's Law Codes.

Boo Radley - The scary character who lives down the street whom no one has seen. He has a ghostly mythology about him early in the story.

Scout - The name is gender neutral for a character who is a tomboy. A "scout" is also a person who is sent out ahead to gather information about the enemy's position, strength, or movements. Though a child, this character seems to be courageous enough to explore the many sides of her town, it's secrets and racial injustices.

Questions for students about names in the novel. What's in a name?

There are several other characters in the story. Look up the names of other characters and describe how their names may apply to what their character represents in the story.

  • Calpurnia
  • Jem
  • Dill
  • Aunt Alexandra
  • Ewell
  • Arthur

A slice of life in Alabama, circa 1930

Young man at "coloreds" only fountain. Image from the Library of Congress.
Families affected by the Great Depression
Harvesting cotton
Taking cotton to market
A crossroads store
Small town existence
Ladies out shopping
Dance socials
Radio in the 1930's

The Great Depression

...On Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression, the worst economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world. It spread from the United States to the rest of the world, lasting from the end of 1929 until the early 1940s. With banks failing and businesses closing, more than 15 million Americans (one-quarter of the workforce) became unemployed.

President Herbert Hoover, underestimating the seriousness of the crisis, called it “a passing incident in our national lives,” and assured Americans that it would be over in 60 days. A strong believer in rugged individualism, Hoover did not think the federal government should offer relief to the poverty-stricken population. Focusing on a trickle-down economic program to help finance businesses and banks, Hoover met with resistance from business executives who preferred to lay off workers. Blamed by many for the Great Depression, Hoover was widely ridiculed: an empty pocket turned inside out was called a “Hoover flag;” the decrepit shantytowns springing up around the country were called “Hoovervilles.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the rich governor from New York, offered Americans a New Deal, and was elected in a landslide victory in 1932. He took quick action to attack the Depression, declaring a four-day bank holiday, during which Congress passed the Emergency Banking Relief Act to stabilize the banking system. During the first 100 days of his administration, Roosevelt laid the groundwork for his New Deal remedies that would rescue the country from the depths of despair.

The New Deal programs created a liberal political alliance of labor unions, blacks and other minorities, some farmers and others receiving government relief, and intellectuals. The hardship brought on by the Depression affected Americans deeply. Since the prevailing attitude of the 1920s was that success was earned, it followed that failure was deserved. The unemployment brought on by the Depression caused self-blame and self-doubt. Men were harder hit psychologically than women were. Since men were expected to provide for their families, it was humiliating to have to ask for assistance. Although some argued that women should not be given jobs when many men were unemployed, the percentage of women working increased slightly during the Depression...

African Americans were one of the hardest hit by the Great Depression.
Jobs were even harder to find for African Americans

The Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement: 1919-1960s

  • Article by Kenneth R. Janken, Professor, Department of African and Afro-American Studies and Director of Experiential Education, Office of Undergraduate Curricula, University of North Carolina, National Humanities Center Fellow, ©National Humanities Center

When most Americans think of the Civil Rights Movement, they have in mind a span of time beginning with the 1954 Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregated education, or the Montgomery Bus Boycott and culminated in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The movement encompassed both ad hoc local groups and established organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Despite the fact that they were not always united around strategy and tactics and drew members from different classes and backgrounds, the movement nevertheless cohered around the aim of eliminating the system of Jim Crow segregation and the reform of some of the worst aspects of racism in American institutions and life.

Much of our memory of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s is embodied in dramatic photographs, newsreels, and recorded speeches, which America encountered in daily papers and the nightly news. As the movement rolled across the nation, Americans absorbed images of hopeful, disciplined, and dedicated young people shaping their destinies. They were met with hostility, federal ambivalence and indifference, as well as mob and police violence. African Americans fought back with direct action protests and keen political organizing, such as voter registration drives and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The crowning achievements were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The images are alternately angering and inspiring, powerful, iconic even. However, by themselves they cannot tell the history of the Civil Rights Movement. They need to be contextualized.

