|To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter Summaries – Ch. 22-31
Jem is crying and angry - he thought that the case was clearly in Tom's favor. Atticus is exhausted and when Jem asks him how the jury could have done it he responds, "I don't know, but they did it. They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it - seems like only children weep." However, the next morning, he explains that there's a good possibility for the case to be appealed in a higher court. Calpurnia reveals that the black community has left Atticus all sorts of appreciative gifts including chickens, bread and produce that have filled the house. Upon seeing this generosity, Atticus's eyes fill with tears. He says he's very grateful but tells Calpurnia that they shouldn't give him such things when times are so hard.
Dill comes by for breakfast and tells everyone that Miss Rachel thinks that, "if a man like Atticus Finch wants to butt his head against a stone wall it's his head." The children go outside and Miss Maudie saves them from Miss Stephanie's nosy gossip by inviting them over for cake. Miss Maudie says that Atticus is someone who does other people's unpleasant jobs for them. Jem is discouraged and disappointed with the people of Maycomb, who he formerly thought were "the best people in the world." He thinks that no one but Atticus worked on Tom's behalf, but Miss Maudie points out that many people helped, including Mr. Tate the sheriff, the black community, and especially Mr. Taylor the judge, who offered Atticus the case in the first place. Mr. Tate assigned Atticus to the case because he knew Atticus would truly dedicate himself to the cause. Miss Maudie says that even though she knew Atticus couldn't win, he did manage to keep the jury out in discussion for longer than anyone else could, which is an achievement in and of itself. She says, "we're making a step - it's just a baby step, but it's a step."
As they leave, Dill says he wants to be a clown when he grows up, because, "there's ain't one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I'm gonna join the circus and laugh my head off." The children see Mr. Avery, Miss Stephanie, and Miss Rachel discussing something with animation in the street. Apparently Mr. Ewell saw Atticus by the post office, spat in his face, and told him that, "he'd get him if it took the rest of his life."
Atticus is unconcerned about Mr. Ewell's threat, and tells his worried children that Mr. Ewell, who has been publicly discredited by the trial, just needs to feel like he is retaliating against someone, and better it be Atticus than the Ewell children.
Tom is being held on a prison farm, and his wife and children are not permitted to visit him. Atticus thinks there's a good chance he'll be spared execution by having his sentence commuted by the governor. Atticus comments that too many people are sent to death based upon purely circumstantial evidence. Jem thinks that juries should be done away with, because they can't make reasonable decisions. Atticus responds that men don't behave rationally in some situations, and will always take a white man's word over a black man's. Atticus tells Jem that any white man who cheats a black man is trash.
Jem and Atticus talk about what keeps people off of juries. Women can't serve on juries in Alabama (which Scout takes exception to), and many people don't want to get involved in court cases because their livelihood depends in some way upon maintaining good favor with both parties involved in a case. Jem thinks that the jury decided quickly, but Atticus reminds him that it took a few hours, which is much longer than usual. Typically, a case like Tom's would be settled in a matter of minutes. Atticus sees this as a sign of the beginnings of change for the better. Also, Atticus reveals that he learned that the one jury member who kept everyone out so long was a Cunningham who defended Tom's innocence. Atticus thinks that all Cunninghams will stand solidly behind anyone who wins their respect, without fail - and the incident at the jailhouse won the Finch family great respect.
Upon learning that his father believed Tom to be innocent, Scout wants to invite Walter Cunningham over for lunch more often, but Aunt Alexandra puts her foot down, saying that the Cunninghams aren't the right sort of people for Scout to spend time with. Scout can be gracious to Walter and polite, but can't invite him over because "he is trash."
