Summary and Analysis
For the first time in decades, Maycomb gets snow. School is closed, so Jem and Scout spend their day trying to build a snowman. That night, Miss Maudie's house burns to the ground. Jem and Scout are sent to wait in front of the Radleys' while the fire is still raging. Boo Radley walks up and puts a blanket around a shivering Scout's shoulders, but both she and Jem are too engrossed in the fire to notice. The next day, Scout is surprised to find Miss Maudie in good spirits, working in her yard and talking about expanding her garden.
Near Christmastime, a classmate taunts Scout with the news that Atticus is defending a black man. Atticus asks Scout to promise to "'hold your head high, and keep those fists down. . . . Try fighting with your head for a change,'" — a promise Scout tries to uphold, with limited success. Uncle Jack Finch comes for Christmas as he does every year; Scout and her family spend Christmas at Finch's Landing with Aunt Alexandra and her family. Alexandra's grandson, Francis, begins teasing Scout about Atticus defending a black man. She attacks Francis and is punished by Uncle Jack, who had warned her not to fight or curse. Christmas evening, she and Uncle Jack talk, and she explains to him where he went wrong in his discipline. The chapter ends as Scout overhears Atticus and Uncle Jack talking about Tom Robinson's trial, which will start soon.
Lee introduces a great deal of symbolism in Chapters 8 and 9. When Scout sees the snow, a very unusual phenomenon in Alabama, she screams, "'The world's endin', Atticus! Please do something — !'" Atticus is reassuring, but, importantly, from this point on in the story, Scout's world as she knows it does end. After Chapter 8, everything Scout believes turns topsy-turvy, and the things she takes as absolutes are going to come into question.
Jem's quest to build a snowman requires some ingenuity on his part. He first constructs a mudman, prompting Scout to say, "'Jem, I ain't ever heard of a nigger snowman.'" But Jem proceeds to cover the mudman with snow, making him white. In some ways their snowman is analogous to the way blacks are treated in Maycomb. Blacks aren't judged on their own merits, but on their relationships with the white folks in town, just as the mudman isn't something to be admired until he is a white snowman. Lee subtly and masterfully drives this point home by having the children create a nearly exact replica of Mr. Avery, a white neighbor who behaves crudely and indecently, unlike any black character in the story.
Lee also introduces bird symbolism into the novel in Chapter 8. When Miss Maudie's house catches fire, Scout says, "Just as the birds know where to go when it rains, I knew when there was trouble in our street." Bird imagery continues throughout the novel to be a pivotal symbol for sensing, and then doing, the right thing. (Readers should note the connection between Lee's use of bird symbolism and Atticus' last name, Finch.) In another nod to how their world is changing, Jem and Scout have a chance to meet Boo Radley, but are too absorbed in something else to notice. And, instead of seeing the blanket as a gift, Scout is sick to her stomach. Miss Maudie's reaction to the fire confuses the children as well. They can't understand how she can be so positive and interested in them when she's lost everything. The children don't realize that the cuts on Miss Maudie's hands are evidence of the grief she chooses not to show.
The fire itself is symbolic of the upcoming conflicts that Scout and the community will face. This jarring event awakens the neighborhood, and Scout, from their peaceful slumber. The heat of the fire contrasts sharply with the intense cold, providing an allusion to the sharply defined sides in the upcoming trial and conflict. Neither fires nor cold are common in Maycomb, and the community is forced to look at situations from a different perspective.
Lee is careful to make clear that the children don't mind Atticus defending a black man as much as they mind the comments other people make about Atticus. She makes her point beautifully when Jem suggests that Miss Maudie get a "colored man" to help her with her yard, and Scout then notes, "There was no note of sacrifice in his voice when he added, 'Or Scout'n'me can help you.'"
Through dialogue in Chapter 9, Lee communicates that Atticus doesn't have a chance to win Tom Robinson's case, bringing the theme of justice to the forefront. Atticus tells Scout that he has to fight a battle he can't win because it is the morally correct thing to do. Atticus is accustomed to facing no-win situations. To their delight, he buys both children air rifles for Christmas, but says, "'I merely bowed to the inevitable.'" Later in the story, Atticus also accepts that Scout and Jem will kill birds; still, he won't teach them to shoot. Likewise, he accepts the fact that the jury will convict Tom, but he still gives him a courageous defense. (Ironically, the Finch family owned slaves at one time, making Atticus' defense of Tom that much more noble.)
Lee foreshadows how the jury will treat Tom in Scout's confrontation with Uncle Jack. Uncle Jack punishes Scout without first hearing her side of the story. In her "trial," she was guilty until proven guilty. However, unlike Tom Robinson, Scout does win on appeal when she tells her uncle, "'you never stopped to gimme a chance to tell you my side of it — you just lit right into me,'" at which point he does listen to her story. Lee adeptly helps readers understand how Tom feels by having a child experience the same emotions.
Still, even after Scout's "acquittal," Uncle Jack continues to fumble with the truth by dodging Scout's request for a definition of "whore-lady." Readers gain a better sense of Atticus' moral code when he reprimands his brother for not directly answering Scout's question: "'Jack! When a child asks you something, answer him . . . children . . . can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em.'"
Lee uses Scout's run-in with Francis to foreshadow one more important event. Scout muses, "When stalking one's prey, it is best to take one's time," which is exactly what Bob Ewell does in his attempt to harm Jem and Scout.
The outside world continues to impose standards of femininity on Scout in Chapter 8 and 9. Readers get the impression that Uncle Jack is less upset by Scout's language than by the fact that a girl is using that kind of language. Scout doesn't want to "be a lady," but that doesn't stop her extended family from telling her she should be. Aunt Alexandra is more rigid about Scout's appearance than her male relatives. She abhors the idea of a little girl wearing pants and works diligently to make Scout more ladylike. Curiously, Atticus comforts Scout by telling her that "Aunt Alexandra didn't understand girls much, she'd never had one." And more curious still is that the fact that Scout's not wanting to be a lady doesn't prevent her from also assigning gender roles as evidenced by her reaction to Francis learning to cook.
aberrations a deviation from the normal or the typical.
touchous [Dial.] touchy.
thrift any of a genus of dwarf, evergreen, perennial dicotyledonous plants (order Plumbaginales) with narrow leaves and small, white, pink, red, or purplish flowers.
Appomattox town in central Virginia, near Lynchburg: In a former nearby village (Appomattox Court House), Lee surrendered to Grant (April 9, 1865), ending the Civil War.
caricatures a picture or imitation of a person, literary style, etc. in which certain features or mannerisms are exaggerated for satirical effect.
morphodite comic slang pronunciation of hermaphrodite, a term used to describe a human or animal combining both male and female sexual characteristics or organs.
Missouri Compromise a plan agreed upon by the United States Congress in 1820 to settle the debate over slavery in the Louisiana Purchase area. The plan temporarily maintained the balance between free and slave states.
Ol' Blue Light nickname for Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate general.
lineaments any of the features of the body, usually of the face, esp. with regard to its outline.
hookah a kind of water pipe associated with the Middle East, with a long flexible tube for drawing the smoke through water in a vase or bowl and cooling it.
trousseau a bride's outfit of clothes, linens, etc.
deportment the manner of conducting or bearing oneself; behavior; demeanor.
obstreperous noisy, boisterous, or unruly, esp. in resisting or opposing.
ruination anything that ruins or causes ruin.