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Jean Louise has a flashback to sixth grade. That year, there are several children from Old Sarum, a nearby rural area, temporarily in the Maycomb school, and Jean Louise enjoys the company of the rougher farm kids. When she begins to menstruate for the first time, she returns to school after lunch very glum, and the Old Sarum kids quickly figure out what’s going on. One of the farm boys, Albert, kisses her with his tongue.
Jean Louise’s friend Ada Belle tells Jean Louise that a girl’s daddy had gotten her pregnant by French-kissing her. Jean Louise is terrified and becomes convinced that she is pregnant because Albert had French-kissed her. Instead of talking to Calpurnia or Atticus, she keeps her secret and tries to cobble together all the information she can. Jean Louise feels deeply ashamed and becomes miserably convinced that she will have her baby in October. As a result, she decides to kill herself on the thirtieth of September.
When September 30 comes, Jean Louise climbs the ladder on the town water-tank. She looks out over the town and thinks about how to jump, Henry grabs her and carries her down the ladder. Henry starts to yell at her, but when he sees her trembling, he knows that something is wrong.
Jean Louise finally confesses her whole story to Calpurnia. Calpurnia reassures her that she is not pregnant and explains about the birds and the bees. Jean Louise finally breathes a sigh of relief. Calpurnia says that if Jean Louise’s mother had still been alive, she would have learned about this long ago, but that it’s hard for Atticus to explain such things by himself. For the first time, Calpurnia had called her “ma’am” and “Miss Scout,” treating her like a woman rather than a little girl.
That night, she teases Jem, who now goes to high school and is trying to make it onto the football team. Jem tells her that if there’s anything that she ever wants to talk to him about, or if she ever gets in trouble at school, she should come and tell him, because he’ll take care of her.
After passing out in emotional exhaustion on Sunday afternoon, Jean Louise wakes up at five o’clock on Monday morning. She goes out to smoke and feels numb, but she knows that the numbness is only temporary. She decides to mow the lawn. At first, she can’t get the mower started, but after a black milk boy comes to deliver the milk, she gets the mower to work. Alexandra, who is already wearing a corset at this early hour, comes outside to tell her to stop.
Atticus has to eat breakfast with utensils jammed into big wooden spools, since his arthritis prevents him from handling normal utensils. When he picks up his milk glass, the milk spills, and Jean Louise helps clean it up. She wonders how he can look the same after yesterday’s meeting.
Henry comes in and tells Jean Louise that he had seen her in the balcony yesterday. Henry asks Jean Louise if everything is all right, but Jean Louise doesn’t tell him how horrified she had been. Henry tells Atticus that Zeebo’s son ran over and killed old Mr. Healy. Zeebo is Calpurnia’s son.
Atticus says that they will take the case to defend Zeebo’s son, and Jean Louise is relieved. Atticus and Henry discuss why it’s a strategic advantage for Atticus to take the case. Apparently, lawyers paid for by the NAACP wait like hawks for cases involving black people, and they make a huge fuss about making sure that black people are on the jury, so it’s easier for everyone if these lawyers don’t have the opportunity to become involved.
Jean Louise mechanically agrees to meet Henry again that night for a date. She goes to the grocery store, where the owner, who has known her all her life, asks Jean Louise why she hasn’t moved back to Maycomb yet. Jean Louise puts the groceries on Atticus’s tab.
Jean Louise returns home, picks up her father, and drops him off at the barbershop. She drives to Calpurnia’s house, where a crowd of the town’s most prominent and well-respected black citizens has gathered. When Jean Louise arrives, people stiffen, remove their hats, and part ways to let her through. Zeebo leads her into the house to see Calpurnia.
Calpurnia has shrunk in her old age. Jean Louise tells Calpurnia that Atticus will help Zeebo. Calpurnia replies with bad grammar, which Jean Louise instantly recognizes as Calpurnia’s company manners. Jean Louise implores Calpurnia to take off her company attitude, but Calpurnia doesn’t flinch, and there is no hint of compassion in her eyes.
Jean Louise remembers when Jem came back from the war and gave Calpurnia a jacket that Calpurnia loved. When Jem died, Calpurnia was as distraught as all the Finches, since she loved Jem as though he were her own child. Jean Louise asks Calpurnia if Calpurnia hates her and her family, and Calpurnia finally shakes her head no.
Jean Louise asks Zeebo to help her maneuver her car back into the road. She remembers how devastated Calpurnia had been when Jem had died.