Scout is upset about this and goes to Jem to talk about it. Jem tries to cheer her up and proudly shows her the beginnings of chest hair, which Scout pretends to see and congratulates him on. Jem explains he wants to go out for football next year. Next, Jem tries to comfort Scout by explaining that Aunt Alexandra is just trying to make her into "a lady." He says that there are four different kinds of people in Maycomb county: "ordinary" people like themselves, people like the Cunninghams in the woods, people like the Ewells by the dump, and black people. Each class looks down upon and despises the class below it. The two try to resolve exactly what separates and distinguishes the categories of white people. Background doesn't seem to matter, because all the families are equally old. Jem thinks these class definitions have to do with how long the family has been literate. Scout disagrees and thinks, "there's just one kind of folks. Folks." Jem says he used to think so as well, but he doesn't understand why they despise one another if that's the case. Jem seems very frustrated with society, and adds that maybe Boo Radley stays inside because he wants to.
Jem and Dill have gone swimming, and wouldn't let Scout come along because they were planning to skinny dip. Aunt Alexandra has ladies over for a meeting of the Missionary Society of Maycomb, and keeps Scout in attendance in order for her to learn to be a lady. The women discuss the plight of the Mruna people, a non-Christian group in Africa who are said to live in squalor and are being converted thanks to the efforts of a missionary named J. Grimes Everett. Scout doesn't enjoy being around women but does her best to take part. The discussion moves toward the topic of Tom's wife, Helen. Apparently the black cooks and field hands in town were discontented during the week after the trial. One of the ladies comments on how much she dislikes a, "sulky darky," and says that when her black female servant was slow to perform her duties following the trial, she reminded her that Jesus never complained. Another lady says that no amount of education will ever make "Christians" out of black people, and that, "there's no lady safe in her bed these nights." Miss Maudie tersely shows her differing opinion on this topic. Aunt Alexandra magically smoothes everything over. Another lady says that Northerners are hypocrites who claim to give blacks equal standing but actually don't mix socially with them, whereas in the South people are very up-front about their lack of desire to share the same lifestyle.
Scout remembers that Calpurnia told Atticus that the day Tom went to prison, he lost hope. Atticus couldn't promise Tom an acquittal so he didn't try to reassure Tom by giving him potentially false hope. Suddenly Atticus enters the house and requests Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia's presence in the kitchen. He reveals that Tom tried to escape from prison and was shot to death by the prison guards. Apparently the guards tried to tell him to stop and fired warning shots, but Tom kept running. Atticus needs Calpurnia to go with him to Tom's wife to give her the news. The two of them go, leaving Aunt Alexandra to tell Miss Maudie in the kitchen that she's concerned about Atticus. The trial has taken a lot out of him and it seems to be unending. Miss Maudie thinks that the town has paid Atticus a high tribute by trusting him to do right and uphold justice. These people are the small handful who know that blacks should be given justice, and who have "background." The two women are quite shaken, but then join the other women effortlessly. Scout feels proud of her Aunt and of Miss Maudie, and for the first time feels inclined to be ladylike, thinking that, "if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I."
It is now September, and Jem and Scout are about to go to sleep on their cots on the back porch. Scout sees a roly-poly bug and goes to kill it. Jem stops her, saying the bug never did anything to harm her. Scout heeds his request and carefully takes the bug outside, noting internally that if anything, Jem is becoming more like a lady than she is. As she returns to her cot, she thinks of Dill and remembers his story of the day Tom Robinson died in late August.
Atticus and Calpurnia were driving out to see Tom's wife when they spotted Jem and Dill on their way back from swimming. Jem and Dill ask for a ride, and although hesitant at first, Atticus finally agrees to let them come along. Apparently, when Tom's wife saw Atticus and Calpurnia, she seemed to faint, falling to the ground in a heap. Tom's death was only news in Maycomb for two days, and was regarded as "typical," since prevailing opinion was that black men tend to run away without any plan.
Scout reflects that "in the secret courts of men's hearts," nothing Atticus could have said could have freed Tom. Upon hearing the news, Mr. Ewell is rumored to have said, "one down and about two more to go," and Scout is afraid for Atticus. Jem confidently tells Scout that Mr. Ewell won't really take any action on his threats.
