To Kill a Mockingbird Summary and Analysis
by Harper Lee
Jem is "moody and silent" after the pants incident. The new school year starts, and Scout finds second grade just as boring as first. One day, she and Jem are walking home together when Jem reveals that when he found his pants that night, they were all folded up, and the tears had been crudely sewn up, as if someone knew that he would be coming back for them. He finds this highly eerie. Then, they find a ball of twine in the Radley oak tree knothole. Again, they aren't sure if it is a gift for them or not, so they leave it for a few days. When it remains in the hole for a few days, they take it, and decide that anything left there is okay to take.
Jem is excited about sixth grade, because he is going to learn about ancient Egypt. Jem tells Scout that school will get better for her. One day in October they find two little figures in their secret knothole, a boy and a girl, carved artfully out of soap. Upon closer examination, they realize that the figures are images of themselves. They wonder who could have done it - maybe Mr. Avery, a neighbor who whittles wood. In a couple of weeks, they find a package of chewing gum, an old spelling bee medal, a broken pocket watch on a chain, and an aluminum knife. Jem can't get it the watch to work, but he and Scout decide to write a letter thanking the mystery person who is leaving them these gifts. They write a note of thanks and leave it in the oak tree. The next day, they are horrified to discover that someone has filled their hole up with cement. They ask Mr. Radley about it, and he claims the tree is dying and filling the knothole with cement will keep it alive. Jem is suspicious, and when he asks Atticus about it, Atticus says the tree looks very healthy, but that Mr. Radley must have a good reason for plugging up the hole. Jem thinks on Atticus's statement and about who might be leaving the gifts. He stands out on the porch by himself for a long time. When he comes inside, Scout thinks it looks like he has been crying.
Winter arrives in Maycomb and it is unexpectedly harsh. Mr. Avery blames the children for causing the bad weather, saying that disobedient children make the seasons change. Mrs. Radley dies, and Atticus goes to the Radley house to pay his respects. Upon Scout's questioning, he sternly states that he did not see Boo there.
A snowstorm arrives, and it is the first snow Scout and Jem have ever seen. School is canceled and Jem and Scout decide to make a snowman. However, there is only a little snow, and Jem and Scout aren't even sure how a snowman is made. Determined, they decide to make a snowman using soil and snow collected from their yard and from Miss Maudie's. The snowman looks quite like Mr. Avery. Atticus admires their work, but suggests they disguise the identity of their creation to avoid offending their neighbor. Jem gives the snowman Miss Maudie's hat and pruning shears, and Miss Maudie laughs at the impersonation.
The night following the snowfall is bitterly cold. Scout wakes up in the middle of the night with Atticus over her telling her she must get up and go outside. Miss Maudie's house is on fire. Three fire trucks are trying to put out the flames, but they are hampered by the cold, and one of the hoses bursts. Atticus makes the two children wait by the Radley house so they are well out of the way. In front of the Radley yard, they shiver and hope that the flames won't come too near their own house. Miss Maudie's house collapses and her tin roof helps put out the flames. Scout understands that Miss Maudie will have to live at Miss Stephanie's house for a while.
Back at home, Atticus notices that Scout has a blanket wrapped around her shoulders and scolds her for straying from the one spot he told her to stay in. Scout explains that neither she nor Jem left the Radley yard and that they don't know where the blanket came from. They realize that Boo Radley must have slipped the blanket over Scout while she and Jem were engrossed by the fire. Mr. Radley, his brother, had been busy helping everyone else at Miss Maudie's house, so Boo is the only person that could have given Scout the blanket. Scout is amazed that she was so close to Boo and didn't even know it.
Miss Maudie is unexpectedly cheery about her house being burnt down and says she wanted a smaller house anyway, because she always wanted a bigger garden. She also notes that the fire probably started because she kept a fire going that night to keep her potted plants warm.
