To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis

Harper Lee

Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis

Part II begins with Scout emphasizing the divide between her and Jem. He's twelve now and has pulled away from Scout, bossing her around and telling her to act like a girl, though her tomboy clothes never bothered him before. This would be fine to Scout if Dill were there, but he's forced to stay in Meridian because he has a new stepfather. What's worse, Atticus is called away for an emergency meeting of the State Legislature, so Scout and Jem are left in the care of Calpurnia. If not for an incident where Scout and Jem, along with a few of their friends, took advantage of the absence of authority figures and tied a girl named Eunice up in the furnace room at Church, then maybe they'd be allowed to go to Church on their own on Sunday. Instead, Calpurnia decides to take them to First Purchase African M.E. Church, so called because it was the first purchase the freed slaves made with their wages.

For the most part, the African Americans Jem and Scout meet at First Purchase are very polite to them and don't mind having white children in their church. The primary exception to this is Lula, a large, seemingly seven foot tall woman who doesn't like that the kids are there. Lula wants this church to be just for African Americans, a safe space where their community can come together, without having to fear white people or their presence. Reverend Sykes, however, welcomes Jem and Scout to their church. Though they don't have hymnals, the Reverend is able to lead the flock through hymns using a process called "lining," that is, reading a hymn line by line so members of the congregation can read or sing it back. When collection time comes, Reverend Sykes demands that the congregation come together to give ten dollars to Helen Robinson, Tom Robinson's wife, who is, unsurprisingly, having trouble finding work. After Church, Scout finally learns what Tom is on trial for: he has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell, Bob Ewell's daughter.

In this same conversation, Scout also learns that Calpurnia is older than Atticus, that she's one of only four African Americans in Maycomb who can read, and that she was taught to read by Miss Maudie Atkinson's aunt, Miss Buford. When Jem asks Calpurnia why she speaks differently (that is, more colloquially) around African Americans, Calpurnia says if she spoke like a white person at home it would seem like she was putting on airs. This leads to Scout asking if she can come to Calpurnia's house sometime. Calpurnia says she would like that.

Unfortunately, when they get home from Church, they find that Aunt Alexandra has come to stay with them and that she might have something to say about Scout visiting Calpurnia.

Allusion

The Commentaries on the Laws of England by Sir William Blackstone. First published from 1765 to 1769, Blackstone's Commentaries is divided into four volumes and for many years was considered the definitive book on English law. That Calpurnia taught Zeebo how to read out of it seems absurd to Jem, who knows that the commentaries are extremely dry and difficult to get through for a first-time reader.

Gethsemane. The Garden of Gethsemane, which sits at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples are said to have slept in the garden on the night before his crucifixion. Every pew in First Purchase comes with fans that have a "garish" image of Gethsemane on it (garish, no doubt, because the Garden of Gethsemane isn't appropriate subject matter for a cheap fan).

"The Light of the World" by William Holman Hunt. Hunt's allegorical painting depicts Jesus standing at a door, preparing to knock, as in Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." First Purchase uses a rotogravure print of the painting as decoration.

"On Jordan's Stormy Banks." A religious hymn composed by Samuel Stennett, a Seventh Day Baptist. There are several other hymns sung during the scene in church, one of which is called "Jubilee."

Moses. A Biblical figure famed for parting the Red Sea and leading the Jews out of Egypt, where they'd been enslaved. Calpurnia alludes to him when she says that, if she were to talk "properly" (like a white person) at home, then it would seem like she was putting on airs like Moses, meaning that it would seem like she was trying to be bigger and more important than she is.

Rotogravure Print. A kind of print made using a rotary printing process, which is itself a type of intaglio printing in that it uses an image engraved onto a carrier (usually a cylinder) to print copies of a pre-created image for widespread distribution. The rotogravure print of William Holman Hunt's "The Light of the World" is the only piece of decoration in First Purchase, which indicates to the reader both that the church is poor and that the congregation believes Jesus is indeed the light of the world.

Conflict

Part II marks an important shift in the nature of conflict in the novel. In Part I, we saw that many of the conflicts were between either Scout and another character or Jem and another character. In Part II, as Scout's world starts to expand and the trial swings into full force, that changes, and the conflicts become more complicated, stemming from issues of racism, sexism, and classism.

Calpurnia vs. Lula. When Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to First Purchase, most of the African Americans there are happy to accept the Finch children, in part because they know what Atticus is doing for Tom and respect him for it. Lula, however, doesn't want the children there, because she wants this space to be reserved solely for African Americans. In this, we can see the products of segregation, which has put unnecessary strain on this encounter.

Diction

We've seen before how Atticus's diction, as a lawyer, differs from Scout's. In this chapter, diction again becomes important when Jem asks Calpurnia why she uses the same colloquial diction that other African Americans use when she clearly knows better. Calpurnia explains this to him with an allusion: if she were to speak like a white person with her black friends it would seem like she was putting on airs, like Moses. In this, we can clearly see how one's use of diction is associated with one's intelligence, with the assumption being that anyone who can't speak the "right" way in Jem's mind being uneducated and low class.

Metaphor

One example of this would be when Scout says the Governor of Alabama wants to "scrape a few barnacles off the ship of state," where the state government is figured as a ship with an underside littered with useless, clinging barnacles (laws, politicians, etc.) that need to be scraped off.

Simile

One example of this would be Scout's over-starched skirt coming up "like a tent" when she sits.

Themes

Racism. Understanding the effect racism and segregation has had on the African American community in Maycomb is key to understanding Lula's problem with the presence of the Finch children. Rather fairly, she wants First Purchase to be a safe haven for African Americans, who are persecuted by whites everywhere else they go. By bringing to white children to their church, Calpurnia has, in Lula's mind, betrayed her race and invited their enemy to sit at the table, so to speak. No one else in the congregation appears to feel this way about the Finch children in particular, but it's entirely possible that, if Calpurnia had brought any other white people, things would've been different.

Religion. Given that this novel is set in Alabama in the 1930s, it's safe to assume that everyone in town is Christian and belongs to some Protestant sect, if not to the Catholic Church. It's unclear exactly what denomination Calpurnia and the African Americans at First Purchase belong to, but this is of less importance than their religious practices, which seem to be founded on charity, devotion, and community. In this chapter, we get the sense that the African American community has come together to support Tom and Helen Robinson. This stems both from their belief in charity and the continued devotion they feel to the community.