School is in session again, and Scout has lost her fear of the Radley place. Every now and then she daydreams about seeing Boo sitting on the porch, and greeting him as if they spoke to each other every day. School is hard for the Finch children: their peers are generally somewhat cold toward them due to Atticus defending Tom Robinson, as if their parents had instructed them to be civil but not outwardly friendly.
One day during Current Events, Scout's class gets into a discussion about Hitler and the persecution of the Jews. Her teacher, Miss Gates, speaks at length about how the German dictatorship allows for the Jews to be persecuted by a prejudiced leader, but she claims that in America, "we don't believe in persecuting anybody." Scout finds Miss Gates hypocritical because she remembers that on the day of Tom's trial, she overheard Miss Gates say that she thought it was, "time somebody taught them a lesson, they thought they was getting' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us." "Them" meant black people. In Scout's mind, this doesn't make sense and she goes to talk to Jem about it. Jem responds very angrily, and tells her he never wants to talk about anything having to do with that trial again. Scout is taken aback and goes to Atticus, who assures her that Jem just needs some time to think about things, and then he'll be himself again.
Scout relates a few events that have recently occurred in Maycomb. Mr. Ewell holds down a job for a few days, but then is fired from the WPA (Work Projects Administration) for laziness. One night, alone in his study, Judge Taylor finds the strange shadow of a prowler in his house and proceeds with his reading, but with a gun across his lap. Helen Robinson has been working on the property of Mr. Link Deas, but walks nearly a mile out of her way in order to avoid walking past the Ewell's house, because they "chunk" at her when she passes by. When Mr. Link Deas finds out, he approaches the Ewell house and yells to them, warning them not to bother Helen, or else he'll have them put in jail. The next day, Mr. Ewell follows Helen to work, "crooning foul words" the entire way, but Mr. Link Deas again threatens him with jail and he stops this behavior. Aunt Alexandra thinks that these events bode poorly for Atticus, as she is convinced that Ewell's threat after the trial carries more weight than Atticus is willing to believe.
It is nearly Halloween, and Mrs. Grace Merriweather writes a pageant for Maycomb people to perform about the history of the county. She wants children to play the parts of Maycomb's agricultural products, and Scout is assigned to play the part of the pork. She will wear a large costume made of chicken wire and wrapped around with brown cloth, which comes to just above her knees. She can't put it on or take it off without someone else's help because it pins her arms down, and she can't see well through the eyeholes. Jem escorts her to the pageant, because Atticus is too tired to go, and Aunt Alexandra opts to stay home with him.
Jem and Scout walk past the Radley house on the way to the school, where the pageant and country fair will be held. It's very dark, and they can barely see a few feet ahead of themselves. Cecil Jacobs, a classmate of Scout's runs out to scare them, and definitely succeeds. Cecil and Scout entertain themselves at the fair until the pageant begins, visiting different booths and taking part in the fair. When the pageant begins, Scout goes backstage to prepare for her entrance. The section before her entrance, a history of Maycomb, is very long, and she decides to squat down inside her costume to rest. Lulled by Miss Merriweather's speech, Scout falls asleep. During the last song, she wakes up and realizes she has missed her cue. She rushes out to the stage, and makes a very amusing entrance that pleases the entire crowd. Scout is embarrassed about her performance and stays backstage with Jem until everyone leaves. She decides to keep her costume on for the walk home, and Jem escorts her.
The walk back is even darker than before, and near the school, Scout remembers that she left her shoes backstage. She is thinking of returning to get them, when Jem stops her because he hears a strange noise. Scout hears it too, but thinks maybe it's just Cecil again. They call out taunts to Cecil in order to get a response, but there is only silence. Jem thinks maybe Scout should take off her costume, but she doesn't have any clothes underneath, and can't get her dress on in the dark. They are almost home, near the dark shadow of the tree by the Radleys' house, and are trying to walk faster. It sounds like the person behind them is wearing thick cotton pants. The next time they stop walking, the footsteps behind them suddenly quicken into a run. Jem yells to Scout to run, but her costume throws her off balance. Something is crushed against her and she hears metal ripping. Jem's hand tries to pull her, but she is tangled up in her costume. There is a crunching sound and Jem screams. The man whom they are struggling with grabs Scout and begins to strangle her, when suddenly he is jerked backwards and thrown to the ground. Scout thinks Jem must have saved her, but she still can't see anything. She hears the sound of someone breathing heavily and, walking toward the tree to lean on, reaches out with her toes to find a person on the ground with stubble and the smell of stale whiskey. She makes her way in the direction of the road, and in the streetlight she sees a man carrying Jem, whose arm is hanging down at an odd angle.
