To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 12 Summary

Instructor: Abigail Walker

Abigail has taught writing and literature at various universities. She has an M.A. In literature from American University and an M.F.A. in English from The University of Iowa.

Chapter 12 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird takes place mainly in the church that the Finches' housekeeper Calpurnia attends. Being in this African-American church sparks Scout and Jem's curiosity about Calpurnia's life--in an environment very different from the one they know.

Scout's Disappointment

Not only has Jem undergone a growth spurt, but he also has become quite bossy. To Scout's irritation, Jem tells his younger sister, 'It's time you started bein' a girl and acting right!'

Scout begins to cry--her summer is not going well. Dill has written to let her know that he will not be coming to Maycomb this year to stay with his aunt because he has 'a new father' with whom he is going to construct a boat. Even though Dill tells her he will never stop loving her, Scout is devastated not to see him. To make the situation worse, the Governor calls Atticus out of town for two weeks so he can help with social unrest.

A New Church

One Sunday during their father's absence, Scout and Jem accompany Calpurnia to the 'First Purchase African M.E. Church.' She first ensures that they have dressed appropriately--although Jem, who has a different opinion, eyes their outfits and complains, 'It's like we were goin' to Mardi Gras.'

Calpurnia prevails, and when she walks into church with Scout and Jem, people rise to greet them with respect. One woman, however, stops Calpurnia, protesting, 'You ain't got no business bringin' white chillun here--they got their church, we got our'n.' Scout and Jem want to leave, but a crowd of worshippers and Reverend Sykes approach them to assure them that they are indeed welcome.

Making their way to a pew, Scout notices for the first time how poor the church seems in comparison to the one she attends. When they are seated, Calpurnia hands Scout and Jem ten cents each. Jem protests, explaining they have their own money. 'You keep it,' she responds, 'you're my company.'

Once the service begins, Reverend Sykes appeals to the congregation's generosity by making an appeal for Helen, the wife of Tom Robinson. Hearing this name, Scout becomes excited, starting to blurt out that Robbins is the man Atticus is defending in a trial. Calpurnia has to quiet her--something she has to do again when Scout, learning they are about to sing, asks Calpurnia where to find a hymnal. As Scout discovers, Calpurnia's son Zeebo has the sole hymnal. When he sings a line, the congregation listens and then sings the same line until the hymn is completed.

The sermon that comes next surprises Scout almost as much as the singing of the hymn. Reverend Sykes mentions by name some parishioners who have had 'individual lapses from grace.' He next asks people to come forward with their offerings. The congregation, including Scout and Jem, deposit their money in a can.

Once everyone has contributed, Reverend Sykes empties the can and counts the money, declaring it insufficient and closing the church doors. He explains that everyone needs to donate ten cents more so that Helen and her children will have what they need. People again come forward but not as quickly as before, and noticing the heat rise in the church, Scout thinks, 'Reverend Sykes intended to sweat the amount due out of his flock.'


After the last coin falls in the can and the doors are opened, Scout can barely stop herself from asking all the questions she has. She settles on the most pressing, asking Reverend Sykes why Helen Robinson needs money so desperately. It is Calpurnia, however, who explains that with Helen's husband in jail, people do not want his wife to be their employee. When Scout wants to know why Tom is in jail, Calpurnia tells her that he is accused of raping Bob Ewell's daughter. Scout recalls her father uncharacteristically calling the Ewells 'absolute trash.' She asks Calpurnia the meaning of the word 'rape,' but Calpurnia tells Scout to ask her father.

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