A boy at school, Cecil Jacobs, teases Scout, saying that her father "defends niggers". Scout will not accept insults about her father and fights Cecil. Later, she asks Atticus what the phrase means, and he explains that he has decided to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who lives in a settlement behind the town dump. Atticus says many of the town people think he ought not defend Tom because he is black. Scout asks why he's still doing it if people don't want him to, and Atticus responds that if he didn't take the case, he wouldn't be able to "hold up my head in town," represent his county in the legislature, or even tell his children what to do. Atticus explains that every lawyer gets at least one case in a lifetime that affects them personally, and that this one is his. He tells Scout to keep her cool no matter what anyone says, and fight with her head, not her hands. Scout asks if he's going to win the case and Atticus says no, but "simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win." He tells her that no matter what happens, the people of Maycomb are still their friends, and this is still their town.
Back at school, Scout works hard not to fight. Uncle Jack comes to stay with them in Maycomb for a week, which Scout enjoys, because he has a good sense of humor, even though he's a doctor. Scout has been trying out swear words on the theory that Atticus won't make her go to school if he finds out she learned them there, but after dinner Uncle Jack tells her not to use them in his presence unless she's in an extremely provoking situation. For Christmas, Jem and Scout both get air rifles and are extremely pleased.
Atticus and the children go Finch's Landing, a large house with a special staircase leading to the rooms of Simon Finch's four daughters that once allowed Finch to keep track of their comings and goings. Scout hates going here, because her Aunt Alexandra always tells her that she should be more ladylike - she should wear dresses and not pants, and that she should play with girls' toys like tea sets and jewelry. Aunt Alexandra hurts Scout's feeling and makes her sit at the little table in the dining room at dinner instead of the grown-up table, where Jem and Francis are sitting. Francis is Aunt Alexandra's grandson, and Scout calls him "the most boring child I ever met." Talking to Francis gives Scout the feeling of, "settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean." The only good thing about being at the Landing is Aunt Alexandra's excellent cooking.
After dinner, Francis and Scout are outside in the backyard. Francis says that Atticus is a "nigger-lover," and that now Atticus will be the ruination of the family, who won't even be able to walk the streets of Maycomb. Scout patiently awaits her chance, and then punches him squarely in the mouth. Francis screams and everyone comes outside. Francis says Scout called him a "whore-lady" and jumped on him, which Scout does not deny. Uncle Jack tells her not to use that language and pins her when she tries to run away. Scout says that she hates him. Atticus says it's high time they went home.
Back at home, Scout runs to her room to be alone. Uncle Jack comes upstairs to have a talk with her about her language. Scout points out that he doesn't understand children very well, since he never heard her side of the story. Uncle Jack asks her for her side and Scout tells him what Francis said about Atticus. Uncle Jack is very concerned and wants to go talk with Alexandra right away, but Scout pleads with him not to tell Atticus, since she doesn't want him to know that she broke her agreement not to fight anyone over the issue of Tom Robinson's case.
Scout overhears Uncle Jack and Atticus talking. Uncle Jack explains that he doesn't want to have children because he doesn't understand them well enough. Atticus muses that Scout needs to learn to keep her temper under control because in the next few months, there is going to be a lot in store for the family. Jack asks how bad it will be, and Atticus says that it couldn't be worse - the case comes down to a black man's word against the word of the white Ewell family, and the jury couldn't possibly take Tom's word over the word of white people. Atticus just hopes that he can get his children through the ordeal without having them catch "Maycomb's usual disease," when "people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up." Atticus hopes that Jem and Scout will look to him for their answers rather than to the townspeople. Then he calls out Scout's name and tells her to go to bed. She runs back to her room. Years later, the narrator, an aged Scout, explains she eventually came to understand that Atticus wanted her to hear everything he said.