The drama of the mid-twentieth century emerged on a foundation of earlier struggles. Two are particularly notable: the NAACP’s campaign against lynching, and the NAACP’s legal campaign against segregated education, which culminated in the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision.

The NAACP’s anti-lynching campaign of the 1930s combined widespread publicity about the causes and costs of lynching, a successful drive to defeat Supreme Court nominee John J. Parker for his white supremacist and anti-union views and then defeat senators who voted for confirmation, and a skillful effort to lobby Congress and the Roosevelt administration to pass a federal anti-lynching law. Southern senators filibustered, but they could not prevent the formation of a national consensus against lynching; by 1938 the number of lynchings declined steeply. Other organizations, such as the left-wing National Negro Congress, fought lynching, too, but the NAACP emerged from the campaign as the most influential civil rights organization in national politics and maintained that position through the mid-1950s...

People protesting race mixing
African Africans at the back of the bus.
  • boycott: A protest by not buying certain products or using certain services until demands are met.
  • freedom rider: A civil rights activist who rides on interstate buses to test their compliance with court orders to end segregation on buses and bus facilities.
  • Jim Crow laws: a practice or policy of segregating or discriminating against blacks, as in public places, public vehicles, or employment. Or disparaging and contemptuous term used to refer to a black person.
  • segregation: Using laws to separate whites and blacks.
  • sit-in: When black activists walk into an establishment such as a restaurant for whites-only and refuse to leave until they are served or the business closes.
  • slavery: People being held captive and treated as property in order to perform free labor.
Participants marching in a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in this 1965 photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress. Credit: REUTERS/Library of Congress/Handout via Reuters
Racial injustices in the 1930's and beyond

The problems of the Great Depression affected virtually every group of Americans. No group was harder hit than African Americans, however. By 1932, approximately half of black Americans were out of work. In some Northern cities, whites called for blacks to be fired from any jobs as long as there were whites out of work. Racial violence again became more common, especially in the South. Lynchings, which had declined to eight in 1932, surged to 28 in 1933...

Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism. Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that whites were the Chosen people, blacks were cursed to be servants, and God supported racial segregation. Craniologists, eugenicists, phrenologists, and Social Darwinists, at every educational level, buttressed the belief that blacks were innately intellectually and culturally inferior to whites. Pro-segregation politicians gave eloquent speeches on the great danger of integration: the mongrelization of the white race. Newspaper and magazine writers routinely referred to blacks as niggers, coons, and darkies; and worse, their articles reinforced anti-black stereotypes. Even children's games portrayed blacks as inferior beings (see "From Hostility to Reverence: 100 Years of African-American Imagery in Games")...

Lynching and Mob Injustice

In "To Kill a Mockinbird," Atticus and Scout stand up to a mob of towns people who are intent on taking Tom from his jail cell to administer justice. Lynching was a huge part of "mob justice" in the 1930's. Lynching was an illegal way by mob action and without legal authority to put someone to death, especially by hanging.

