To Kill a Mockingbird By Harper Lee Summary and Analysis Part 2: Chapters 14-16

Summary

As Scout innocently recounts her trip to Calpurnia's church for Atticus, Aunt Alexandra is mortified and vehemently refuses Scout's request to go to Calpurnia's house. With Scout out of the room, she comments that they really don't need a housekeeper now that she's come to stay, recommending that Atticus let Calpurnia go. Now it's Atticus' turn to vehemently deny Alexandra's request. Jem and Scout retreat to let the adults work out their differences, but end up in a fistfight with each other. Sent to bed early, Jem and Scout get themselves ready for sleep. Crossing the floor in the darkened room, Scout feels what she thinks is a snake. Jem discovers that the "snake" is Dill with a fantastic story of his runaway voyage to Maycomb. Jem calls Atticus who arranges for Dill to spend the night.

Dill's mother gives him permission to spend the summer in Maycomb and the children begin to enjoy their time together. Then Sheriff Tate and a group of other men come by the house to tell Atticus that Tom Robinson is being moved to the county jail and that there may be trouble. That Sunday night, Atticus heads into town, which gives Jem a funny feeling.

At bedtime, he, Scout, and Dill walk downtown themselves to see what's happening. They find Atticus sitting outside Tom Robinson's cell and turn to head home when a group of men arrive to confront Atticus. Not realizing the danger of the situation, Scout runs into the middle of the mob. After a few tense moments, she begins a conversation with Walter Cunningham's father, which causes the men to retreat, and very likely saves Atticus' life.

The next morning, the day the trial is set to begin, Atticus and Scout talk about mob mentality, and, over Aunt Alexandra's protests, he thanks the children for appearing when they did. He asks the children to stay away from the courthouse during the trial, but by noon, their curiosity has the better of them, and they, along with Dill, head for the courthouse where the trial is about to get under way. They can't find a seat in the courtroom, so Reverend Skyes offers them seats in "the Colored balcony," which they gladly accept. Finally, readers are introduced to Judge Taylor, who the children earlier discovered — much to their surprise — appointed Atticus to defend Tom Robinson.

Analysis

In these chapters, prejudice comes to the forefront in numerous ways. Aunt Alexandra refuses to allow Scout to visit Calpurnia because young white girls don't spend time in black people's neighborhoods, and definitely not inside their houses. In fact, Aunt Alexandra thinks that Atticus should terminate Calpurnia's employment with the family. Significantly, Atticus defends Calpurnia, saying, "'I don't think the children have suffered one bit from her having brought them up. If anything, she's been harder on them in some ways than a mother would've been.'" If the thought hasn't occurred to readers by now, they're confronted with the fact that for all the prejudices African Americans endure, Atticus has allowed a black woman to raise his children, and in fact, sees this woman as "a faithful member of this family." Atticus' attitude is certainly atypical of the Maycomb majority.

Atticus' attitude toward African Americans is further exposed the morning after he faces the mob at the jailhouse. Aunt Alexandra chastises him for remarking that Mr. Underwood "despises Negroes" in front of Calpurnia. But characteristically, Atticus responds, "'Anything fit to say at the table's fit to say in front of Calpurnia.'" Aunt Alexandra is afraid that the black community will gossip about the white community, but Atticus proclaims that maybe the white community shouldn't give them so much to gossip about. While Alexandra worries about appearances, Atticus constantly reminds her of reality.

In the American South during the 1930s, segregation was not only the norm, it was the law. Blacks were given special places to sit, they often used separate entrances, and they used separate restrooms and drinking fountains. The fact that blacks can't sit on the main floor of the courtroom or that they have to let all the white people into the courthouse before they can begin going in themselves, is an accurate description of what would've happened at such a trial. When Reverend Skyes offers the children a seat in the "Colored balcony," they happily and naively accept. They have no idea that they're breaking a cultural taboo. Many whites would miss the trial before they would sit amongst people of another race. Ironically, Scout feels like they have a better view from the balcony than they would from the floor — unfortunately, what they're going to see won't be pretty. Significant, too, is that four black people rose to give the minister and three white children their front-row seats. Some would argue that they gave up their seats out of respect for Reverend Skyes; others may say that they gave up their seats out of respect for Atticus. In truth, they would be expected to give up their seats for any white person who wanted them.

Lee introduces an interesting discussion of what makes a person a member of one race or another through the character of Dolphus Raymond — a white man, rumored to be a drunkard, with biracial children. Worse than being black is being "mixed." Children who are part of both races "don't belong anywhere. Colored folks won't have 'em because they're half white; white folks won't have 'em 'cause they're colored, so they're just in-betweens, don't belong anywhere."

When Jem points out some biracial children, Scout can't tell that they're "mixed" and wonders, then, how Jem knows that they aren't also mixed. Jem has discussed this topic with Uncle Jack, who says that they may have some black ancestors several generations back. Somewhat relieved, Scout determines that after so many generations, race doesn't count, but Jem says, "'around here once you have one drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black.'" This conversation is important because Jem and Scout accept the idea that they themselves could have a "drop of Negro blood," which makes them more open to the African American community and less prejudiced than the vast majority of Maycomb.