Scout doesn't think her father can "do" anything besides be a lawyer - he doesn't do hands-on physical work and he doesn't play football. He's much older than the parents of her peers, which makes it difficult for him to take part in such activities. In addition, Atticus wears glasses because he's nearly blind in one eye. Instead of hunting, he sits and reads inside. Scout is slightly ashamed of her father, because it seems like he can't do anything noteworthy. Atticus tells Scout and Jem they can shoot their air guns at tins cans and bluebirds, but that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Miss Maudie affirms this, saying to Scout, "Your father's right. 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."
One day a dog named Tim Johnson appears in the neighborhood, down the street from the Finch house. He looks strange appearance and walks slowly, with a twitch. The children tell Calpurnia, who takes one look at the dog and immediately calls Atticus to tell him that there's a rabid dog in the neighborhood. Next Calpurnia gets the town operator to call everyone in the neighborhood to warn them. She even runs over to the Radley house and yells a warning to them. Atticus and the sheriff, Heck Tate, drive up, and the sheriff gives Atticus the gun. The dog is so close to the Radley house that a stray bullet might go into the building. Atticus reluctantly takes aim and shoots the dog. The dog crumples into a heap. Jem is dumbstruck with the accuracy of his father's shot. Miss Maudie tells the children that their father used to be known as "One-Shot Finch," the best dead-shot in the county. She says he doesn't shoot unless he has to, because he feels that when he holds a gun, God has given him an unfair advantage over living beings. Scout wants to tell everyone in school about the incident, but Jem tells her not to. Jem explains that he wouldn't care if Atticus "couldn't do a blessed thing," because Atticus is a gentleman.
On their way to meet Atticus after work, Scout and Jem have to pass by Mrs. Dubose's house. Mrs. Dubose is a very mean, sick old lady who sits on her front porch and yells insults at Jem and Scout as they pass by. The day after Jem's twelfth birthday, he and Scout go to town to spend some of his birthday money. On the way, Mrs. Dubose yells to Jem that he broke Miss Maudie's grape arbor that morning, which is untrue, and yells at Scout for wearing overalls. Then she starts yelling at them about how Atticus is defending "niggers," and says that Atticus is no better than "the trash he works for." Jem tries to follow Atticus's advice regarding Mrs. Dubose: just hold your head high and be a gentleman. In town, Jem buys himself a model steam engine and buys Scout a sparkly twirling baton she has had her eye on for some time.
On the way home, in a sudden fit of anger, Jem suddenly grabs Scout's baton, cuts off all the tops of Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes, and then snaps her baton in half. Scout watches, amazed, and begins to scream. They return home and gloomily await Atticus's return, knowing that they will be in trouble. Atticus comes home carrying green camellia buds and Scout's broken baton. He makes Jem go to Mrs. Dubose's house and apologize to her in person. Scout and Atticus discuss the necessity of keeping one's head even when times get hard. Atticus explains that he has to follow his conscience, no matter what anyone else in the town says. Jem returns from Mrs. Dubose's house. Atticus tells him one can't hold a sick old lady responsible for what she says. Jem explains that Mrs. Dubose wants him to read out loud to her every afternoon for a full month.
Scout and Jem go to Mrs. Dubose's house, which is dark, frightening, and full of medical equipment. Mrs. Dubose is lying in bed, and she looks friendly but her face is old and hideous. Jem begins to read Ivanhoe and Mrs. Dubose snaps at him when he pronounces any word incorrectly. As time passes, the old woman stops speaking and her mouth opens and closes while her head sways from side to side. Jem asks her if she is all right, but she doesn't reply. In a few minutes, an alarm clock sounds, and Mrs. Dubose's assistant shoes them out of the room and tells them to go home because it is time for Mrs. Dubose's medicine. This same sequence of events happens every time Scout and Jem go to Mrs. Dubose's house.
Scout asks Atticus what a nigger-lover is, and he says that it's just a meaningless term that "ignorant, trashy people use when they think somebody's favoring Negroes above themselves." He tells her that these words hurt the people who say them more than they hurt him.
