The weather is unusually warm, but there’s no moon. Scout and Jem are no longer afraid of Boo Radley, but they laugh about the silly superstitions they used to believe in. They listen to a mockingbird as Scout trips on a root on their way into the schoolyard. Scout can’t see anything, but Jem says he can tell they’re under the oak tree because the ground is cool. They work their way across, and as they get close, Cecil Jacobs leaps out and scares them. At the auditorium, Scout and Cecil enjoy the booths until another student calls them to come backstage.
The Halloween carnival in particular paints a picture of idyllic small-town life, as the whole point of the event is to keep people safe and out of trouble. Cecil’s prank on Scout and Jem, however, flags for the reader that the carnival cannot protect them everywhere—there are still places in their town where they can be unsafe, whether just from a classmate’s prank or something more dangerous.
Backstage, Scout discovers that someone smashed her costume. Mrs. Merriweather fixes it and shoves Scout inside. Scout and Cecil sit and listen to Mrs. Merriweather narrate the history of the county, beginning with the first white settler and with lots of time given to Colonel Maycomb’s exploits. It’s boring, so Scout falls asleep. Scout doesn’t wake up until she misses her cue and runs onstage to catch up with everyone else, which Judge Taylor finds hilarious. Mrs. Merriweather accuses Scout of ruining her pageant, but Jem makes Scout feel better. They start home, Scout still wearing her costume.
Mrs. Merriweather’s confidence in putting on a pageant like this suggest that her racism and sense of superiority is widespread, and that her audience will be sympathetic to her views. Like much of the U.S, Maycomb’s history likely includes violently pushing out Native Americans so that European settlers could colonize the land.
Jem grabs the hock end of the ham to help steady Scout in the dark. Scout realizes she forgot her shoes, but they see the auditorium lights go out before they can go back. Jem starts to say something but doesn’t finish. He admits a minute later that he thinks he heard something. Scout teases him, but she understands that he’s not joking. They stop and listen, but they don’t hear anything. Jem insists it must be Cecil following them—the stripes on the ham costume are reflective and easy to see. Scout turns and shouts an insult at Cecil, but Cecil doesn’t acknowledge it. This isn’t like Cecil.
In this situation, Jem has to take Atticus’s lessons on courage and implement them, as there’s not much he can do in the pitch dark to protect himself or Scout except to continue walking. The fact that someone might be following them shows again that Maycomb isn’t as safe and innocuous as Scout and Jem once thought, as they clearly didn’t think that this was going to be a dangerous walk home.
Jem stops Scout and softly asks if she can take off her ham costume. She can’t, so they decide to leave it on. Jem insists he’s not afraid and they’re almost to the road. They shuffle slowly and Scout can hear that whoever’s following them sounds like they’re wearing thick pants and heavy shoes. She feels the cold sand and knows they’re near the oak. They stop, but their follower rushes them. Jem shouts for Scout to run, but Scout falls. Jem pulls her up and holds her steady as they run, but near the road, Jem falls back and Scout hears a crunch and Jem scream. Scout runs into their attacker’s stomach and he begins to choke her. Suddenly, her attacker flies backwards. Scout realizes that there are four people under the tree.
Keep in mind that because Scout is inside her ham costume, she can’t see and can’t effectively interpret what’s going on here. This makes her even more vulnerable, as there’s no way for her to identify her attacker or a way out of this situation. Further, consider that whoever’s attacking them is attacking individuals the novel might characterize as mockingbirds—children, within the world of the novel, are innocent and defenseless, and thus attacking them is something unspeakably evil.
Scout hears a man breathing heavily and pulling something to the road. She begins to look for Jem but only finds a man who smells like whiskey. Scout wanders toward the road and sees a man carrying Jem to her house. Atticus ushers him in, Aunt Alexandra receives Scout, and they call for Dr. Reynolds and Mr. Tate. Scout asks if Jem is dead, but Atticus assures her he’s just unconscious. Aunt Alexandra extricates Scout from her costume. Dr. Reynolds arrives.
In the aftermath of the assault, Scout sees her immediate family and community rally around her and Jem, showing her that while Maycomb clearly has a dark side, there are still people who believe in its capacity for good and will do anything to protect the most vulnerable members of the population.
Mr. Tate arrives as Dr. Reynolds leaves, and he and Scout enter Jem’s room. Atticus explains that Dr. Reynolds put Jem out to keep him comfortable. Scout sees the man who brought in Jem, but she doesn’t recognize him. Mr. Tate asks everyone to sit down, except for the man who brought Jem in. Mr. Tate says that he found Scout’s dress, pieces of her costume, and Mr. Ewell, dead with a kitchen knife in his ribs.
Finding Mr. Ewell’s body suggests that, in a way, Mr. Ewell is paying for what he did to Tom. He now won’t be able to ruin or take anyone else’s life. Note, too, that Scout just accepts the man who saved her and doesn’t ask questions, suggesting that she recognizes her community is bigger and better than she thought.