Scout and Jem’s visit to Calpurnia’s church is a significant event in the story as it brings to light the contrast between the lives of the whites and the blacks of Maycomb, and thus provides an insight into the racism prevalent in the society. It also shows Calpurnia through a different perspective, highlighting her dual life as a member of the black community on one side, and a nursemaid to Jem and Scout on the other.
One Sunday, when Atticus is absent from home and there is no one to take the children to church, Calpurnia decides to take them to her church, First Purchase African M.E, for a change. The day before, she takes exceptional care to ensure that the children look well taken care of. She bathes them with soap twice, starches their clothes and polishes their shoes perfectly. She says,” I don’t want anybody sayin’ I don’t look after my children.” This shows the love Calpurnia has for the children.
The church is described as rather an old, dilapidated and paint-peeled building, which is named First Purchase as it was paid for from the first earnings of the freed slaves. However, it is seen that the church is not treated with reverence but by the blacks. “Negroes worshipped in it on Sundays and white men gambled in it on weekdays.” The poor economic status of the church is evident through a number of its practices. For instance, the graves in the cemetery are lined with chips of broken Coca-cola bottles and brightly colored glass. During a dry spell, the bodies are covered in chunks of ice unless the earth is softened by the rains. There are bodies that rest uneasily, marked by lightning rods. Infant bodies have stumps of burned-out candles in front of them. Scout ironically describes it as a “happy cemetery”, thus also throwing light on the contrast between the cemetery’s appearance and reality.
When Scout and Jem enter the church, they are welcomed with gestures of respect. “The men stepped back and took of their hat; the women crossed their arms at their waists, weekday gestures of respectful attention. They parted and made a small pathway to the church door for us.” When Lula, a quarrelsome woman from the church, tries to create trouble with Calpurnia for bringing white children with her, the other members of the church defend Calpurnia and make the children feel welcome in the church.
Scout observes that the “ecclesiastical impedimenta” she is familiar with, which include the piano, hymn books, and church programs, are absent. She wonders how they could possibly sing without a hymn book, but her question is soon answered. She watches as Zeebo moves to the centre aisle and sings, “in a voice like the rumble of distant artillery”, the first line of a song, followed by the rest of the congregation. In a similar fashion, the whole hymn is completed, leaving both Jem and Scout awestruck. Later, they realize that almost none of the colored folks can read, because of which they all sing hymns by “lining”. Consequently, the children watch as Reverend Sykes calls onto the Lord to bless the sick and suffering, and also addressed certain specific cases. His sermon consists of a “forthright denunciation of sin” and a warning against “the evils of heady brews, gambling and strange women.”
The sermon is followed by a proceeding unfamiliar to the children – the collection of donations. The money, on this occasion, is being collected to assist Helen Robinson. “One by one, the congregation came forward and dropped their nickels and dimes into a black enameled coffee can.” After everyone has contributed, the Reverend counts the money, and says that it isn’t enough. He then asks for the door to be shut, and says, “Nobody leaves here till we have ten dollars.” After these ten dollars are collected “slowly, painfully”, the church is finally dismissed.
Through the experience of attending the black church, the children are made aware about the vast differences between the conditions of the blacks and their whites. The colored peoples’ conditions, both economic and educational, are highlighted, and the strong unity between the church members is also brought to the fore. Thus, it is an enlightening experience in the children’s life, and also makes the reader aware of the inequalities created due to racism.
SCOUT’S FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL
The first day at school is a significant and maturing experience in Scout’s life. Initially, Scout is very excited by the prospect of going to school, but however, she is left disappointed by her experience on the first day of school. Miss Caroline Fisher, her teacher, is 21 y/o and is naive to the ways of Maycomb County, as she hails from the richer and more cultured North Alabama.
Miss Fisher starts the day by reading a saccharine story about cats, which leaves the children “wriggling like a bucketful of Catawba worms”. Later, she prints down the alphabet onto the board in enormous capitals, and asks the children whether they know what they are. Everybody does, as most of them had failed the first year once before. Miss Caroline asks Scout to read the alphabet, and then a copy of “My first reader” and the stock market quotations from The Mobile, and to her annoyance discovers that Scout is literate. She tells scout to ask her father to stop teaching her, as it would “interfere with her reading.” It is only when Miss Caroline tells her to stop reading, that scout realizes how important it is to her. “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” Later, however, when Scout complains about Miss Caroline to Jem, he tries to comfort her by telling her that she is just introducing a new way of teaching.