The end of the month arrives and Mrs. Dubose asks Scout and Jem to read to her for one more week. Each day, it seems that they stay there a little longer before the alarm sounds. When Mrs. Dubose makes remarks about Atticus's case, Jem responds with detachment and keeps his anger hidden. Weeks after the last day of reading, Atticus receives a phone call and goes to Mrs. Dubose's house for a long time. He comes back to announce that she is dead, and tells the children that she was a morphine addict. Jem and Scout's visits helped break her from her morphine addiction, which the doctors had prescribed for her as a painkiller for her illness. Atticus explained to his children that Mrs. Dubose is an example of true courage. Even though she knew she was going to die, Mrs. Dubose wanted to be free of her addiction. Atticus tells Jem that courage is about more than men with guns. Instead, it is about knowing you're going to lose but sticking to your views and fighting anyway. Mrs. Dubose won, because she died beholden to nothing. Atticus calls her "the bravest woman I ever knew."
Jem is growing up and becoming moody and temperamental. Scout tries to give him his space, and looks forward to Dill coming in the summer. Unfortunately Dill doesn't arrive that summer - he writes to explain that he has a new father and has to stay in Meridian. To make matters worse, Atticus has to leave for two weeks for an emergency session with the state legislature. Instead of letting the children go to church unattended that Sunday, Calpurnia takes them to the First Purchase African M.E. church, an all-black congregation. Calpurnia takes special pains to make sure they are cleanly-scrubbed and as perfectly dressed as possible on Sunday.
At the church, a black woman named Lula tries to tell Calpurnia that white children don't belong at the church. However, Calpurnia points out that it's the same God, and the rest of the congregation welcomes the newcomers. Scout is surprised to hear Calpurnia speak in the same black dialect as the others, because at home, Calpurnia always speaks proper English. Inside the church, everything is much simpler than in the church she is used to, and there are no hymnbooks. Reverend Sykes announces that the collection taken up today will go to Helen, the wife of Tom Robinson. Calpurnia's son Zeebo, the town's trash collector, leads the congregation in hymns, singing each line and having the group repeat it back to him. Reverend Sykes gives a sermon, which seems similar to the sermons Scout is used to, except that he makes examples of particular people in the congregation to illustrate his points. After collection time, the Reverend counts the money collected and announces that they must raise ten dollars to give to Helen Robinson. He orders for the doors to be closed until everyone gives more.
After the service, Scout asks Reverend Sykes why Helen needs the collection money when she can still go to work and take her children with her. Reverend Sykes explains that she may have trouble getting any work in the fields now. Scout asks Calpurnia about this, and Calpurnia explains that it's because Tom has been accused of raping Bob Ewell's daughter. Mr. Ewell had Tom arrested and put in jail. Scout remembers that the Ewells are the ones who only come to school once a year, and are what Atticus calls "absolute trash." Calpurnia won't tell her what rape is. Scout then asks her why they don't have hymnbooks at her church, and Calpurnia explains that only a few people at the church can read. Scout also learns that Calpurnia used to work at the Landing for Miss Maudie's aunt, Miss Buford, who taught her to read. Jem asks Calpurnia why she doesn't speak with proper grammar around black people, and Calpurnia explains that it would be out of place, and that she would look pretentious. The others don't want to learn to speak the "right" way, she says, so she speaks their language. Scout asks if she can come over to Calpurnia's house sometimes to see how she lives at her own home, and Calpurnia says yes. When they arrive home, they discover Aunt Alexandra sitting on their porch.