Scout arrives home. Aunt Alexandra calls Dr. Reynolds and Atticus calls Heck Tate, the sheriff. Alexandra removes Scout's costume and hands her Scout's infamous, un-ladylike overalls to put on. Scout says she will never forget that gesture. Jem is unconscious and has a broken arm. Scout checks on him, noting the man who carried him sitting quietly in the corner. She assumes he is a countryman she doesn't recognize who happened to hear the fight and come running. The sheriff investigates outside and comes back to report that Mr. Ewell is lying outside dead with a kitchen knife in his ribs.
Scout tells the story of what happened outside to Atticus, the sheriff, and everyone else assembled. Mr. Tate notes the mark that Mr. Ewell's knife made in Scout's costume, and points out that Mr. Ewell meant to seriously harm or kill the children. When Scout points out the man who carried Jem, she finally takes a good look at him. He is very, very pale, with thin cheeks and feathery hair, and seems somewhat tense and nervous. She suddenly recognizes him as Boo Radley and, moved to tears, says "Hey, Boo."
The doctor returns and everyone moves to the back porch. Trying to be as friendly as possible, Scout leads Boo to the porch and assists him into a rocking chair placed in a darker corner, where she thinks he will feel most comfortable. As she helps Boo along, she feels the odd sensation of her fantasy about finding him sitting on the porch one day coming true. Meanwhile, the others are discussing who killed Mr. Ewell. Atticus thinks that Jem must have done it since Scout named Jem as her protector in her story. However, the sheriff insists continually that Mr. Ewell fell onto his knife and killed himself, which irritates Atticus, who wants Jem to be treated as fairly as anyone else and not have exceptions made. After much arguing, finally the sheriff yells out that he's not trying to protect Jem (he is trying to protect Boo). The sheriff urges Atticus, this once, to accept the situation even if it's not perfect according to law: Mr. Ewell was responsible for Tom's death, and the sheriff urges Atticus to "let the dead bury the dead." He says that it would be a sin to drag shy Boo Radley out into the limelight, and declares officially that Mr. Ewell fell on his own knife. Atticus, deeply moved by this revelation, asks Scout if she understands. Scout assures him that she does, explaining that having it another way would be like shooting a mockingbird. Atticus looks at Scout with a sense of wonder, and thanks Boo for the lives of his children.
Scout asks Boo if he'd like to say good night to Jem. Boo doesn't say a word; he just nods. Scout sees that Boo would like to reach out and touch Jem, and tells him he can. She shows him how to gently stroke Jem's hair. After Boo does this, she perceives that he wants to leave, and she leads him to the porch, where he asks her in a near-whisper, "Will you take me home?" She accepts, and allows him to escort her down the block, just like a lady should. She leads him home and he goes inside his house and shuts the door. The narrator, speaking as an older Scout, says she never saw him again.
Standing on Boo's porch, Scout look out over the neighborhood imagining how Boo must have seen it, and how, for all these years, he watched over "his" children. Back home, Scout sits with Atticus, who begins to read her one of the scary children's stories he has picked up, which ironically mirrors the story of Boo Radley. Scout says she wasn't scared by the night's events, saying just as Jem had on their fateful walk home, that "nothing's really scary 'cept in books." She falls asleep while Atticus reads to her, and wakes up while he carries her to bed. She tells him she was listening all the time, and that the book is about a character who was chased and caught and then found to be innocent and "real nice." Atticus tells her, "most people are, when you finally see them." Atticus then spends the rest of the night by Jem's side.