The story begins with an injury: the narrator's brother Jem got his arm broken when he was thirteen.
Luckily, his bum arm doesn't interfere with Jem's mad football skills, so he doesn't care much.
Years afterward, brother and narrator argue over where the story really starts: the narrator blames it on the Ewell family, while Jem (the older sibling by four years) puts the beginning at the summer they first met Dill.
The flash-forward conversation continues: the narrator says that if you want to get technical about it, everything began with Andrew Jackson, whose actions led their forefather Simon Finch to settle where he did.
The flash-forward becomes a flashback: Simon Finch was a pious and miserly Englishman who left his home country to wander around America, before settling in Alabama with his accumulated wealth, his family, and his slaves.
Sounds like a laugh and a half.
Simon's homestead was called Finch's Landing (natch), and was a mostly self-sufficient estate run by Simon's male descendants, who sold cotton to buy what the farm couldn't produce itself.
The Civil War put an end to a lot of that (like the slave-owning), but the tradition of living off the land remained.
Until now. Atticus, the narrator's father, studied law in Montgomery, while his younger brother went all the way to Boston to become a doctor.
Woohoo, upward mobility!
The only Finch left at the Landing is their sister Alexandra and her quiet husband.
After becoming a lawyer, Atticus returned to Maycomb, the county seat of Maycomb County, twenty miles from Finch's landing.
Atticus feels at home in Maycomb, not least because he's related to nearly everyone in the town.
Out of the flashback, into the present-time of the story (which we already know the narrator's actually remembering. Confused? Hop over to "Point of View/Narrative Voice" if you want the 411 on that right now).
The narrator thinks about the Maycomb s/he (we don't know which yet) knew. It's not a happening place. Everyone moves slower than sweat, and there's not much worth hurrying for, let alone much sense of what might be happening outside the county lines.
The narrator lives on the town's main residential drag with her brother Jem, her father Atticus, and their cook Calpurnia, who is a force to be reckoned with.
You may notice there's no mom to be found: she died when the narrator was two, and the narrator doesn't really remember her, though Jem does.
The story really gets underway the summer when the narrator is five going on six and Jem is nine going on ten.
This is the summer Dill arrives in Maycomb.
Their first meeting happens like this: Jem and the narrator are playing in their backyard, hear a noise next door, and go to check it out. They find a small boy, six going on seven but looking younger, who introduces himself as Charles Baker Harris and announces that he can read.
Well, we're off to a good start.
Charles Baker Harris says that people call him Dill, so we will too.
Dill tells the narrator and Jem a bit about himself: he's from Meridian, Mississippi, but he's spending the summer with his aunt, the Finches' next-door neighbor Miss Rachel.
Unlike the rural Finches, he's had access to movie theatres, and so he regales them with the story of Dracula. (Maybe this one?)
The narrator asks Dill about his absent father. Apparently this is a sore subject, so Jem tells his sibling to shut up.
Jem, Dill, and the narrator spend the summer acting out stories from the books they've read, over and over and over.
Sound boring? Eventually, the kids think so too.
Dill comes to the rescue with a new idea: they can try to make Boo Radley come out.
The Radley Place is the haunted house of the neighborhood, complete with ghost Boo Radley, who got in trouble with the law as a teenager and has been holed up in the house unseen ever since.
The house has quite the reputation with the neighborhood kids, who avoid it at all costs.
Now we hear a story about Boo, courtesy of Jem, courtesy of Miss Stephanie Crawford, the neighborhood busybody: When Boo was 33 years old, he was cutting out newspaper articles for his scrapbook when he suddenly stabbed the scissors into his father's leg, then calmly went back to what he was doing.
After that Boo was locked up by the police briefly, and there was talk of sending him to an insane asylum. In the end, he ended up back in the Radley Place.
When Boo's father died, Boo's older brother Nathan moved in to take over. Nothing much changed at the Radley Place.
Rumor has it that Boo gets out at night and stalks around the neighborhood, but none of the kids has ever actually seen him.
Jem makes up horror stories about what Boo's like (think a cross between a vampire and a zombie), but Dill still wants to see him.
Or rather, he wants Jem to go knock on the Radleys' door.
Jem tries to get out of the dare without showing he's scared but then gives in when Dill says he doesn't have to knock, just touch the door.
Jem works up his nerve, dashes up to the house, slaps the door, and runs back at top speed without looking behind him.
After reaching safety on their own porch, the kids look at the Radley Place, but all they see is the hint of an inside shutter moving.