A Cliff Notes addition of terms for "To Kill a Mockingbird"
  • aberrations a deviation from the normal or the typical.
  • acquiescence the act of acquiescing; agreement or consent without protest.
  • acrimonious bitter and caustic in temper, manner, or speech.
  • aggregation a group or mass of distinct things or individuals.
  • amanuensis an assistant who takes dictation or copies something already written; secretary.
  • ambidextrous able to use both hands with equal ease.
  • Appomattox town in central Virginia., near Lynchburg: In a former nearby village (Appomattox Court House), Lee surrendered to Grant (April 9, 1865), ending the Civil War.
  • asafoetida a bad-smelling gum resin obtained from various Asiatic plants of the umbel family it was formerly used to treat some illnesses or, in folk medicine, to repel disease.
  • bantam cock a small but aggressive person; a bantam is a small domestic fowl.
  • beadle [Obs.] a messenger of a law court.
  • Big Mules political term referring to modern Alabama power brokers.
  • Blackstone's Commentaries one of the most important books ever written on British law, written by Sir William Blackstone 1723-80; Eng. jurist & writer on law.
  • Braxton Bragg Commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee from the summer of 1862 until the end of 1863. Bragg had the distinction of being both recklessly offensive as well as hesitant to the point of ineffectiveness at various times in his career — sometimes in the same battle.
  • calomel mercurous chloride, HgCl, a white, tasteless powder that darkens on exposure to light: used in standard electrode cells and in agriculture and medicine to fight skin bacteria.
  • Cannas any of a genus (Canna) broad-leaved tropical plants, often grown for ornament because of the striking foliage and brilliant flowers.
  • caricatures a picture or imitation of a person, literary style, etc. in which certain features or mannerisms are exaggerated for satirical effect.
  • castile a fine, mild, hard soap prepared from olive oil and sodium hydroxide.
  • catawba worms a type of caterpillar highly prized by fishermen in the Southern United States.
  • champertous having to do with champerty, an act by which a person not concerned in a lawsuit makes a bargain with one of the litigants to help maintain the costs of the suit in return for a share of any proceeds: illegal in most U.S. states.
  • charlotte a molded dessert consisting of an outer layer of strips of bread, cake, etc. and a filling as of custard or cooked fruit.
  • chiffarobe a wardrobe with drawers or shelves on one side.
  • church vt. to bring (esp. a woman after childbirth) to church for special services.
  • climber [Informal] a person who tries to advance socially or in business.
  • constructionist a person who interprets, or believes in interpreting, a law, document, etc. in a specified way.
  • cootie [Slang] common head lice.
  • corroborative making certain; confirming; corroborating.
  • Cotton Tom Heflin J. Thomas "Cotton Tom" Heflin was Secretary of the State of Alabama, a member of Congress from 1905 until 1920, and a U.S. senator from 1921 until 1931.
  • the crash the 1929 stock market crash, which gave rise to the period of the Great Depression.
  • crepey wrinkled like crepe cloth or paper.
  • deportment the manner of conducting or bearing oneself; behavior; demeanor.
  • divinity a soft, creamy kind of candy.
  • Dixie Howell popular University of Alabama football player in the 1930s.
  • ecclesiastical of the church, the organization of the church, or the clergy.
  • entailment the act of entailing or of giving, as an estate, and directing the mode of descent. In this case, Walter Cunningham is most likely in a dispute over who is rightful heir to a piece of property.
  • ex cathedra with the authority that comes from one's rank or office: often specif. with reference to papal pronouncements, on matters of faith or morals, regarded as having authoritative finality.
  • feral savage; wild.
  • fey strange or unusual in any of certain ways, as, variously, eccentric, whimsical, visionary, elfin, shy, otherworldly.
  • flivver [Old Slang] a small, cheap automobile, esp. an old one.
  • foot-washing Baptist rural missionary Baptists who essentially take the Bible literally.
  • fractious peevish; irritable; cross.
  • Franklin stove a cast-iron heating stove resembling an open fireplace, named for Benjamin Franklin who invented it.
  • frog-sticking a method of hunting frogs on bayou banks with a small pitchfork.
  • furtive done or acting in a stealthy manner, as if to hinder observation; surreptitious; stealthy; sneaky.
  • The Gray Ghost One in a series of pulp fiction novels written in 1926 by Robert Schulkers. These humorous mystery stories were narrated by Seckatary Hawkins, the "seckatary" of a boy's club.
  • ground-itch an itchy allergic reaction caused when parasitic hookworms enter the body through bare feet.
  • habiliments clothing; dress; attire.
  • honed it down sharpened it.
  • hoodoo bad luck, or a person or thing that causes bad luck.
  • hookah a kind of water pipe associated with the Middle East, with a long flexible tube for drawing the smoke through water in a vase or bowl and cooling it.
