To Kill a Mockingbird By Harper Lee Summary and Analysis Part 2: Chapters 12-13

Summary

As summer begins, Jem is now too old to be bothered by his little sister, which causes Scout great dismay. To add to Scout's disappointment, Dill won't be coming to Maycomb this summer, although Calpurnia eases her loneliness somewhat. With Atticus at a special session of the state legislature, Calpurnia takes the children to church with her. Upon their return from church, they find Aunt Alexandra waiting on the porch for them. She announces that at Atticus' request, she's coming to live with them for "a while." Aunt Alexandra goes to great pains to educate the children in the importance of the Finch breeding, going so far as to have Atticus deliver an uncharacteristic speech — a speech he ultimately recants — to Scout and Jem.

Analysis

The third and final summer chronicled in To Kill a Mockingbird begins in these chapters. With school out, Scout's real education will begin again. In fact, during this summer, she, Jem, and Dill will probably learn the most important and lasting lessons of their lives. Lee hints at this by noting the changes in Jem: He doesn't want Scout "pestering" him; Calpurnia begins referring to him as "Mister Jem," a title reserved for adults; and he develops "a maddening air of wisdom" that only annoys Scout. She doesn't understand these changes, but the adults around her expect them.

The minor hardships that start the summer foreshadow the much bigger dilemmas that the children will face during Tom's trial and its aftermath. Scout loses Jem as a regular playmate, causing her to fume. Then Scout receives word that Dill is staying in Meridian this summer, and Atticus is called to an emergency session of the legislature. Finally, Aunt Alexandra arrives to live with them, seemingly unannounced. These small disappointments and challenges hint at the larger inconsistencies and unexpected outcomes of Tom Robinson's trial, which follows.

For some time now, Scout and Jem have railed against people who insulted Atticus' decision to defend Tom. However, in these chapters, they begin to understand the importance of other people's opinions about them, especially Aunt Alexandra who "never let a chance escape her to point out the shortcomings of other tribal groups to the glory of our own."

Calpurnia worries about what others think as well. She is fanatical about Jem and Scout's cleanliness and attire when she takes them to church with her because "'I don't want anybody sayin' I don't look after my children.'" Cal really does think of the Finch children as her children, yet she is black and they are white. The children don't understand prejudice at its basest level, and Calpurnia seems to not possess it either. Consequently, the children are surprised when they ironically experience prejudice while attending Calpurnia's church. There, a churchgoer named Lula confronts Calpurnia with, "'I wants to know why you bringin' white chillun to nigger church.'" Prejudice appears to run from black toward white as much as from white toward black. In this instance, the children are like mockingbirds — they're just there to please Calpurnia and worship. This experience will give the children more compassion toward Tom's treatment from a white jury. However, just as every white resident of Maycomb isn't prejudiced, not every member of Calpurnia's church is, either. Both Reverend Skyes and Zeebo are quite glad to have them and tell them so.

The children are further surprised to hear Calpurnia talk like other black people. Scout comments "The idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages." Significantly, Scout sees the language of the two races as different, but more importantly, she is impressed by Calpurnia's mastery of both. If Scout were raised in a prejudiced household, she would find this other "language" inferior.

In their childish innocence, Jem and Scout are surprised to find that only four people in Calpurnia's church can read. They have no understanding that for the most part, Maycomb's black population is denied an education. In fact, when Calpurnia remarks that black people don't age as quickly as white people, Jem seriously suggests, "'Maybe because they can't read'" as though reading is a burden that not everyone needs to shoulder. Lee uses the children's ignorance to underscore the injustice African Americans receive in all aspects of their lives. All white children — even the Ewells — are afforded the opportunity to learn to read. Scout and Jem's surprise helps readers understand this unfairness at a deeper level.

Remarkably, Calpurnia doesn't lament the African-American position in Maycomb society or try to explain prejudice to the children. Instead, she simply answers their questions, and lets them figure out the rest. When Scout asks to visit Calpurnia at her house, Calpurnia doesn't go into a dissertation about how white children generally don't spend time in black people's homes, she just smiles and says, "'We'd be glad to have you.'"

Ironically, Aunt Alexandra holds many of Maycomb's prejudices against blacks. She has an African-American chauffeur, and says "'Put my bag in the front bedroom, Calpurnia'" before she even says hello. The fact that Jem insists on taking the bag shows both maturity and lack of prejudice on his part. Still, Aunt Alexandra's various prejudices cause Scout to comment "There was indeed a caste system in Maycomb, but to my mind it worked this way: the older citizens, the present generation of people who had lived side by side for years and years, were utterly predictable to one another." Later in the novel, Scout will redefine Maycomb's caste system as she discovers that even living "side by side for years and years" doesn't make human nature predictable.

Aunt Alexandra claims that the main reason she's come to live with them is to provide "some feminine influence" for Scout. Of course, Scout considers Calpurnia to be a sufficient feminine influence. Aunt Alexandra would be quick to say that the finest black woman can't ever be a proper role model for a white child. In these chapters, Scout confronts the issue of femininity through others in her household, as well:

Jem and Atticus: In a major and unexpected shift, Jem stops chastising Scout for acting like a girl, and instead says, "'It's time you started bein' a girl and acting right!'" Scout is stunned to tears by this sudden change in Jem.

Later, Atticus further confuses the children by deeming that they need to start "'behaving like the little lady and gentleman that you are.'" Atticus quickly realizes that he doesn't mean what he's saying and withdraws his request for different behavior. He then tries to make light of the whole situation to cheer the children up. Curiously, Scout recognizes that "Atticus was only a man. It takes a woman to do that kind of work." So at the end of Chapter 13, readers are left with the impression that Scout is beginning to come to grips with what being female means.

Calpurnia: With much more gentle tactics than Aunt Alexandra, Calpurnia shows Scout a great deal about femininity. Scout absorbs Calpurnia's lessons willingly because Calpurnia doesn't try to force any standards on her. Scout simply starts joining her in the kitchen as Jem enters adolescence and she remarks "by watching her I began to think there was some skill involved in being a girl." Ironically, although Aunt Alexandra wants to be Scout's example of the feminine, Scout chooses to follow the examples set by women like Miss Maudie and Calpurnia. Lee shows the juxtaposition between Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra by the fact that Alexandra won't let Calpurnia cook for her lady friends.

Ironically, though, at Calpurnia's church, Scout is "confronted with the Impurity of Women doctrine." Reverend Skyes, like many others in the clergy, espouses the evils that women bring on the world, and yet everyone in the world seems to want to transform her into one of these creatures. It is indeed a confusing time for Scout.

Glossary

Shadrach Bible one of the three captives who came out of the fiery furnace miraculously unharmed: Dan. 3:12-27.

castile a fine, mild, hard soap prepared from olive oil and sodium hydroxide.

habiliments clothing; dress; attire.

Quarters a particular district or section in a city.

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.

church vt. to bring (esp. a woman after childbirth) to church for special services.

rotogravure a printing process using photogravure cylinders on a rotary press.

impedimenta things hindering progress, as on a trip; encumbrances; esp., baggage, supplies, or equipment, as those carried along with an army.

voile a thin, sheer fabric, as of cotton, used for garments, curtains, etc.

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.

tight [slang] drunk.

amanuensis an assistant who takes dictation or copies something already written; secretary.

redbug any of various red insects, as a cotton stainer or chigger.

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