The oak tree with the knothole is in the Radley yard, and after Mr. Radley fills it up claiming he is trying to save the obviously healthy tree from dying, it becomes fairly clear that Boo Radley has been leaving the presents for the children. In addition, the offerings are sweet, harmless, and clearly quite thoughtful, demonstrating that despite his lack of social skills, he means well and has a generous and perceptive nature. Boo's gifts also suggest a fondness for children. Having lost much of his childhood after being kept inside his home at all times, perhaps Boo is nostalgic and lives vicariously through watching Scout and Jem play, live, and grow. Mr. Radley, who plugs up the hole, and all the other adults discourage Boo's interaction with the children, but Jem feels great sympathy for the man, reflecting the beginning of his passage from childhood to adulthood. When the conversation with Boo ends, so do childish games, and Jem must mature. Standing alone on the porch, Jem stands on a threshold between indoors and outdoors, between childish freedom and the inside civilized world of adults. In this quiet, reflective, sad moment, we don't know what Jem is thinking, but perhaps he is mourning the last days of his own childhood as much as the unfair imprisonment of his mysteriously detached new friend, Boo Radley.
Chapter 8 is concerned mainly with the conclusion of the search for Boo Radley, with more narrative than thematic material. The narrative outlines the children's activities, including sneaking around the Radley house, finding presents left in the tree, discovering the hole has been filled with cement, and watching Miss Maudie's house burn down. While watching the fire, Boo wraps a blanket around Scout, and she doesn't even notice. Throughout these chapters, Boo is portrayed as a friend to the children and a caretaker of sorts. He looks out for them, giving them thoughtful gifts and making sure they stay warm when stuck out in the cold. Clearly, Boo watches the children, and his actions in these chapters foreshadow his daring rescue later on.
The threat of the fire unites the community as everyone works together to try to overcome it. Even Mr. Radley, who generally does not interact with his neighbors, comes out to help fight the flames. Ironically, Miss Maudie is happy to be forced to have a smaller house because she wants a bigger garden. Miss Maudie loves to spend time outdoors. Throughout the book, the location of people and events inside or outside of houses is highly relevant. In general, those who are usually seen and described as being willfully inside the house: Mrs. Dubose and Aunt Alexandra in particular, are often more corrupted by prejudices of society. The open-minded children run outside constantly, and Dill in particular has no house of his own, making him extremely free. Miss Maudie stays outside a great deal, as does the sheriff, Heck Tate, and both prove to be on the side of all that is good. Those who are forced to stay inside are victims of society's influence, especially Boo Radley and Tom Robinson, who both live within their respective forms of jail for much of the book. Atticus is an exception: the presence of his office gives him a different kind of house to live in, one that is tied into the fabric of society and yet is also outside of it. Atticus very rarely uses his car, and his daily walks back and forth from home to his office demonstrate that he is part of the "outside" world of free thinkers.
Chapter 9 lays some of the groundwork for the upcoming Tom Robinson trial, which will occupy the remainder of the novel. Atticus knows it will be a difficult time for the children, and though the reader doesn't know anything about the case yet, Atticus already claims that it is hopeless, because the jury simply won't believe a black man's word against a white man's, no matter what the evidence. The trial is thus about more than simply setting a man free - Atticus seems sure that he won't win, but he suggests it will cause a stir in the town that will have major repercussions. The bigotry and racism that have been endemic to Southern society for a hundred years may not be eradicated by this single case, but Atticus will fight anyway to do his small part in working towards equality and to follow his own conscience and set an example for the community. Atticus knows that if he is false in his work as a lawyer, than he cannot be true to his family or friends.
This first introduction of Aunt Alexandra presents her as a dominating and traditional presence with strong opinions about how Scout ought to behave. Her ideas of what a Southern lady should do become a constant reminder for Scout that she is always doing something "wrong." However, Scout is always comforted by knowing the accepting and open-minded Atticus doesn't mind her "too much" the way she is. Scout's behavior constantly flies in the face of traditional Southern female attributes, but the codes that her aunt tries to force on her often seem unreasonable and unjustified since they are based mainly on sheer tradition. Scout can maintain her youthful identity for now, but when Aunt Alexandra moves in with the Finch family during the trial, she will find herself more directly torn between two worlds - her childhood innocence and the ideal behavior of a Southern lady.