  • hookworms a disease caused by hookworms, characterized by anemia, weakness, and abdominal pain: the larvae enter the body through the skin, usually of the bare feet.
  • impedimenta things hindering progress, as on a trip; encumbrances; esp., baggage, supplies, or equipment, as those carried along with an army.
  • impudent shamelessly bold or disrespectful; saucy; insolent.
  • interdict to prohibit (an action) or prohibit the use of (a thing); forbid with authority.
  • johnson grass a forage and pasture grass, widespread in the Southern U.S., often as a weed.
  • Kudzu a fast-growing, hairy perennial vine of the pea family, with large, three-part leaves: sometimes planted in the South for soil stabilization or forage.
  • Ladies' Law law from the criminal code of Alabama prohibiting the use of "abusive, insulting, or obscene language," especially around girls or women; punishable by up to $200 in fines, imprisonment in the county jail, or up to six months hard labor.
  • largo slow and stately: a musical tempo.
  • lavation the act of washing.
  • lineaments any of the features of the body, usually of the face, esp. with regard to its outline.
  • Lorenzo Dow a fiery, itinerant Methodist preacher of the Eastern and Southern United States.
  • magnesia a white, tasteless powder, used as a mild laxative and antacid.
  • Missouri Compromise a plan agreed upon by the United States Congress in 1820 to settle the debate over slavery in the Louisiana Purchase area. The plan temporarily maintained the balance between free and slave states.
  • monkey-puzzle bushes any araucaria tree; esp., a tall tree with stiff pointed leaves, edible nuts, and hard wood, widely grown as an ornamental.
  • morphodite comic slang pronunciation of hermaphrodite, a term used to describe a human or animal combining both male and female sexual characteristics or organs.
  • Mrs. Roosevelt Eleanor Roosevelt 1884-1962; U.S. writer, social activist, and delegate at UN: wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • National Recovery Act one of the measures by which President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to assist the nation's economic recovery during the Great Depression. The act authorized an expenditure of $3.3 billion for an expansion of public works.
  • neighborhood scold a person, esp. a woman, who habitually uses abusive language.
  • obstreperous noisy, boisterous, or unruly, esp. in resisting or opposing.
  • Ol' Blue Light nickname for Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate general.
  • palliation the lessening of pain or severity without actually curing; alleviation.
  • philippic a bitter verbal attack.
  • popped-the-whip this is in reference to a game in which a group of children line up together hand-in-hand; one end of the line slings itself forward, causing the child at the other end of the line to receive a violent snap.
  • privy a toilet; esp., an outhouse.
  • Quarters a particular district or section in a city.
  • reconnaissance an exploratory survey or examination, as in seeking out information about enemy positions or installations, or as in making a preliminary geological or engineering survey.
  • redbug any of various red insects, as a cotton stainer or chigger.
  • rotogravure a printing process using photogravure cylinders on a rotary press.
  • ruination anything that ruins or causes ruin.
  • ruttin' referring to rut, the periodic sexual excitement, or heat, of certain mammals: applied esp. to males.
  • salt pork pork cured in salt; esp., fatty pork from the back, side, or belly of a hog.
  • scuppernongs a golden-green grape of the Southern U.S.
  • Shadrach [Bible] one of the three captives who came out of the fiery furnace miraculously unharmed: Dan. 3:12-27.
  • snipe hunt practical joke in which the victim is made to sit in the woods with a bag and two sticks in an attempt to capture a creature that doesn't exist.
  • solicitor in the U.S., a lawyer serving as official law officer for a city, department, etc.
  • spurious not true or genuine; false; counterfeit.
  • swept yard In some areas of the South, a swept yard was a sign of a well-kept home. A swept yard was typically kept neat and clean using straw sagebrush brooms.
  • temerity foolish or rash boldness; foolhardiness; recklessness.
  • tenet principle, doctrine, or belief held as a truth, as by some group.
  • thrift any of a genus of dwarf, evergreen, perennial dicotyledonous plants (order Plumbaginales) with narrow leaves and small, white, pink, red, or purplish flowers.
  • tight [slang] drunk.
  • Tom Swift boys' pulp fiction serial featuring famed, fictitious inventor and adventurer, Tom Swift.
  • touchous [Dial.] touchy.
  • trousseau a bride's outfit of clothes, linens, etc.
  • umbrage offense or resentment.
  • Uncle Natchell cartoon mascot for a fertilizer product called Natural Chilean Nitrate of Soda; advertisements for this product were in comic book or story form.
  • voile a thin, sheer fabric, as of cotton, used for garments, curtains, etc.
  • wool short, thick, curly or crispy human hair.
  • WPA a part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built new roads, hospitals, and schools throughout America.

