What was the purpose of the Halloween pageant? What practical joke persuaded the grown-ups to have an organized event?
In Chapter 27, Scout explains that the parents of Maycomb decided to have an organized Halloween affair after Misses Sarah and Frances Barber became victims of a harmless prank. Last Halloween, children snuck into the Barbers' home while they were sleeping and hid their furniture in their basement. When the Barbers awoke to find their furniture missing, it took a considerable amount of time before Sheriff Tate discovered that their belongings were in their basement.
As a result of last year's prank, the Maycomb ladies decided that they would hold a Halloween festival in the school's auditorium. Mrs. Merriweather decided to compose an original pageant entitled Maycomb County: Ad Astra Per Aspera. Mrs. Merriweather thought it would be adorable if some of the children dressed up as agricultural products that were produced in Maycomb County. Mrs. Merriweather is an active community member with a big imagination and an enthusiastic attitude. She simply wanted to get involved in the Halloween festival and felt that the citizens would enjoy watching the children participate in a pageant. In one of the more humorous scenes throughout the novel, Scout stumbles onto the stage at the wrong time in her ham costume.
The previous Halloween, evidently some pranksters hit Tutti and Frutti Barber’s house and vandalized some furniture belonging to them. In order to keep these “criminals” in check and off the streets of Maycomb, Miss Merriweather writes a play that chronicles Maycomb’s agricultural history and contributions to society. It is performed in the school gymnasium, but there is also a “haunted house” in one of the classrooms and treats for the children. In the play, Scout plays the role of a ham and misses her cue to go on stage because she fell asleep waiting for her part. The play ends, and the children head home on this spooky Halloween night only to be attacked by Bob Ewell.
The trip to the Halloween pageant sets up a foreboding mood, and we as readers can feel that something bad is going to happen. Lee describes the night as “moonless” and dark. Scout and Jem must once again pass the Radley house to get to the school, and during their walk, they are startled by Cecil Jacobs who jumps out of the bushes to scare them. The Halloween pageant is used as a device to foreshadow the danger the children will be in by the end of the episode.