Summary of Part IV (Chapters 11-12)
Jean Louise dreams of her past, when she was in the sixth grade, when she nearly committed suicide. She recalls going to school with “white trash,” with the kids of Old Sarum. She also remembers that this was when she started menstruating, and Calpurnia had to teach her about it, since she grew up with no mother. When an Old Sarum boy whom Jean Louise helped with schoolwork kisses her, Jean Louise misunderstands older girls talking about pregnancy and believes that she is pregnant.
Terrified by her Aunt Alexandra’s talks of family shame with babies born out of wedlock, Jean Louise plans to kill herself on September 30 of the coming year, the eve of the day she personally calculates that the baby will be born. She is about to jump from the town water tower when Henry Clinton spots her up there and saves her from the edge. When she gets home, she and Calpurnia talk about female sexuality and Calpurnia explains to Jean Louise all of the girl’s misunderstandings.
Jean Louise wakes up and starts to cut grass with the lawn mower; she is interrupted by an irritated Aunt Alexandra. They found out that a manslaughter case has taken place over night: Calpurnia’s grandson, drunk, accidentally ran over and killed another drunk (white) man. Hank initially told authorities that he and Atticus would not take the case, but Atticus does take it. He takes it so that the NAACP cannot get involved in the case, fearing that they will skew the case way too much in the black man’s favor. Jean Louise is disgusted with the two men.
Jean Louise goes to buy groceries, and then goes to see Calpurnia, who is living out in another part of town, where most of the black people live. She is received, but not very warmly, by the relatives and friends gathered outside Calpurnia’s home. She talks to Zeebo, Calpurnia’s son, who is very respectful. Atticus once helped Zeebo out of multiple marriage and divorce troubles.
Going into Calpurnia’s room, Jean Louise notes the visual appearance of the room and its occupant in great detail. She notes items and decorations that are traditionally markers of being an African-American, such as a faded quilt that has a Double Wedding Ring pattern, and photographs of “Negroes” and a “Coca-Cola calendar” on the wall. A naked light bulb swings from the ceiling, indicative of how African-Americans are still on whole poorer than whites.
Calpurnia herself receives Jean Louise coldly, and Jean Louise realizes that a gap has been wrought between the communities that not even her old history with Calpurnia can really bridge. Calpurnia laments that her grandson will go to jail no matter what, whether or not Atticus helps with the trial. Jean Louise yells at Calpurnia to stop saying such things, and asks why Calpurnia is treating her with “company manners” when they were once “family.” Calpurnia, in return, asks what exactly the whites are doing to the blacks.
As she leaves, Jean Louise asks Calpurnia if she hates them, or hates the whites, and Calpurnia takes a moment to finally shake her head. Jean Louise also then remembers how emotional Calpurnia had been when Jem passed away. She remembers going to Calpurnia’s same home two years ago, when Calpurnia’s coming home was “running away” from the Finches’ home. Calpurnia had shown Jean Louise a coat that Jem had gotten for her, and had told Jean Louise that she would be coming back, telling the girl not to worry.
Analysis of Part IV (Chapters 11-12)
This short section details the importance of Calpurnia, the Finches’ black cook, to Jean Louise. Calpurnia was basically a mother to Jean Louise, since Atticus could not talk to his daughter about issues specific to women. The way Jean Louise treats her self-deluded pregnancy is interesting because it mirrors larger, more concerning issues of inequality: “She had done nobody any harm. She was overwhelmed by the unfairness of it: she had meant no harm” (130).
Such rhetoric may remind readers of To Kill a Mockingbird of Tom Robinson’s case, and how many blacks condemned unjustly had really done no harm. These sentiments expertly tie together, but also further complicate the difficult webs of inequality that pervade both gender roles and racial classification in the American South. Jean Louise’s “baby” and the terrors of birth will also be echoed by Uncle Jack later in the story, when he compares the South’s acceptances of blacks and its social progression as “birthing pains.”
Before visiting Calpurnia, Jean Louise painfully thinks of what she witnessed yesterday, and tells herself that “The Lord never sends you more than you can bear” (142). However, she notes that this aphorism is used only by “ancient Maycomb… fragile ladies who sat up with corpses” (142). In fact, despite the extreme religiosity that surrounds them, Jean Louise and the rest of the Finches are rather secular, and do not really use religion or faith to justify the occurrences around them.
Whereas before, Jean Louise found some of the unchanging parts of Maycomb to be irritating and backwards, and other times despising change, she finds the “simple welcome” (152) of Mr. Fred the grocer to be extremely comforting. It is made even more so by her meeting with him against the backdrop of a father and boyfriend she finds extremely changed.
In Calpurnia’s home, Jean Louise finds that memories are again all that she can cling to, for her relationship with her once foster mother have also changed. Calpurnia’s view of white people breaks Jean Louise’s heart. Jean Louise ends this brief encounter with the comforting memory of Calpurnia wearing a coat Jem bought for her. Calpurnia had been so broken by Jem’s death that she had run off, and when Jean Louise asked her to come back, Calpurnia said, “I’m coming back. Don’t you worry” (162). Jean Louise realizes that those words will never be said again in the present day because the rift between blacks and whites has already gone past the point of no return, at least for the old woman.