The legacy of "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Dr. Martin Luther King preaches at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Photo Bruce Davidson/Magnum. "Time Inc. Books" 6/26/15

"To the Negro in 1963, as to Atticus Finch, it had become obvious that nonviolence could symbolize the gold badge of heroism rather than the white feather of cowardice." Dr. Martin Luther King

From "Time Inc. Books" 6/26/15. It has been observed that "To Kill a Mickingbird" was informed by - even inspired by - real-world events. Haywood Patterson, one of the so-called Scottsboro Biys, on trial in Alabama, with lawyer Samuel Liebowitz, in 1933.

"Nine African American youths accused of raping two white women on the train in 1931. It is agreed, these many years later, that their trials, decided by all-white juries, were prejudiced affairs-and then you had a lynch mob even before the suspects had been indicted. What Mockingbird did was make people look back to this case, and think again." From "Time Inc. Books" 6/26/15


To kill a mockingbird is a cornerstone of right and wrong and gives us hope that we can do better - david baldacci

I remember Reading the book and going to class and not being able to shUt up about it...i was trying to push the book on other kids. So it makes sense that i have a book club, because i have been doing that since this book. - oprah winfrey

Contemporary Parallels

Though To Kill a Mockinbird was published in 1960, the story is still relevant and resonates today. There are several contemporary events that parallel some of the plot points of the novel. Below are links to modern instances that have similarities to To Kill a Mockingbird.

Study: Half Of Wrongly Accused Prisoners Are Black

10 Egregious Cases of White People Falsely Accusing Black People of Committing Crimes

Ricky Jackson, Wrongfully Convicted Of Murder, To Be Freed After 39 Years In Prison

Stanley Wrice Wrongful Conviction: Prosecutors Say They Won't Retry Illinois Man In 1982 Rape Case

Scottsboro Boys Exonerated, But Troubling Legacy Remains for Black Men -

Questions for students

What are some of the other plot points in the story that have contemporary parallels? Write about or discuss current events.

  • Lawyers defending unpopular defendants?
  • Hate crimes?
  • Retaliation through violence for public embarrassment?
  • Reclusive people in the news?
  • Modern lynch mobs?
  • Acts of community kindness?
Exonerated prisoners who were falsely accused and protestors from around the globe.

Curriculum Connections: nevada Learning Standards

Nevada Theatre Content Standard

  • 1.0: Students recognize the components of theatrical production including script writing, directing, and production.
  • 2.0: Students understand and demonstrate the role of the actor in the theater.
  • 3.0 Students apply and demonstrate critical and creative thinking skills in theater, film, television, or electronic media.
  • 4.0 Students recognize and explain how theatrical experiences contribute to a better understanding of history, culture, and human relationships.
  • 5.0 Students make connections with theater, the other arts, and academic disciplines.

Nevada Reading Standards for Literature Grades 6-12

  • Key Ideas and Details - 1. closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. 2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas. 3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
  • Craft and Structure - 4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone. 5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole. 6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. 8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence. 9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
  • Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity 10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
The characters of Scout(Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford)from the 1962 film. Photo Universal/Photofest

Classroom activities

Performance Games for Pre or Post Performance

Often getting students on their feet and exploring the text, themes and relationships from the story can be a helpful and enlightening experience for both teachers and students alike. The following are theatre games that can activate students physically, emotionally and intellectually, all the while allowing everyone to have fun. Theatre games can often serve to show the dynamics of privilege, status and differing points of view. They can often help to initiate questioning and conversation amongst students.

Augutus Boal was a Brazilian Dramatist who created the Theatre of the Oppressed, a form of interactive theatre intended to change lives as spectators became performers, acting out solutions to social problems.