Jean Louise’s flashback to sixth grade, when she had recently gotten her period and is just beginning to discover what sex is, has many symbolic layers. In the flashback, Jean Louise is terrified that she had gotten pregnant after French-kissing a boy, since one of the girls at school tells her that people get pregnant after French-kissing each other. The information haunts her, foreshadowing the power of unwanted knowledge to haunt people throughout the novel.
Jean Louise remembers what it’s like to grow up from being a girl into being a woman at the very point in the novel when she has just become disillusioned about Atticus’s morality and integrity. It’s no coincidence that Jean Louise remembers becoming a woman at the same time as she is losing her faith in her father. Although she became an adult physically long ago, now, she’s dealing with the same sort of earth-shaking, profoundly flip-flopping emotions that appear in puberty.
Another layer of symbolism around the flashback in which Jean Louise starts growing up from a child to a woman is that it represents one of the few times in Jean Louise’s childhood in which Atticus doesn’t have all the answers. When Jean Louise begins to menstruate, Atticus didn’t properly and thoroughly explain the facts of human sexuality, so Jean Louise must create her own theories secondhand from what she can glean from schoolyard knowledge. Jean Louise keeps the secret of her “pregnancy” to herself for months, not telling anyone else her fear that she will have a baby in the fall. Jean Louise’s understanding of how pregnancy actually works is limited at best.
When Jean Louise was growing up, any false information she acquired always came from outside the family, and she learned that she could rely on those that she trusted to guide her correctly. Jean Louise develops the wild idea that she is pregnant and that this will cause her family much shame and distress by her interactions with the other kids at school. But when she finally confesses her belief to Calpurnia, Calpurnia, like a mother, soothes her and sets her on the right path. Jean Louise learns to trust her family at all times, no matter what the outside world might lead her to believe.
Atticus is a wonderfully caring and supportive father, but the time when Jean Louise is growing up from a girl into a woman represents a parenting moment in which Atticus has to relinquish the reins. Atticus didn’t adequately prepare Jean Louise for what it would mean to become a woman, so Jean Louise had to figure it out on her own. And when Jean Louise makes an error in her thinking, Calpurnia, not Atticus, is the one who corrects her. Calpurnia serves as Jean Louis’s surrogate mother figure, which is part of what makes the idea that Atticus could be a racist so much more deeply and personally terrifying.
Henry eventually saves Jean Louise, climbing heroically up the water tower like a prince rescuing a princess trapped at the top of her turret. At the time, the young Jean Louise didn’t think much of the fact that Henry was her rescuer. However, the scene foreshadows Henry’s current role in Jean Louise’s life as the lover figure who will always be there for her, no matter what else happens. Now, just as then, Jean Louise is grateful for Henry’s presence. In the flashback, he quite literally brings her back to earth, whereas he fills this role more metaphorically in the present day.
When Jean Louise finds out that Atticus has agreed to defend Zeebo’s son, Calpurnia’s grandson, she’s relieved at first, since she thinks that it proves that Atticus is, in fact, just as moral and fair as she’s always thought that he was. But it turns out that Atticus is less interested in saving Calpurnia’s family and more interested in smoothing over potential disruption from the NAACP. If the NAACP gets involved, the case will become long, elaborate, and drawn-out. Atticus and Henry don’t want the NAACP meddling in the town’s affairs, since they want to solve local matters in the way they’ve always been solved. Atticus always puts equality, peace, and the law first. Jean Louise has always perceived these as good traits, but now, these traits have become frustrating and feel to Jean Louise like an obstruction of justice.
Jean Louise’s visit to Calpurnia shows Jean Louise exactly how strained race relations have become in Maycomb. In Jean Louise’s childhood, segregation dominated the town, but Jean Louise was able to ignore some of its uglier sides, partly because Calpurnia was always such an integral part of her family life. Even though Jean Louise knew that segregation and racism were problems, she was able to stay inside the safe world that her family had created. Now, however, Jean Louise feels deeply like she’s an outsider when she goes to visit Calpurnia. The people part to let her pass like she’s Moses coming through the Red Sea.
Calpurnia spurns Jean Louise, withdrawing herself from her affections. Calpurnia feels betrayed, just as Jean Louise does, by Atticus’s hypocrisy. Calpurnia extends her feelings of betrayal not just to Atticus but to all the Finches. Jean Louise feels rejected and devastated by Calpurnia’s spurning. Jean Louise begins to cry, begging Calpurnia to drop her company manners and treat Jean Louise as she always has, but Calpurnia remains cold.