The importance of place again comes to light in these chapters. As the children watch the town heading for the courthouse, "Jem gave Dill the histories and general attitudes of the more prominent figures." Again, Dill becomes an important vehicle for the children to understand their own community. What they take for granted is news to Dill, which forces them to look at their town in a different light.

Place is also important in the sense that Dill feels compelled to return to Maycomb, even though that means running away from home. Dill is unhappy with his new stepfather, but readers sense that summers in Maycomb have become part of Dill's sense of place. After two summers in Maycomb, he belongs there. Maycomb may not be a very nice town to live in if you aren't white, but for Dill, the town is a sanctuary when things are stormy elsewhere.

For Scout, Maycomb and her family are as much a part of her as her own skin. Listening to Dill's reasons for leaving his home, Scout "found myself wondering . . . what I would do if Atticus did not feel the necessity of my presence, help, and advice. . . . Even Calpurnia couldn't get along unless I was there. They needed me." The idea that someone can be unwanted in a place where they supposedly belong is completely foreign to Scout. Later, she and Dill discuss why Boo Radley has never run away — he surely must not feel wanted. Dill muses that he must not have a safe haven "to run off to."

In these chapters, Lee uses Dill and Jem to show the contrast between childish innocence and adult maturity. Dill shows the last vestige of childhood innocence by being the only one of the three still scheming to get Boo Radley out of his house. By suggesting that a trail of candy will make Boo leave his home, Dill still applies methods that would appeal to children, not adults. Jem demonstrates a new level of understanding when he refuses to keep Dill's presence a secret from Atticus. Though calling Atticus means incurring the wrath of his peers, Jem realizes that Dill's family is also concerned.

Jem also moves one step closer to adulthood when he refuses to obey his father for the first time in his life. Scout explains, "In the midst of this strange assembly, Atticus stood trying to make Jem mind him. 'I ain't going,' was his steady answer." Scout recognizes that Jem is exhibiting great courage, but only after the fact does she realize that Jem and his father have moved to a new level in their relationship with each other.

Scout attempts to keep up with Jem and his newfound wisdom — and is, in fact, headed toward a new level of maturity herself — but Jem's treatment of her makes clear to the reader that Scout is still very much a child, as yet incapable of understanding many of life's complex issues. Lee's reinforcement of Scout's childishness in these chapters is a device that allows Scout the complete objectivity of a child while recounting the difficult events and issues that later surface in the trial.

Bravery takes on a new role as the children face the mob threatening Atticus at the jail. Recognizing Atticus' bravery in going to the courthouse in the first place, Jem shows his bravery by refusing to leave his father with the group of men. Scout, however, is braver by addressing the mob, although, ironically, she has no idea how brave she's being. Not until she's safely tucked in bed that night does Scout realize that the line between bravery and foolhardiness is thin. Significantly, Dill is quiet throughout the entire confrontation with the mob. He simply absorbs what he sees and hears, which foreshadows how he will perceive Tom's trial.

At breakfast the morning after the showdown at the jail, Scout and Jem are full of questions about why people act the way they do. They can't understand why Atticus isn't angry at the men who were ready to hurt him and lynch Tom. But, in his usual way, Atticus explains that people don't always act in attractive or reasonable ways. Mobs take on a life of their own, but they're still composed of people. He then goes on to imply that children are sometimes better judges of a situation than adults by saying, "'maybe we need a police force of children . . . you children made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough.'"

On the day of the trial, people crawl out of the woodwork to attend. Some are simply curious, but most are coming to make sure that justice is served, and the only justice they can accept is a conviction for Tom Robinson. The children get more insight into Miss Maudie's feelings about the trial and her distaste for mob mentality when she tells them that she has "'no business with the court this morning.  . . . 't's morbid, watching a poor devil on trial for his life. Look at all those folks, it's like a Roman carnival.'" Miss Maudie shows great fortitude by refusing to participate in what is bound to be a debacle.

Lee provides an interesting look at the issue of femininity in these chapters. First, Atticus and Aunt Alexandra debate "Southern womanhood." Later, when facing the mob at the jail, Scout acts like anything but a Southern woman when she kicks one of the men for insulting Jem. Ironically, then, Scout is called a lady for the first time when Walter Cunningham says, "'I'll tell him you said hey, little lady.'" With this turn of events, Lee suggests that "Southern womanhood" is a myth — Scout is developing into a bright, well-mannered young woman, but she certainly doesn't fit the stereotype of a delicate, refined belle.

Glossary

johnson grass a forage and pasture grass, widespread in the Southern U.S., often as a weed.

monkey-puzzle bushes any araucaria tree; esp., a tall tree with stiff pointed leaves, edible nuts, and hard wood, widely grown as an ornamental.

ecclesiastical of the church, the organization of the church, or the clergy.

privy a toilet; esp., an outhouse.

acquiescence the act of acquiescing; agreement or consent without protest.

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.

aggregation a group or mass of distinct things or individuals.

fey strange or unusual in any of certain ways, as, variously, eccentric, whimsical, visionary, elfin, shy, otherworldly.

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.

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.

solicitor in the U.S., a lawyer serving as official law officer for a city, department, etc.

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.

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