Group Performance Exercise #1 - Columbian Hypnosis

  • Theatre Learning Standard: 4.0 Students recognize and explain how theatrical experiences contribute to a better understanding of history, culture, and human relationships.
  • Space: a classroom with desks moved to area along the walls to leave an open space.
  • Materials: None
  • Procedure: This activity involves trust and 100% awareness from all the students involved. Divide the group into pairs and decide who is "A" and who is "1". "A" holds the palm of her hand about six inches from "1"s face. "1" is to imagine tha "A"s hand is hypnotizing him and that "1" has to follow the hand wherever it takes them around the room; up, down, left, right. After a set time switch partners.
  • Coaching: Ask students to move slowly. Ask students how they are going to keep their partners safe so they do not bump into other people. Ask students what new ways can you challenge your partner to move.
  • Processing Questions and Discussion: How did it feel to participate in this activity? Which did you prefer - hypnotized or hypnotist? What does it take to solve a movement problem? What does the activity have to do with power? What is the responsibility of being in power? How did you feel being led around? Was there ever any frustration, happiness, anger, confusion? How does it feel to be at the mercy of someone else? How does it feel to have someone "in your hands?"
  • Learning Areas: Trust, Power Relations, Status
  • Exercise as Metaphor: 1) The Dynamic Between African Americans and White People in the Story. 2) Tom Robinson and the Jury. 3) Atticus Finch and the Jury.
  • Variations: Students may try to hypnotise and follow a each other at the same time. One person may try hypnotise a group of two to the entire group.

Questions for students

In most well written and told stories there are power dynamics. There is an ebb and flow of who is in power and how that power shifts. Who has the power in To Kill a Mockingbird? Does that power shift? What represents power in the world of Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930's?

The character of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) on trial from the film. Photo John D. Kisch/Getty

Group Performance Exercise #2, #3 - Two Models

First Model

  • Theatre Learning Standard: 4.0 Students recognize and explain how theatrical experiences contribute to a better understanding of history, culture, and human relationships. 2.0: Students understand and demonstrate the role of the actor in the theater.Students apply and demonstrate critical and creative thinking skills in theater, film, television, or electronic media.
  • Space: a classroom with desks moved to area along the walls to leave an open space.
  • Materials: None
  • Procedure: An issue/subject from To Kill a Mockingbird is agreed upon by the group. (Racism, Innocence, Justice, Judgement, Fear, Judge, Witness, Racist, Defendant etc.) 5 individuals are asked to come up on stage, one at a time, to present their idea of that issue. They do not see anyone else’s representation. All 5 present their images on stage together. The students should try to find a physical manifestation using their body. Audience members may wish to come and add further ideas. The students are then asked to begin to interrelate with one another to and mirth their images into group images to give a broader perspective of a society view of the issue. If students are presenting images of being oppressed they are then asked to change their image to present the oppressor, and vice versa.
  • Coaching: Ask students to use their entire body if possible. Ask students to incorporate the facial expression. The images can be abstract.
  • Learning Areas: Power Relations, Group Collaboration, Expressing Personal Ideas, Concentration

Second Model

  • Procedure: An subject/ideas is agreed upon by the group. An individual creates an image of the oppression, sculpting students into a group image. This may then be discussed with the audience to agree upon the “Real Image” of this subject/ideas. The students within the image are then asked to change in order to represent an “Ideal Image” whereby the oppression is no longer there or morphed into its opposite. (Racism becomes Tolerance, Witness becomes Participant or the images morph into neutrality. Etc.) Re-showing the original “Real Image” the Students are hen asked to move in slow motion from the “Real Image” to the “Ideal Image” – this is the “Image of Possible Transition”. This may be modified throughout by audience members to make the transition as realistic as possible.

Questions for students

What did it feel like to interpret an emotional or philosophical idea? Are there any similarities in your world to the images you created or saw other students create? Did the images creat any emotional response for you, if so what were they (sadness, anger, frustration etc.)

