The narrative now jumps back to when Jean Louise was in sixth grade. Some new students from Old Sarum join the grade, and all of them are older, poor, and uneducated. Jean Louise befriends them, and has a good school year until the day she gets her period, learns what it means from Calpurnia, and is suddenly angry to find herself a real girl.
After Jean Louise’s painful disillusionment, the narrative follows her consciousness as she tries to escape into the happier past. This section goes on a long but humorous tangent, as do most of the flashbacks that would later become Mockingbird.
The next day Jean Louise can’t play her usual rough games with the boys because of her cramps, so she joins the Old Sarum girls under the tree where they congregate. They tell her that menstruation is the “Curse of Eve,” and that she’ll get used to it eventually. One day Albert Coningham, a boy whom Jean Louise had helped on his tests, stops Jean Louise after the bell and kisses her, putting his tongue in her mouth. Jean Louise doesn’t think much of it.
Lee builds up the world of To Kill a Mockingbird in these memories, where everything is seen through Scout’s eyes and seems simpler and less disappointing than her present world.
Later that year the Old Sarum girls are gossiping about a fellow student who is pregnant and had to leave school. The rumors are that her father was the father. Jean Louise is confused by this, and the other girls make fun of her. They tell her that you get pregnant if you’ve started “the Curse” and then get French-kissed by a boy. Jean Louise is suddenly terrified that she is pregnant by Albert Coningham. She goes in the bathroom and vomits.
The Old Sarum girls equate menstruating with a “curse,” again showing how sexism is another prejudice ingrained in Maycomb society, where sexuality, particularly female sexuality, is demonized. Scout never gets sex explained to her plainly, so she is naïve enough to undergo the ordeal that follows.
Jean Louise doesn’t know much about “adult morals,” but she does know that to become pregnant without being married always brings disgrace upon oneself and one’s family. She grows depressed and angry, and won’t even talk to Atticus and Jem. Every morning she wakes up hopeful, but then remembers her supposed baby and gets depressed again. Jean Louise reads about giving birth, and asks Calpurnia about the girl who got pregnant by her own father, but only gleans more bad news from this research.
Gossip from the town and family (especially people like Alexandra) is always disapproving of others, so even the young Scout knows that an unwanted pregnancy is something to be ashamed of. The same conservative religiosity that condemns sex outside of marriage—or any kind of female sexuality at all—also prevents Scout from learning the simple truth.
Jean Louise finally learns that pregnancies last nine months, and so she calculates the day that she will give birth. She plans on killing herself the day before that, so as to avoid bringing shame on Atticus and Jem. On the day of her suicide, Jean Louise climbs up the town water tank. She looks down on Maycomb and thinks about her loved ones. She is about to jump when Hank grabs her from behind and pulls her down the ladder, furious. He takes her home and Calpurnia asks what’s wrong, as she is clearly upset.
Hank doesn’t appear at all in the world of Mockingbird, but in Watchman we see that he was indeed an important part of Scout’s childhood, and even saved her life on this occasion. Even bad experiences like this are part of Jean Louise’s sense of home and belonging. She might have been ready to kill herself, but she still had Jem and Calpurnia and the Atticus she revered to lean on.
Jean Louise finally confesses that she is going to have a baby tomorrow, and then explains the situation, weeping. Calpurnia comforts her and assures her she isn’t pregnant. She tells Jean Louise the realities about sex. Jean Louise asks why she didn’t know all this before, and Calpurnia says that she has a particular kind of naiveté because she was raised without a mother. Calpurnia tells her to stop paying attention to the Old Sarum kids, and to come talk to her if she has any more questions.
In this flashback we see how important Calpurnia was during Jean Louise’s childhood. Calpurnia doesn’t appear much in Watchman, but she is a major character in Mockingbird, and is basically a mother figure for the young Scout. This makes the later scene with Calpurnia more powerful, though once again knowledge from Mockingbird is required for the full impact.
Jean Louise realizes that this conversation is the first time Calpurnia has referred to her as “ma’am,” so she feels like she’s getting older. Jean Louise is embarrassed to see Jem after this, as she expects him to fight her or make fun of her. She is surprised when instead he offers to take care of her if she ever needs anything or is in trouble.
We only get hints of the relationship between Scout, Jem, and Calpurnia in these memories, like stories that begin but don’t end. This adds to the disjointed feel of the book, but also shows why Lee chose to tell Mockingbird from Scout’s point of view.