Summary and Analysis Chapter 12



Jean Louise wakes up early the next morning and impulsively mows the lawn until her aunt yells at her to stop waking the neighbors with the noise. At breakfast, Atticus gets a call from the sheriff and tells him to call Hank instead.

Hank comes shortly afterward to tell Atticus about the sheriff’s call: Calpurnia’s grandson Frank was driving his father Zeebo’s car and hit and killed an old white man. Hank told the sheriff they would not defend the boy, but Atticus says that they ought to take the case. Jean Louise thinks her father is being generous until he explains that his reason for taking the case is to keep the NAACP from becoming involved.

Hank asks Jean Louise for a dinner date that night. She agrees unenthusiastically. When Atticus refers to her as Scout, she finds that she now hates to hear him speak her old nickname.

Jean Louise visits Calpurnia to offer whatever help she can provide. Calpurnia and her family are polite but distant; Calpurnia treats Jean Louise like company instead of family. Jean Louise realizes that Calpurnia is shutting her out emotionally, unable to look at Jean Louise without seeing her only as a white person. Jean Louise asks Calpurnia if she hates all white folks for what they’ve done to black folks, but Calpurnia shakes her head.


Atticus’ attitude toward Frank’s trial and his hostility toward the NAACP seem to confirm what Jean Louise has already assumed from the citizens’ council meeting: Atticus is not the man she thought he was. When Atticus agrees to take the case, his motivation is not care for the young man but dislike of the NAACP’s black lawyers. Jean Louise reflects that the Atticus she remembers from her childhood, the one who fought for racial equality, would have taken the case “simply from his goodness”; now he seems disingenuous and conniving. She doesn’t consider a nuanced interpretation of her father’s attitudes or try to understand him as a layered, complex human being. In her mind, racism is simple: A person either is or is not racist. Atticus, having violated Jean Louise’s definition of non-racism, suddenly seems to her to be no better than a man like Grady O’Hanlon.

As this chapter implies and future chapters clarify, Atticus doesn’t see his behavior as racist. He believes in an ethics of fairness, and he feels that the NAACP’s way of running trials disrupts the justice system. The tactics used by the NAACP to guarantee what it thinks are fair trials—demanding that a jury include blacks or trying to move a case into a federal court less hostile to blacks—seem to Atticus like forms of meddling. In the NAACP’s eyes, a concept of “fairness” that pretends race does not exist allows systemic racism to thrive.

Jean Louise’s desire to see racism as a clear, easily defined enemy forces her to put her father in the enemy camp. The father she knew previously, the one who sought fairness for blacks and treated everyone equally, is dead to her. When her father calls her by her childhood nickname, she recoils because it forces her to reconcile her idyllic memories of her father with the Atticus she now perceives.

Jean Louise’s memories of Atticus are not the only memories being tarnished by the present day. When Jean Louise goes to visit Calpurnia, she discovers for the first time that race is and has always been a factor in her relationship with her family’s former cook. While Jean Louise has had the luxury of living as if she is color-blind, Calpurnia has had to be constantly aware of her own race and the race of those around her.

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