To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 26 Summary and Analysis

Harper Lee

Chapter 26 Summary and Analysis

When school starts again, Scout is in the third grade and Jem is in seventh. He joins the football team as a waterboy, and he and Scout see less and less of each other. Scout walks by the Radley house alone now, and though she isn't scared of it and regrets tormenting Boo, she still wants to see him one day. Atticus warns her not to bother Boo and reveals that he knew about their little excursion into the Radley lot all along; he says they were lucky Nathan Radley missed. Scout is puzzled yet again by Maycomb's behavior (resenting Atticus for defending Tom, yet reelecting him to the state legislature) and decides to withdraw from people and never think about them.

Then one day in class she's forced to pay attention. Her teacher Miss Gates forces the students to do a Current Events presentation every week, and one of Scout's classmates, Cecil Jacobs, brings a newspaper clip about Adolf Hitler, who has begun putting Jews in concentration camps—this is 1935, fully four years before the invasion of Poland, and Hitler is still consolidating his political power as Germany's new head of state. Hypocritically, Miss Gates decries Hitler's actions against the Jews, even though on the day of Tom's trial she said horrible things about African Americans that suggested they deserve their persecution.

Later that night, she talks to Jem, who's "stuffing" in order to gain weight for football. When she starts talking about the trial, he grabs her and tells her never to talk about that with him again. He and Scout have grown apart in the last few chapters, but this outburst still takes her by surprise. It startles her enough that she seeks comfort with Atticus, who tells her that she's too big now to sit in his lap, but that she shouldn't let Jem get her down. Someday, he'll be himself again.

Allusions

"Sweetly Sings the Donkey." An old children's song with an unknown author and publication date.

Euphemism. During Cecil's Current Events presentation, he informs the class that Hitler has been "washin' all the feeble-minded," but fails to understand that the "showers" in Hitler's concentration camps are really gas chambers, and that "washin'" is a euphemism for killing them. Lee uses Cecil's naivete to emphasize the horrors of war and prejudice.

Simile. One example of this is "the events of the summer hung over us like smoke in a closed room."

Themes

Hypocrisy. Yet again, we see a disconnect between what Maycomb's citizens profess to believe about racism and their actions toward African Americans. Seemingly sensible people like Miss Gates who say that they're against the persecution of the Jews turn a blind eye to their own persecution of black people within their community.

Racism. In this chapter, we're introduced to yet another pervasive breed of racism: Anti-Semitism, which led Hitler and Nazi Germany to torture and kill millions of Jews in Europe in the 1930s and 40s. The exact number of deaths is unknown, just as the exact number of deaths during the centuries of slavery in Europe and the United States is unknown, but these deaths do put Tom's death into perspective: had he been tried in a different time period, the trial would've been even more of a farce (if there was a trial at all). Tom's trial itself thus takes place at an important step in Southern history, in which fair-minded and anti-segregationist people began to take positions of power and sway public opinion. It would be decades before the Civil Rights Movement was able to secure a modicum of equal rights for African Americans.

Weakness. Previous chapters have emphasized both physical weakness (Atticus's supposed feebleness) and mental weakness (Maycomb's racism and hypocrisy). In this chapter, Cecil refers to the Jews and other victims of the Nazis as "feeble-minded" in order to explain why they're being persecuted in the concentration camps. This is in line with the tendency for oppressors to demonize all of their victims in order to justify their acts of oppression. Thus, the feebleness or weakness of the Jews is a lie being perpetuated to rationalize the prejudice the Nazis (and racist citizens of Maycomb) enact on a systemic level.