Why are hymnals not used in the First Purchase A.M.E. Zion Church in To Kill a Mockingbird?  

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In chapter twelve, Atticus leaves town and Calpurnia decides to take Jem and Scout with her to Sunday service at First Purchase African M.E. Church. During their visit, the Finch children gain valuable insight into Maycomb's black community and take note of the many differences between their white church and...

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In chapter twelve, Atticus leaves town and Calpurnia decides to take Jem and Scout with her to Sunday service at First Purchase African M.E. Church. During their visit, the Finch children gain valuable insight into Maycomb's black community and take note of the many differences between their white church and First Purchase. Both Jem and Scout are astonished to discover that First Purchase does not have a piano, an organ, church programs, or hymnals. When Zeebo stands up in front of the congregation and opens his hymn book, Scout wonders how they will join in song without reading from a hymnal. The children then witness the congregation sing in harmony using a technique referred to as "lining," which is when the congregation repeats the line after Zeebo sings it aloud. After the service, Calpurnia explains that First Purchase does not have any hymnals because the vast majority of the congregation is illiterate. Calpurnia is one of just of three members who can read and write in her church. Unlike Maycomb's white children, the black citizens do not have the privilege of attending schools and receiving an education. Calpurnia explains to Jem and Scout that Miss Buford taught her how to read and that she, in turn, taught her son how to read.

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Hymnals are not used at this church for a couple of reasons, although I do not think that Lee actually comes out and says why.

First of all, having hymn books for everyone would cost a lot of money.  You can see from the description of the church that they don't have much money.  Even the one hymn book the do have is all beat up, for example.

The second reason is that you can assume that most of the people who attend the church do not know how to read anyway.  So having books would not help.

So instead of all having books, the music superintendent "lines out" the hymns and they all sing.

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