These parallel struggles of individual identity against communal tradition - Atticus's preservation of his own morals and Scout's preservation of her own idea of what it means to be a girl - suggest that though Atticus's fight for justice is very difficult and lonely, the process of growing up as a tomboy in the 1930s South could be equally painful and lonely at times, and certainly contributed to Scout's strong character development. Atticus clearly encouraged Scout to be her own kind of girl, both directly and through his personal approach to his own life.
The rabid dog in Chapter 10 is a deadly, dangerous menace to the town, and its presence affects everyone in the community, black or white, irrespective of class or personality. Thus, just like the fire, the dog creates a unifying affect over the neighborhood - no one is immune to it, and everyone must take cover together. Later in the book, Atticus uses the court of law in a similar way, making everyone equal, regardless of ethnicity or social stature. In addition, we also learn that even though Atticus does not like to shoot, he is an excellent marksman. Atticus does not brag about his strengths or talents, he simply uses them when necessary. When Atticus holds the gun, the fate of the entire community rests upon his shoulders, a role which will be discussed more in Chapter 24, where Miss Maudie points out that the town depends upon Atticus to uphold truth for them all. Atticus dislikes handling a gun because he believes it gives him an unfair advantage over all living things. However, in the name of public safety, Atticus's moral code calls for him to protect his family and neighbors and kill the dog. Again, this shows how a law, such as nature's law or even a personal law such as Atticus's avoidance of guns, must sometime be bent toward a higher aim.
Atticus is not the only important figure in the rabid dog crisis. Calpurnia is the first to recognize the serious nature of the situation, and she immediately makes the right phone calls, and runs to warn the neighbors. She protects many from danger, but receives no praise in comparison to Atticus who actually kills the dog. Though Atticus's skill with a gun is remarkable, Calpurnia's swift action and knowledge are invaluable. This is a reflection of how the black community's assistance to the white community in Maycomb is often unacknowledged.
Atticus's warning about shooting a mockingbird is the first reference to the novel's title and mockingbird theme. Atticus doesn't want his children to inflict cruelty upon the innocent mockingbirds just because they have the power to, just as he doesn't like to shoot for sport. His warning serves to emphasize the responsibilities that come with power. Those who have power must be careful not to use it cruelly against the innocent and harmless. The powerful must be careful in choosing whom they target. In the trial of the harmless Tom Robinson, the white people in the jury have power over the black man, and choose to exercise their power poorly, declaring him guilty simply because he is black. Here, Tom Robinson is in the same situation as the mockingbird. The mockingbird theme will also appear at the end of the book when Boo rescues Jem and Scout. To avoid making Boo suffer a trial, the sheriff and Atticus agree that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife.
Again, the events of Chapter 11 help underscore the severe racial intolerance of many of the townspeople, and the extreme ostracizing the Finches undergo in the name of maintaining good conscience. Mrs. Dubose calls all black people "trash" without exception, and tests Jem's patience. Atticus wants the children to understand that courage has to do with the fight for one's personal goals, no matter what the odds are against achieving the goal. Heroism consists of the fight itself, the struggle against fate, circumstance, or any other overpowering force. Mrs. Dubose's goal is to break free from her addiction to morphine. Her struggle against the clock and mortality is easily compared to Atticus's struggle to uphold his own morals despite the hopelessness of his case and the lack of support he has in town. According to Atticus's definition, he and Mrs. Dubose are both brave, even heroic, and he wants the children to follow their example. Even though Mrs. Dubose is a mean and bigoted old woman, she does have good qualities that demand respect. Atticus wants the children to see that though many of the townspeople are ignorant and racist, they also have personal strengths and are not fundamentally bad people.
Jem learns some lessons on how to remain impassive even when his father's judgment is questioned and criticized. Jem is usually calmer and quieter than Scout, but his outward calm often disguises as much hurt and anger as Scout feels and expresses. Because he so rarely expresses his rage in verbal or physical fights, he often ends up bottling his feelings up. When these feelings explode, as when he cuts up Mrs. Dubose's flowers, the explosion is much bigger and more destructive than anything Scout would normally do, and he finds himself extremely ashamed afterwards. Part of Scout and Jem's growing up consists of understanding how to manage their feelings of anger. Scout must learn to calm her responses, whereas Jem may need to learn to find useful ways to express his feelings rather than suppress them.
