Coming of age is a process that transforms us into adults. Through lessons learned by observing the world more closely, overcoming a variety of challenging obstacles, and making decisions that will influence the men and women we will become, we develop our maturity, our sense of right and wrong, and our understanding of fairness, among other things. To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming of age novel, and as it progresses Scout is beginning to face and witness conflicts that will challenge her.
In the passage below, read closely and annotate for details that reveal how Scout and Jem are experiencing a coming of age moment. Look for details that reveal how they are experiencing and understanding the world in new ways. Be sure to annotate for details that may be helping the children to learn about the complexities of racial interactions (both white/black and between African Americans).
Passage from Chapter 12.
First Purchase African M.E. Church was in the Quarters outside the southern town limits, across the old sawmill tracks. It was an ancient paint-peeled frame building, the only church in Maycomb with a steeple and bell, called First Purchase because it was paid for from the first earnings of freed slaves. Negroes worshiped in it on Sundays and white men gambled in it on weekdays.
The churchyard was brick-hard clay, as was the cemetery beside it. If someone died during a dry spell, the body was covered with chunks of ice until rain softened the earth. A few graves in the cemetery were marked with crumbling tombstones; newer ones were outlined with brightly colored glass and broken Coca-Cola bottles. Lightning rods guarding some graves denoted dead who rested uneasily; stumps of burned-out candles stood at the heads of infant graves. It was a happy cemetery.
The warm bittersweet smell of clean Negro welcomed us as we entered the churchyard—Hearts of Love hairdressing mingled with asafoetida, snuff, Hoyt’s Cologne, Brown’s Mule, peppermint, and lilac talcum.
When they saw Jem and me with Calpurnia, the men stepped back and took off their hats; 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. Calpurnia walked between Jem and me, responding to the greetings of her brightly clad neighbors.
“What you up to, Miss Cal?” said a voice behind us.
Calpurnia’s hands went to our shoulders and we stopped and looked around: standing in the path behind us was a tall Negro woman. Her weight was on one leg; she rested her left elbow in the curve of her hip, pointing at us with upturned palm. She was bullet-headed with strange almond-shaped eyes, straight nose, and an Indian-bow mouth. She seemed seven feet high.
I felt Calpurnia’s hand dig into my shoulder. “What you want, Lula?” she asked, in tones I had never heard her use. She spoke quietly, contemptuously.
“I wants to know why you bringin‘ white chillun to nigger church.”
“They’s my comp’ny,” said Calpurnia. Again I thought her voice strange: she was talking like the rest of them.
“Yeah, an‘ I reckon you’s comp’ny at the Finch house durin’ the week.”
A murmur ran through the crowd. “Don’t you fret,” Calpurnia whispered to me, but the roses on her hat trembled indignantly.
When Lula came up the pathway toward us Calpurnia said, “Stop right there, nigger.”
Lula stopped, but she said, “You ain’t got no business bringin‘ white chillun here —they got their church, we got our’n. It is our church, ain’t it, Miss Cal?”
Calpurnia said, “It’s the same God, ain’t it?”
Jem said, “Let’s go home, Cal, they don’t want us here—”
I agreed: they did not want us here. I sensed, rather than saw, that we were being advanced upon. They seemed to be drawing closer to us, but when I looked up at Calpurnia there was amusement in her eyes. When I looked down the pathway again, Lula was gone. In her place was a solid mass of colored people.
Scout make repeated note of both Calpurnia’s physical actions and her way of speaking to Lula. What do these details reveal about Calpurnia’s relationship both to the children and Lula?
This interaction with Lula may have provided Scout and Jem with an experience that is similar to the discrimination faced by many African Americans at this time. Based on the differences between Calpurnia’s and Lulu’s treatment of the children, what theme might this passage be developing about race, compassion, family, equality, respect, or some other idea?