Maycomb experiences its coldest weather since 1885. Mr. Avery insists that the Rosetta Stone indicates that when children disobey, smoke cigarettes, and fight, the seasons change, so Jem and Scout feel guilty for causing themselves and everyone else discomfort. Mrs. Radley dies over the winter with little fanfare. Jem and Scout suspect that Boo got her, but Atticus insists that she died of natural causes and gives Scout a scathing look when she asks if he saw Arthur. The next morning, Scout wakes up and screams in fear—it’s snowing, and she’s never seen snow before. Eula May calls to inform Atticus that school is canceled.
Once again, when Scout and Jem buy Mr. Avery’s explanation without question, it drives home how young, naïve, and trusting they are—for one, the Rosetta Stone says no such thing. Regardless, this does have the effect of making Scout and Jem feel bad about their shenanigans over the summer, which suggests that next year, they may think twice before tormenting their neighbor just because he’s different.
Jem wants to know how to make a snowman, but Atticus doesn’t know and cautions his children that there might not be enough snow to do so. Calpurnia arrives and Jem and Scout race outside. Jem scolds Scout for eating the soggy snow and walking in it, which he insists is wasting it. They walk in Miss Maudie’s yard, where Mr. Avery accuses them of bringing on this bad weather. Scout, knowing that Mr. Avery knows it’s her fault because of the Rosetta Stone, doesn’t question him. Miss Maudie wraps her azaleas in burlap to keep them from freezing and when Jem asks, suspiciously lets him borrow a basket to cart away her snow.
The fact that the snow is something entirely unheard of in Maycomb foreshadows what’s to come—a summer in which other things previously unheard of will also come to pass. This then represents a major disruption to Maycomb life, even as Miss Maudie behaves normally by caring for her plants and Mr. Avery does the same by blaming the bad weather on the children.
Back in their yard, Jem fetches laundry hampers of dirt and leads Scout in sculpting a mud man. At first the figure looks like Miss Stephanie, but Jem mischievously makes it look like Mr. Avery. Once he’s satisfied with the shape, he and Scout cover the mud with snow. They call Atticus and he expresses pride when he gets home. He laughs when he realizes it looks like Mr. Avery, insists the snowman is libelous, and tells Jem to alter the “caricature.” Jem insists it’s not a caricature since it looks just like Mr. Avery, but he fetches Miss Maudie’s sunhat and clippers. Miss Maudie shouts for her hat and she and Atticus discuss the snowman. Miss Maudie calls the snowman “an absolute morphodite.”
“Morphodite” is a slang term for hermaphrodite. Miss Maudie uses it to refer to the fact that Jem changed the snowman from female (Miss Stephanie) to male (Mr. Avery) and back to female (Miss Maudie). Jem shows here that he’s still too young to entirely understand why it might not be a polite thing to make a snowman depicting one’s neighbor with whom he doesn’t have the best relationship, since he doesn’t recognize that his “perfect” image of Mr. Avery might be more offensive than even a caricature.
By afternoon, the snow stops, and it freezes. Calpurnia declines Atticus’s offer to stay the night and Scout goes to sleep cold. She wakes up confused when Atticus shakes her. She hears a horrifying sound and asks whose house is burning. It’s Miss Maudie’s. Atticus sends Scout and Jem to stand in front of the Radley Place for safety. They watch as the old fire truck, which can’t start in the cold, arrives, and the hydrant bursts. Half-dressed men carry Miss Maudie’s furniture out and Mr. Avery has to climb out a second-story window. When the flames reach the second floor, men hose down Atticus and Miss Rachel’s houses next door. Scout frets while Atticus and Miss Maudie look unconcerned.
The fire creates an opportunity for Scout to see her community come together around a common goal and put out the fire. This speaks to one of the positive aspects of how close-knit and intimate Maycomb is, as there’s no indication that anyone is sitting this one out—especially since even Scout and Jem are outside watching, even if they’re not old enough to help.
Scout watches the Abbottsville fire truck arrive and spew water on her house and on Miss Rachel’s. The “Absolute Morphodite” melts as men fight the fire in pajamas. Scout is frozen by the time another fire truck arrives and Miss Maudie’s house collapses. Men leave around dawn and Jem and Scout approach Miss Maudie and Atticus. Atticus leads them home and sternly demands to know where Scout got her blanket. She realizes that there’s a strange woolen blanket around her shoulders. Neither she nor Jem know where it came from. Atticus starts to grin and says that all of Maycomb was out. He suggests wrapping up the blanket to take it back, but Jem spills every secret about his dealings with Boo Radley. Scout is confused, but Atticus smiles and says that that Boo must’ve given her the blanket. She almost vomits.
Receiving a blanket from Boo shows the reader (even if Scout herself doesn’t understand) that even if Boo is a recluse he still cares deeply for the wellbeing of his neighbors. Though he’s not fighting the fire, he’s still making sure that the most vulnerable individuals on the street are safe and warm. Though Scout doesn’t understand it now, this will later begin to impress upon her that Boo is generous and human, just like she is. In this sense, Boo’s simple gesture here is something that will, later on, spur some of Scout’s most profound coming-of-age moments.
Scout and Jem sleep until noon, when Calpurnia wakes them and sends them to clean up the yard. They find Miss Maudie’s hat and clippers and take them to her. They offer condolences for her house, but she reminds them that she hated her house and now, she’ll have more room for azaleas. They discuss how the fire started and Miss Maudie asks Scout about her unexpected company last night. She says that she wishes she’d been with Scout and Jem. Scout looks perplexed, but Miss Maudie says that she was most worried about the danger the fire posed to everyone else, especially Mr. Avery. She notes that she’ll make him a Lane cake when Miss Stephanie isn’t looking, since Miss Stephanie wants her recipe.
Though Scout and Jem might not understand it, Miss Maudie is promoting a courageous view of what happened in that rather than wallowing in what she lost, she’s doing her best to look on the bright side and focus on the good that will come of the fire. However, when she mentions Mr. Avery’s bravery, the novel does make room for the fact that sometimes, courage and bravery does mean doing something physical rather than simply hoping for the best.
Jem notices Miss Maudie’s dirty and bloody hands. He suggests she hire a black man to help and offers his and Scout’s help for free. Miss Maudie reminds Jem that he has his own yard to attend to, but Scout assures Miss Maudie that they can rake up the morphodite quickly. Miss Maudie stares silently and then laughs. Jem and Scout don’t understand why she’s laughing.
In this instance, Scout and Jem’s innocence and Scout’s total lack of understanding provides a spot of humor for Miss Maudie. This begins to make the case that one of the most meaningful things the children can do at this point (albeit without their knowledge) is to help people laugh.