Miss Caroline and scout get along badly in the afternoon as well. Walter Cunningham, a boy in her class, fails to bring his lunch, and Miss Caroline offers him a quarter to buy himself a meal. However, being new to Maycomb, she does not know that the Cunninghams are too poor to pay her back and thus doesn’t understand why Walter won’t accept her money. When Scout makes a well-intended attempt, however, to make things clearer to the teacher, she gets furious at Scout and slaps the back of her hand with a ruler.
Back at school, Miss Caroline gets terrified when she sees a “cootie” crawling on a boy’s head. The boy is Burris Ewell, and when the teacher asks him to go home and wash his hair with lye soap and bathe himself before coming back to school, he rudely informs her that he wouldn’t be sent home by her, as he himself was on the verge of leaving. Burris only comes to school on the first day of the year, making an appearance only to avoid trouble with the law. Before leaving, he makes vicious remarks, reducing the teacher to tears.
Thus, Scout’s first day at school has significance in the story as it gives the reader a better understanding of the social ladder in Maycomb. It also provides a sharp commentary on the theme of children and education.
THE MAD DOG
The appearance of the mad dog on the streets of Maycomb is significant in the story as it makes Jem and Scout recognize Atticus’s talent of gunmanship and thus increases their respect and admiration towards their father.
When Atticus is early fifty, Jem and Scout begin to reflect that their father is too old to do anything worth telling their classmates. “Our father didn’t do anything.” The children are ashamed of their father’s inactivity; he does not fish, play poker, go hunting or do anything else that the fathers of their schoolmates do. In addition to that, Atticus’s involvement with the Tom Robinson case makes the children subjects of ridicule in school. Thus their feeling of shame increases, and Scout also goes as far as wishing that her father was “a devil from hell”.
One Saturday, Tim Johnson, the property of Mr. Harry Johnson and “the pet of Maycomb”, is spotted by Jem walking down the street. Jem finds that something is wrong with the animal, and thus calls Calpurnia to investigate. When she sees the dog, she immediately recognizes that it is inflicted with rabies. “He walked erratically, as if his right legs were shorter than his left legs.” Calpurnia hastily telephones Miss Eula May and asks her to warn the neighborhood about the mad dog. She then calls Atticus, who arrives soon with Mr. Heck Tate, the sheriff of Maycomb.
However, when the time comes to shoot the dog, Mr. Heck suggests that Atticus should do it, as this is a “one-shot job”. Hearing this, the children are dumbfounded. Atticus initially refuses, but is forced to comply. As Atticus takes the gun and walks to the middle of the street, Scout feels like time has “slowed to a nauseating crawl.” Scout watches as her father drops his spectacles to the floor, rubs his eyes and chin, and with “movements so swift they seemed simultaneous”, finally pulls the trigger. Tim Johnson leaps, flops over and is dead in an instant.
With this incident, Jem and Scout get to know that their father was the “deadest shot in Maycomb County.” However, Jem wonders why his father never told them about his talent of marksmanship, and expresses his confusion to Miss Maudie, who says, “I think maybe he put his gun down when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things.” Miss Maudie also calls Atticus “civilized in his heart”, as he does not take pride in his talents, and chooses to discontinue shooting, thus placing his morals first. Jem thus understands, that Atticus never told them about his skill because he “is a gentleman”. When Scout, who is younger and less mature, decides to tell the whole school about her newly acquired knowledge about Atticus, Jem stops her, saying Atticus would have told them about it if he wanted to, and if he were proud of it.
The children realize that one could be socially accepted and live as a part of the community even while staying true to one’s conscience. Jem is no more ashamed of his father, and says, “I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do a blessed thing.” Thus this experience increases the children’s admiration and respect towards their father, and also teaches them the essence of being a true “gentleman.”