It is dark on the way to the school, and Cecil Jacobs jumps out and frightens Jem and Scout. Scout and Cecil wander around the crowded school, visiting the haunted house in a seventh-grade classroom and buying homemade candy. The pageant nears its start and all of the children go backstage. Scout, however, has fallen asleep and consequently misses her entrance. She runs onstage at the end, prompting Judge Taylor and many others to burst out laughing. The woman in charge of the pageant accuses Scout of ruining it. Scout is so ashamed that she and Jem wait backstage until the crowd is gone before they make their way home.
On the walk back home, Jem hears noises behind him and Scout. They think it must be Cecil Jacobs trying to frighten them again, but when they call out to him, they hear no reply. They have almost reached the road when their pursuer begins running after them. Jem screams for Scout to run, but in the dark, hampered by her costume, she loses her balance and falls. Something tears at the metal mesh, and she hears struggling behind her. Jem then breaks free and drags Scout almost all the way to the road before their assailant pulls him back. Scout hears a crunching sound and Jem screams; she runs toward him and is grabbed and squeezed. Suddenly, her attacker is pulled away. Once the noise of struggling has ceased, Scout feels on the ground for Jem, finding only the prone figure of an unshaven man smelling of whiskey. She stumbles toward home, and sees, in the light of the streetlamp, a man carrying Jem toward her house.
Scout reaches home, and Aunt Alexandra goes to call Dr. Reynolds. Atticus calls Heck Tate, telling him that someone has attacked his children. Alexandra removes Scout’s costume, and tells her that Jem is only unconscious, not dead. Dr. Reynolds then arrives and goes into Jem’s room. When he emerges, he informs Scout that Jem has a broken arm and a bump on his head, but that he will be all right. Scout goes in to see Jem. The man who carried him home is in the room, but she does not recognize him. Heck Tate appears and tells Atticus that Bob Ewell is lying under a tree, dead, with a knife stuck under his ribs.
As Scout tells everyone what she heard and saw, Heck Tate shows her costume with a mark on it where a knife slashed and was stopped by the wire. When Scout gets to the point in the story where Jem was picked up and carried home, she turns to the man in the corner and really looks at him for the first time. He is pale, with torn clothes and a thin, pinched face and colorless eyes. She realizes that it is Boo Radley.
Scout takes Boo—“Mr. Arthur”—down to the porch, and they sit in shadow listening to Atticus and Heck Tate argue. Heck insists on calling the death an accident, but Atticus, thinking that Jem killed Bob Ewell, doesn’t want his son protected from the law. Heck corrects him—Ewell fell on his knife; Jem didn’t kill him. Although he knows that Boo is the one who stabbed Ewell, Heck wants to hush up the whole affair, saying that Boo doesn’t need the attention of the neighborhood brought to his door. Tom Robinson died for no reason, he says, and now the man responsible is dead: “Let the dead bury the dead.”
Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.
Scout takes Boo upstairs to say goodnight to Jem and then walks him home. He goes inside his house, and she never sees him again. But, for just a moment, she imagines the world from his perspective. She returns home and finds Atticus sitting in Jem’s room. He reads one of Jem’s books to her until she falls asleep.
"When they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice. . . . "
"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."
Lee fills the night of the pageant with elements of foreshadowing, from the sense of foreboding that grips Aunt Alexandra just before Jem and Scout leave the house, to the ominous, pitch-dark night to Cecil Jacobs’s attempt to scare them. The pageant itself is an amusing depiction of small-town pride, as the lady in charge spends thirty minutes describing the exploits of Colonel Maycomb, the town’s founder, to the audience. Additionally, the reader can visualize the comical parade of meats and vegetables crossing the stage, with Scout, just awake, hurrying after them as the audience roars with laughter. In this way, as with the early snowfall, the fire, and the mad dog, the night of the pageant incorporates both the Gothic motif of the novel and the motif of small-town life that counterbalances it.
A mood of mounting suspense marks Jem and Scout’s walk home. They hear the noise of their pursuer and assume it to be Cecil Jacobs, only to realize relatively quickly that they are in mortal danger. The attack is all the more terrifying because Jem and Scout are vulnerable: they are very near their home, in an area that they assume to be safe, and Scout, in her awkward costume, has no idea what is happening. Though Lee has spent a great deal of time foreshadowing Ewell’s impending attack on the Finches, she manages to make the scene of the attack surprising. All of the clues in the novel to this point have suggested that Ewell would attack Atticus, not the children. But, as we realize in this scene, the cowardly Ewell would never have the courage to attack the best shot in Maycomb County; his insidious, malicious attack on the children reveals how loathsome a man he is. In this way, Lee’s diversionary technique of leading the reader to suspect that Atticus would be Ewell’s victim makes this scene simultaneously startling for the reader and revealing of character.
Boo Radley’s entrance takes place in the thick of the scuffle, and Scout does not realize that her reclusive neighbor has saved them until she has reached home; even then, she assumes him to be “some countryman.” This failure of recognition symbolizes the inability of Scout and the other children, throughout the novel, to see Boo as a human being, treating him instead as merely a source of childhood ghost stories. As his name suggests, Boo is a sort of ghost, but this condition has less to do with his appearance out of nowhere on Halloween than with Scout’s hollow understanding of him. When Scout finally realizes who has saved her, however, Boo the childhood phantom becomes Boo the human being: “His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor’s image blurred with my sudden tears. ‘Hey, Boo,’ I said.” With this sentence, Scout takes the first of two large steps in this section toward completing the development of her character and assuming the grown-up moral perspective that Atticus has shown her throughout the book.
Heck Tate’s decision to spare Boo the horror of publicity by saying that Bob Ewell fell on his knife invokes the title of the book and its central theme one last time, as Scout says that exposing Boo to the public eye would be “sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird.” She has appropriated not only Atticus’s words but also his outlook, as she suddenly sees the world through Boo’s eyes. In this moment of understanding and sympathy, Scout takes her second great step toward a grown-up moral perspective. The reader gets the sense that all of Scout’s previous experiences have led her to this enriching moment and that Scout will be able to grow up without having her experience of evil destroy her faith in goodness. Not only has Boo become a real person to her, but in saving the children’s lives he has also provided concrete proof that goodness exists in powerful and unexpected forms, just as evil does.
Despite Scout’s obvious maturation in Chapter 31, the novel closes with her falling asleep as Atticus reads to her. This enduring image of her as Atticus’s baby child is fitting—while she has grown up quite a bit over the course of the novel, she is still, after all, only eight years old. Just as her ham costume, a symbol of the silly and carefree nature of childhood, prevents Bob Ewell’s knife from injuring her, so does the timely intervention of Boo, another part of Scout’s childhood, thwart the total intrusion into her life of the often hate-filled adult world that Ewell represents. Interestingly, the book makes no return to the adult Scout for closing narration, and Lee offers the reader no details of Scout’s future except that she never sees Boo again. Rather, she leaves Scout and the reader with a powerful feeling of cautious optimism—an acknowledgment that the existence of evil is balanced by faith in the essential goodness of humankind.