To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapter 12

Ethan McNeill, Abigail Walker
  • Author
    Ethan McNeill

    Ethan has taught 7th, 9th, and 12th grade ELA for over 2 years. They have a Bachelor's Degree In Secondary Education from Kansas State University. They also have a Professional Kansas Teaching License

  • 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.

Review To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 12. Study the summary and analysis of the chapter, read about Scout's visit to Calpurnia's church, and see chapter quotes. Updated: 02/28/2022

Table of Contents


Chapter 12 in To Kill a Mockingbird

Chapter 11 saw Jem quarrel with Mrs. Dubose. He destroys Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes after she insulted Atticus, belittling him for defending a black man in court. After Atticus makes Jem apologize to Mrs. Dubose, he sits with Scout and consoles her. Scout is afraid that Atticus is doing wrong by defending Tom, but Atticus explains that he needs to defend Tom for his own conscience; it's the right thing to do despite the consequences.

Following the events of chapter 11, Chapter 12 is focused on Scout and Jem's visit to Calpurnia's church. Here, Scout witnesses firsthand the racial inequalities in her community as she contrasts the white church she attends to the conditions of the all black church, First Purchase. This chapter also gives insight into Helen Robinson's horrible situation and how her community is caring for her while her husband, Tom Robinson, is in jail.

To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 12 Summary

Chapter 12 picks up with Scout receiving terrible news. Dill writes to scout that though he still loves her, he will not be coming to Maycomb that summer because he is spending time with his "new father." This news is especially devastating to Scout because Jem has started puberty, becoming more irritable and disinterested in his sister and leaving her no one to play with.

Atticus is called into the state legislator for two weeks, and Calpurnia decides to bring Jem and Scout to her church, First Purchase. When they arrive, Calpurnia is accosted by a church-goer named Lula, who berates her for bringing white children to their black church. However, they are welcomed by other attendees, including Pastor Sykes, who lead them to the front pew.

Reverend Sykes gives a sermon on sin and wickedness before asking for church donations that will go to Helen Robinson, Tom Robinson's wife who cannot find work due to the accusations leveled at her husband. When the church comes up short of their $10 goal, Reverend Sykes shuts the doors and presses the congregation for more money until they reach their goal, and the congregation reluctantly scrapes together the $10.

While they walk home, Jem and Scout learn about Calpurnia's life: how she is older than Atticus, came to be Atticus's housekeeper, grew up near Meridian, and taught her son Zeebo to read. The chapter concludes with Scout requesting to visit Calpurnia's home, a request to which she agrees, and the trio come home to find Aunt Alexandra sitting on their porch.

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Analysis of Chapter 12 in To Kill a Mockingbird

This chapter is centered on the racial divide in Maycomb and broadly speaks to racial prejudice. In the chapter, First Purchase serves as a foil to the white community. While the white church that Scout attends has everything she considers essential: pews, hymnals, a piano, etc., First Purchase is absent of all but a few wall hangings and pine benches for pews. Scout begins the chapter assuming that her standards of living were universal because she still has the innocence of childhood. This innocence continues to wear down in this chapter as Scout realizes that she has many privileges that the church-goers do not.

Scout also contemplates the injustice of Helen Robinson's situation. She cannot understand why the accusations against her husband meant that Helen was barred from work. Scout is beginning to realize that people do not always act rationally and that adults can be ignorant as well.

This chapter also speaks to the closeness of community. First Purchase and its attendees are financially supporting Helen, even though they have little money themselves. Instead of turning their back on her like the rest of Maycomb, the black community cares for Helen because they all share in the understanding that Tom is on trial because he is black (the accusations being clearly motivated by racism).

What Does Scout Learn About Calpurnia?

Scout and Jem learn much about Calpurnia, and Scout is given a more realized and nuanced view of her cherished housekeeper. Calpurnia is actually older than Atticus, but she does not know her actual birthday; she celebrates it on Christmas. She grew up near Meridian, and moved with Atticus and his family to Maycomb to stay on as their housekeeper. Calpurnia is a mother, and she explains that she taught her oldest son Zeebo to read using the Bible and 'Blackstone's Commentaries,' a treatise on English law from the 18th century.

The children's visit to First Purchase was also revealing to Calpurnia's character since she code-switches to the dialect of her fellow congregation members. This is surprising to Jem and Scout because they had only ever heard Calpurnia speak in their dialect. Jem believes that Calpurnia should "know better" and speak "properly," but she explains that it is better to communicate with people on their terms and that speaking like a white person in her community would push people away from her, giving her an air of superiority. Through this experience, Scout realizes that Calpurnia lives a kind of double life, needing to behave one way in front of white community and another in front of the black community.

A rural church similar to First Purchase

A rural church similar to First Purchase

What Happened to Helen Robinson?

Helen Robinson is without work and does not have the means to provide for her children. This is not due to her inability but rather that no one will give her a job because her husband Tom Robinson has been accused of rape. At the behest of Pastor Sykes, Helen and her children have been living off of the donations from the church. It is clear that the congregation has little money to spare, but pastor Sykes squeezes $10 from the church, thereby getting Helen and her children through this terrible time. The black church community is Helen's only support because she has been ostracized for a crime that her husband did not commit.

Themes in To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 12

The major themes in chapter 12 center on Scout and Jem's visit to Calpurnia's church, First Purchase, and the stark differences Scout observes between the church and the church she attends.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the theme of Chapter 12 To Kill a Mockingbird?

Racial prejudice is the main theme of chapter 12. This chapter highlights the plight of the black community in Maycomb while Scout comes to learn how different her world is from Calpurnia's.

What do Jem and Scout learn in Chapter 12?

Jem and Scout learn all about Calpurnia's life. These differences include how she taught herself to read and the conditions she experienced in her childhood.

Why is To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 12 important?

Chapter 12 is important to the narrative because it gives the reader insight into Maycomb's black community and reveals how Helen Robinson and her children are suffering because Tom Robinson is in jail, awaiting trial.

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