Chapter 12 offers the one real window into the life and culture of Maycomb's black community. The scarcity of views into the "Quarters," the black residential part of town, most likely reflects accurately upon what it would be like to grow up as a white girl in the Deep South in the 1930s. Scout lives almost exclusively in a middle-class white world, and as the book tends to stay centered around her own experience, it almost never moves into other racial circles. The narrowness of her own experience, seen through the book, demonstrates the rigidity of Maycomb's segregated society.
The First Purchase church is noticeably shabbier and simpler than Scout's church, reflecting the material poverty of its congregation. However, though materially poor, the congregation displays a richness in human and spiritual dignity. Though exposed to decades of white racist hatred and discrimination, the entire congregation (except Lula) gives the Finch children a warm welcome. For the most part, the black community seems unified in a sense of solidarity that their poverty and shared hardships help to solidify. The Reverend singles out individuals in front of the group in his sermon because within a community of discriminated people, the actions of individuals have a more profound effect upon the image of the entire group. Thus, it becomes every individual's responsibility to act with the group's common goals in mind. Likewise, in making a collection for Helen Robinson, everyone in the community must sacrifice a little more than they are comfortable with in order to help out those in need. In a more affluent social group, the very wealthy can act as philanthropists, doling out large sums to support the very poor without significant sacrifice to their own large fortunes. In the black community, the needs of the poorest members are felt by everyone else in the group.
Despite the differences between the black and white congregations, Scout notes that most aspects of the service are very similar, including the nature of the sermon itself. This demonstrates that the two groups, though so socially segregated, share much in common where the issue of faith is concerned. Like the courtroom (house of the state), later in the book, the church (house of God) is a space in which all people can be treated on equal terms.
Calpurnia's ability to speak both the English of the white community and of the black community shows one aspect of her role as a mediator between the otherwise far-removed worlds of black and white. She is often called upon as a go-between between the two communities, as in the case of the death of Tom Robinson in chapter 24. She manages to bridge both worlds without becoming a foreigner to both, as in the case of the "mixed" children seen around the courthouse in Chapter 16. However, the discussion of English dialects also dates Lee's book considerably, as white grammar is referred to as "proper" English, whereas black grammar comes across as being a more ignorant way of speaking. More recent linguistic research has demonstrated that the dialects of African-American English follow the same logical, systematic rules as all languages and are correct and perfectly contained unto themselves. Calpurnia explains that members of the black community prefer to speak their own form of English, which shows that their dialect helps to identify them as a group, an idea which has contemporary reverberations with respect to the issue of introducing Ebonics in American public schools.
Lula's defensive attitude toward allowing the Finch children into the church demonstrates that although the black community is by and large welcoming, there are always people, black or white, who are less generous or unfair, which relates to Atticus's courtroom speech where he explains that there are honest and dishonest people everywhere, regardless of race. Creating one somewhat hostile black character in Lula, saves the black populace from becoming an unrealistic stereotype for unambiguous "good" in the book. The experience of being temporarily restricted from the space of the church also forces the Finch children to momentarily experience the same kind of racial discrimination that is a terrible daily reality for the black community. Lula's actions suggest that in retaliation against the cruelty of white domination, she wants the black community to, like whites, have their own spaces and lead mutually exclusive lives. The others, however, seem more interested in working toward a peaceful integration between blacks and whites despite historical atrocities and animosity.
To Kill a Mockingbird Essays and Related Content
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Major Themes
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Essays
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Lesson Plan
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Questions
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Harper Lee: Biography
- To Kill a Mockingbird Summary
- About To Kill a Mockingbird
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-18
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-24
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 25-31
- Quotations with Analysis
- Related Links on To Kill a Mockingbird
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources