Summary and Analysis
Jean Louise remembers when she began menstruating in the sixth grade. Because of her cramps, she found herself no longer able to join in with the boys’ rowdy games during recess and started sitting with the other girls. One day a boy named Albert kissed her on the lips—her first kiss from a male outside her family. She thought little of it until she heard the other girls gossiping about a girl who was no longer coming to school because she was pregnant. Jean Louise didn’t know about pregnancy, and the other girls explained it to her in such a way that she thought French kissing causes pregnancy.
Convinced that she had become pregnant from kissing Albert, Jean Louise began counting down the nine months of her pregnancy, planning to kill herself before the baby arrived. On the day of her intended suicide, Jean Louise climbed to the top of the town water-tank to throw herself off. A passerby saw her and warned Hank, who came and pulled her away from the edge before she jumped. Hank then took her to Calpurnia, who explained that Jean Louise wasn’t pregnant and gave her a lesson in sex education.
When Jem came home later that afternoon, Jean Louise wasn’t sure if he had heard about her attempted suicide from Hank or Calpurnia. Jem told her that if anything ever happened that she didn’t want to tell Atticus about, she could tell him instead.
Jean Louise’s memory of her journey through puberty serves as a reminder that this is a coming-of-age story on multiple levels. Although physically coming of age is certainly part of the story, Jean Louise’s intellectual and ethical coming of age matters most. Jean Louise has always had a childlike perspective of race relations and a childlike perspective of her father’s infallibility. The loss of these perspectives leads to a kind of growing pains, not so unlike the menstrual cramps of sixth-grade Scout.
The beginning of Jean Louise’s menstrual cramps was, she remembers, the one time that Atticus’ abilities as a father seemed insufficient for her needs. Atticus directed her to Calpurnia, who took charge of Jean Louise’s instruction as a woman. In this physical coming of age, Jean Louise recognized for the first time her father’s limitations and found herself looking to another source of authority. In her later coming of age, 26-year-old Jean Louise is likewise forced to recognize her father’s limitations and to look to another source for comfort and inspiration.
Jean Louise’s conversation with Jem at the end of the chapter troubled her precisely because it violated her idealistic view of Atticus. Her childhood had always been defined by her belief that Atticus was the ultimate safety and goodness, and as a result Jem’s offer to be a confidant for her if she ever needed to hide something from Atticus startled her. At that time, the notion seemed surreal to her and she wondered if she was fully awake. In retrospect, she begins to realize that her naiveté has in a sense kept her from ever being fully awake.
Puberty was also a significant time of life for Jean Louise because it changed the nature of her relationship with Calpurnia. When she was a prepubescent child, Jean Louise felt only a physical need for Calpurnia’s services as a cook, but the onset of puberty forced Jean Louise to become relationally dependent on Calpurnia. Although Jean Louise has always taken Calpurnia’s race for granted, Calpurnia’s role as both cook and mother figure is one a white woman could never have played.