Chapter 27 Summary and Analysis
That October, things begin to settle down in Maycomb. Three big things happen: 1) Bob Ewell gets a job working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), but quickly loses it due to his laziness, 2) Judge Taylor's house is nearly broken into one Sunday night—the implication being that Ewell was the one who did it, and 3) Ewell starts stalking Helen Robinson and has to be run off her boss Link Deas' property. Aunt Alexandra worries that Ewell is holding a grudge against everyone related to Tom's trial (including Atticus), but Atticus says not to worry, because he has confronted everyone in their own way and had his time in the limelight. Ewell thought he'd be a hero, but everyone in Maycomb knows he's a liar. He's sour about it, but Atticus is convinced he won't do anything serious.
Things in Maycomb return to normal, with two minor changes: 1) the National Recovery Act is struck down and 2) a group of children whose identities remain hidden break into the cellar of a pair of spinsters, Miss Tutti and Miss Frutti, who claim to have heard the culprits (Syrians, they say), despite being stone deaf. This happens on Halloween, before the pageant in the high school auditorium. Scout unwillingly plays a ham, wearing a heavy costume made out of chicken wires and cloth. She expects her entire family to come, but Atticus refuses, leaving Jem to walk her to the school. As Scout says, this begins "[their] longest journey together."
James "Cotton Tom" Heflin (1869 - 1951). A United States Senator and Congressman and suspected leader of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). In this chapter, Atticus alludes to Cotton Tom when Scout asks if he's a radical, suggesting that he's as far from it as possible. Critics have pointed to this line to suggest that Atticus is actually racist, but that his ethics prevent him from behaving in a racist fashion toward African Americans. This aspect of his character is expanded upon in the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, in which a grown-up Scout is disappointed to hear that her father has attended meetings of the KKK. Whether Atticus is or is not a racist is still up for debate, but his actions in this novel are nevertheless interpreted as courageous and progressive.
The Ladies' Law. From the 1907 Alabama Criminal Code: "Any person who enters into, or goes sufficiently near to the dwelling house of another, and, in the presence or hearing of the family of the occupant thereof, or any member of his family, or any person who, in the presence or hearing of any girl or woman, uses abusive, insulting or obscene language must, on conviction, be fined not more than two hundred dollars, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail, or sentenced to hard labour for the county for not more than six months." Basically, this law is meant to prevent women and ladies from being catcalled on the street and subjected to the indignities of the world. It's a very outdated law, but effectively prevents Ewell from harassing Helen Robinson further.
National Industrial Recovery Act (NRA). This law was passed by Congress in 1933 and granted the President permission to regulate some industries to prevent inflation and stimulate the economy. It was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the case Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, which brought an end to the NRA. This act is widely considered a failure and—as evidenced by the continued depression in Maycomb—did little to relieve the poverty there.
Works Progress Administration (WPA). One of the most significant facets of the New Deal made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an effort to pull the country out of the Great Depression. It provided funding for the creation of public buildings and utilities and employed musicians, artists, and skilled laborers in an attempt to revitalize the economy. Ewell gets a job working for the WPA in an undisclosed capacity, but quickly loses the job because of his laziness and alcoholism.
Bob Ewell vs. Everyone. In the wake of Tom Robinson's trial, everyone in Maycomb understands that he and Mayella lied on that stand and that Tom died for no reason other than Ewell wanted to be thought of as a racist hero. When this backfires he becomes bitter, lashing out at all of the characters who embarrassed him at the trial or are associated with it. Atticus says Ewell is just blowing off steam, but as we'll see in the following chapter, he's wrong.
Aunt Alexandra's fear that Ewell will exact his revenge serves as foreshadowing of his attack on Jem and Scout in Chapter 28.
Aunt Alexandra uses the idiom "somebody just walked over my grave" to mean that she has had a premonition of something bad happening.
One example of this would be Ewell telling Link Deas not to look at him "like [he] was dirt."
Change. This chapter marks an important shift in Maycomb: its citizens go from being more or less united against Tom to being completely united against Ewell, whom they hold in disdain. In Link Deas's response to Ewell's harassment of Helen Robinson, we can see that many characters in Maycomb (in fact, a majority of those Scout elects to spend time with) are against racism and segregation in its various forms. Though most of the changes in Maycomb are slight, this one will eventually go on to spark radical social change in the South.
Law. Thus far in the novel, there haven't been many allusions to specific laws, with the one exception of Jem and Atticus's discussion of the rape statute, which made rape a capital offense in Alabama at that time. In this chapter, Lee refers directly to laws and organizations that provide some order to Maycomb and are a benefit to the community (particularly to Helen Robinson, who for once is afforded the same rights as a white woman when Link Deas threatens to invoke the Ladies' Law against Ewell).
Revenge. Aunt Alexandra is right when she says Ewell is the kind to hold a grudge. To him, revenge is less about getting back at people who have wronged him than about healing his wounded pride. If he were, for instance, allowed to stalk Helen, then he would be able to assert his dominance and, in so doing, restore his social status as a white male (with all its associated privileges). Instead, he's reduced to the "dirt" he is and lashes out because of it.