Summary and Analysis
Aunt Alexandra invites Scout to attend her Missionary Society meeting. Scout helps Calpurnia serve refreshments and tries to join the ladies in conversation. The women, with the exception of Miss Maudie, gently corner Scout with their questions, taking great delight in her responses. Just about the time Scout decides that she prefers the company of men, Atticus interrupts the meeting with the news that Tom Robinson has been killed in an attempted escape.
In the kitchen, Atticus asks Calpurnia to accompany him to give the news to Tom's wife, Helen. Aunt Alexandra is almost apologetic for Atticus, but Miss Maudie takes her to task, defending him. Scout rejoins the party with Aunt Alexandra and Miss Maudie, determined to act like a lady in the face of grim circumstances. Helen takes the news about Tom badly; the rest of Maycomb has mixed reactions. Bob Ewell is vocal about his glee at Tom's death, saying, "it made one down and about two more to go."
School starts again with Jem in the seventh grade and Scout in the third. Scout notices that the Radley house is still stark and depressing, but no longer as frightening as it once was. She and Jem have been through too much to be rattled by the thought of Boo Radley. At school, Scout's teacher, Miss Gates, talks with the class about Adolf Hitler and laments the persecution of the Jews. Later, Scout remembers that she overheard Miss Gates making racist remarks about African Americans after Tom's trial. When Scout questions Jem about this dichotomy, he becomes very angry and tells Scout never to mention the trial again. Scout then goes to Atticus who provides some consolation.
With the trial behind them, the town works to regain some sense of normalcy. Lee uses these chapters primarily to discuss Maycomb's attitudes about women and those not white, particularly in light of Tom's death.
At the Missionary Society meeting, Scout is embarrassed when the ladies laugh at her answers to their questions. She finds an ally in Miss Maudie, though, who Scout says "never laughed at me unless I meant to be funny." Miss Maudie and Calpurnia are the two women in Scout's life who never expect her to act in a particular way. Fitting for Lee's goals in telling this story, Scout better identifies with a black woman than with her biological family. These ladies are wonderful role models for Scout, yet Aunt Alexandra doesn't recognize the positive effect that they have on her niece. Ironically, Scout learns the important things about being a lady from these unlikely sources; for all her efforts to the contrary, Aunt Alexandra only supplies Scout with negative images of womanhood, images Scout flatly rejects.
Still, Scout is intrigued by this world of women. While socializing with the ladies, Scout realizes that the ideal of Womanhood is much different from the reality. When she sees Aunt Alexandra thank Miss Maudie with only body language and no words, Scout realizes the complexity of this social order: "There was no doubt about it, I must soon enter this world, where on its surface fragrant ladies rocked slowly, fanned gently, and drank cool water." But in spite of the sudden lure of being with women, Scout admits that she prefers the company of men, and readers are left believing that Scout will never become "a lady" in the sense that Aunt Alexandra would most like.
Scout is amazed at how Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra handle the news of Tom's death. All three of them are jarred and shaken, yet they carry on with the meeting as though nothing has happened. Scout understands the importance of doing so, even though she can't explain it. But in her first true attempt to purposely evolve into a young lady, she follows Aunt Alexandra's lead and continues serving refreshments, saying "If Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I."
For the first time in the story, Christianity is used as a validation of prejudice. Both Mrs. Merriweather and Mrs. Farrow use this defense. Mrs. Merriweather criticizes her maid, Sophy, for complaining, but then passes off her own judgement as a form of Christian witness. She never inquires about why Sophy is complaining, yet she feels justified in telling her not to. Mrs. Farrow's response to dealing with African Americans is even more chilling: "'We can educate 'em till we're blue in the face, we can try till we drop to make Christians out of 'em, but there's no lady safe in her bed these nights.'" The sad irony of this conversation is that neither woman can understand why Maycomb's black community is dissatisfied.
Similarly, Miss Gates leads Scout's class in a discussion of Hitler's treatment of the Jews in Europe. During the discussion, one of the students remarks that persecution of the Jews seems so unreasonable because, after all, Jews are white. Miss Gates response fairly drips with irony: "'Jews have been persecuted since the beginning of history, even driven out of their own country. It's one of the most terrible stories in history.'" Miss Gates is oblivious to the fact that African Americans have always and continue to be persecuted in the South. She also seems unaware that early slaves were unwillingly driven from Africa, and worse, are often excluded from their own communities 90 years since the end of slavery.
The fact that Miss Gates offers no recognition of the terrible treatment that blacks in Maycomb endure is amplified by her statement outside the classroom, "'it's time somebody taught 'em [African Americans] a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us.'" At least this irony isn't lost on Scout, but unfortunately the vast majority of Maycomb would agree with Miss Gates.
Several of the ladies at the meeting are quick to judge and quicker to apply the label "hypocrite" to others. All the while, they're blind to their own hypocrisy — a hypocrisy so transparent that even a child can recognize it. The ladies are genuinely concerned about "'The poverty . . . the darkness . . . the immorality'" that the Mrunas in Africa suffer, yet they're oblivious to the poverty, darkness, and immorality suffered by African Americans at the hands of whites in their own community — and in many cases their own homes.
On the surface, Tom's death goes virtually unnoticed except for a short obituary in the "Colored News." However, Lee utilizes a known racist, Mr. Underwood, to characterize Tom Robinson as a mockingbird by having him write an editorial that "likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children." By purposely writing at a child's level, Mr. Underwood underscores the town's immaturity and callousness when it comes to racial issues. As Scout rereads the editorial, she suddenly comes to the full understanding that Tom's death sentence was signed as soon as "Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed."
Unfortunately, the majority of the town refuses to acknowledge that fact. Instead, they believe that Tom's run at escape is typical of his race, and maintain that the jury made the right decision. In a situation of oppression, the oppressors do what's necessary to maintain their power. Admitting that Tom's arrest, conviction, and death are a travesty would cause a shift in power that whites aren't willing to accept.
Jem reaches a new level of maturity in these chapters as well. He stops Scout from killing a bug because the bug isn't hurting anyone. Obviously, Tom's trial has caused Jem to rethink his stance on his relationship with all living things. Even an insect is worth saving if it's not causing any harm. Interestingly, Scout sees this new level of tolerance in Jem as a feminine characteristic when she says, "Jem was the one who was getting more like a girl every day, not I." For all his maturity, though, Jem continues to wrestle with the implications of Tom Robinson's trial, which is why he reacts so vehemently when Scout mentions the courthouse.
charlotte a molded dessert consisting of an outer layer of strips of bread, cake, etc. and a filling as of custard or cooked fruit.
largo slow and stately: a musical tempo.
wool short, thick, curly or crispy human hair.
Mrs. Roosevelt Eleanor Roosevelt 1884-1962; U.S. writer, social activist, and delegate at UN: wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
spurious not true or genuine; false; counterfeit.
Uncle Natchell cartoon mascot for a fertilizer product called Natural Chilean Nitrate of Soda; advertisements for this product were in comic book or story form.