Discussion Exercises for After the Performance

Dream Team Casting

  • ELA Learning Standard: Key Ideas and Details - 1, 2 and 3
  • Theatre Learning Standard: 2 and 4
  • Materials: Edited or full list of characters from the play.
  • Procedure: Each student becomes a mock director for their very own production of To Kill a Mockingbird, based on what your students know about the characters in the play and novel, have them create their own celebrity cast. The characters could be actors, singers, politicians, and famous personalities). Each director then shares the reasoning for their casting decision.
  • Example: Atticus is moral, fair, trustworthy and determined. Andrew Lincoln, the lead character (sheriff) on the Walking Dead. He is fair, determined and always driven by the idea of doing the right and fair thing.
Writing About the Performance

Critic's Picks

Have your class write reviews of the performance they have seen. Discuss specific elements of the play: acting, directing, set, costumes, sound, lighting. What elements of the play helped them to understand the story more clearly? When were they confused? Where there moments in the play that stuck out to them? What were their favorites? How was the performance different from how you imagined it would be? How was it different from the movie version?

Send your reviews to NCT. We would love to see what your students enjoyed or were confused about in the show, and would love to use some in our company newletter and on our Facebook page. Email reviews to

  • ELA Learning Standard: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
  • Theatre Learning Standard: 1.0: Students recognize the components of theatrical production including script writing, directing, and production. 5.0 Students make connections with theater, the other arts, and academic disciplines.
The characters of Atticus (Gregory Peck) and Scout (Mary Badham) from the 1962 film. Photo AF Archive/Alamy
Word Search
Theatre Etiquette

Though theatre has been around for thousands of years, for some it is a new experience. Unlike film and television, theatre is a live art form. Everything the actors do on stage is witnessed by the audience, and everything the audience does is witnessed by the actors. The actor and audience have a give and take relationship. The audience has a responsibility to participate with respect in the live event. Here are a few tips that will make seeing the show more enjoyable for everyone.

  1. Turn off your cell phone.
  2. No texting during the show.
  3. No eating or drinking in the theatre
  4. Don't talk during the show
  5. Respect the space and people around you
  6. Enjoy yourself
  7. Be aware that during the play there may be language that may be considered controversial and or offensive by audience members. This language in no way is meant to offend our audience members and has been left in the script due to the authors initial intention, which we believe is to give a slice of life from the rural south in the 1930's.

There will be a twenty minute talk-back after the performance.

Resources for Students and Teachers

For sample teaching guides, background information and student support

Resources for teaching To Kill a Mockingbird that help educators connect important themes of justice and morality to contemporary issues.

Students gain a sense of the living history that surrounds the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Through studying primary source materials from American Memory and other online resources, students of all backgrounds may better grasp how historical events and human forces have shaped relationships between black and white, and rich and poor cultures of our country.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a classic of modern American literature. The plot and characters are loosely based on the author's observations of her family and neighbors, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.

The novel is renowned for its warmth and humor, despite dealing with the serious issues of rape and racial inequality. The narrator's father, Atticus Finch, has served as a moral hero for many readers and as a model of integrity for lawyers. One critic explains the novel's impact by writing, "In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism."[1]

The author of Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee once said she wanted to be South Alabama’s Jane Austen, but became an enigma when she stopped speaking to press in 1964 after her whirlwind success. Harper Lee: American Masters offers an unprecedented look at Lee’s life, illuminates the phenomenon behind To Kill a Mockingbird and the Oscar®-winning 1962 film adaptation, and previews Go Set a Watchman, which Lee wrote in 1957.

The remaining 2015/16 Season: To Kill a Mockingbird (2/12 - 2/28). subUrbia (3/10 - 3/13). Kiss Me Kate (4/29 - 5/8)

This digital study guide was created as a supplement to aid teachers and students in the study of the play To Kill a Mockingbird at Nevada Conservatory Theatre - 2016. It is not intended for publication, or sale and should be used only as an educational reference.

For questions please contact: Christopher V. Edwards, Artistic Director, Nevada Conservatory Theatre -

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