Summary and Analysis
Jean Louise Finch travels by train from New York City to her childhood home in Maycomb, Alabama. She expects to be greeted by her father, Atticus, at the Maycomb train station, but instead she is met by her childhood friend Henry “Hank” Clinton, her father’s protégé in his law practice. When Hank kisses her, she protests but is secretly pleased. As Hank takes her home, they discuss her father’s arthritis, which has become so bad that he can no longer dress himself. Hank offers to let her drive the car, but she refuses, instead admiring his gift with mechanics as he drives.
Hank casually asks her to marry him—as he has asked many times before. She refuses. Hank grows serious, stops the car, and asks her again. She tells him that she will have an affair with him but will not marry him. Frustrated at her refusal, Hank tries to start the car quickly, which it is not designed to do. Jean Louise comments that it isn’t a good car for city driving.
Thinking to herself that she is “almost in love” with Hank, Jean Louise apologizes to him for being harsh. He forgives her and observes that, unlike other women, she never lies about her feelings. If she wants to catch a man, he tells her, she needs to flatter him. Jean Louise mockingly flatters Hank, easing the tension between them.
The tension between Jean Louise’s city life and her rural childhood underlies her homecoming. For Jean Louise, life in New York City is synonymous with independence: She can live as she wishes and wear what she wishes without incurring the judgment of her aunt Alexandra. The homeliness of Maycomb is comforting and familiar, but it is also stifling.
This tension between city and country living plays a substantial role in Jean Louise’s indecision about marrying Hank. To be in love with Hank would mean embracing a life in Maycomb. Although Jean Louise is fond of Hank and believes he could provide for and protect her, she isn’t sure that these things amount to love. Hank’s failure to start the car quickly and Jean Louise’s comment that a slow car like that would not be good for city driving reflect the tension in their relationship. Hank, with his Maycomb simplicity and slow-paced life, doesn’t seem to be a match for Jean Louise’s city sensibilities.
Another question at play in this chapter is the nature and source of identity: What family lineage or personal experience makes people who they are? Jean Louise, although she has chosen a city identity for six years, belongs to Maycomb by birth and breeding. Aunt Alexandra places a great deal of emphasis on the esteem of the Finch family name, believing that some families are of an inherently higher quality than others. Yet as Jean Louise remembers the very different stories that Aunt Alexandra and Atticus have told about her deceased cousin Joshua, she recognizes that stories of identity can be told differently depending on which details are included and excluded.
Issues of identity also influence Jean Louise’s romantic interest in Hank. Although Hank was deserted by his father as an infant and orphaned by his mother’s death at the age of 14, which makes his family identity more dubious than Jean Louise’s, Jean Louise still considers him one of her own kind, part of the same social class. Because the pattern of her Southern community tells her that she must marry someone of her own kind, Jean Louise instinctively plans to someday marry a man like Hank.