Summary and Analysis Chapter 14

Summary

Jean Louise visits Uncle Jack, who immediately notices something is worrying her. She explains that everyone seems to be losing their minds about racial issues, which she knows from having seen Atticus and Hank at the citizens’ council meeting. Jack laughs at her, which infuriates her. He explains that her question is like someone walking into a revolution and asking, “What’s the matter?” Atticus isn’t a racist, Jack claims—at least not in the way Jean Louise thinks.

In his own circuitous fashion, Jack tells a number of stories that at first seem unrelated but demonstrate the importance of Southern history to the current race conflict. He explains that the South is full of Anglo-Saxons who base their identity in their blood ties to one another, and the presence of free blacks threatens to disrupt this identity. Jean Louise still doesn’t understand why this justifies Atticus’ presence at the citizens’ council, and Jack keeps answering her in riddles. He compares the current turmoil in the South to birthing pains and says that a new facet of civilization is being born.

Jack tells her to leave, think over the issue for herself, and come back to him when she feels like her heart is being ripped in two and she can’t stand it any longer. She promises to return. After she leaves, Jack makes a phone call.

Analysis

Although Jean Louise’s conversation with Jack in this chapter is the beginning of her coming to understand why Atticus believes and acts as he does, little of it makes sense to her at the time. Jack’s stories seem like riddles to her, but they also foreshadow the understanding that she will later arrive at. His stories all have to do with the way identity is constructed in the South: Family bonds and communal ties supersede every other ideal. The Civil War, Jack says, was fought not over slavery or moral beliefs but over Southerners’ desire to retain a sense of collective identity.

When Jean Louise objects that the Civil War has been over for a hundred years, Uncle Jack asks, “Has it really?” He suggests that, as Southerners perceive them, the racial tensions of the present day are extensions of Civil War tensions: White Southerners have resisted racial equality because they want to remain faithful to their own white histories and communities. In the name of states’ rights, many Southerners hold beliefs that Northerners consider racist even though these same Southerners are ideologically in favor of racial equality.

In light of this tension, Jean Louise finds herself inhabiting two apparently contradictory identities. As a white woman from a respectable Southern family, she derives her sense of family and belonging from a group that hates the NAACP and thinks of blacks as an uncivilized race. As a New Yorker with Northern views about racial equality, though, Jean Louise has an ideological identity that is separate from and in conflict with her family identity. This is what Jack refers to when he invites her to look into a mirror and tells her he sees her as two people.

The same issue that was incidental to the Civil War, Jack tells Jean Louise, is now also incidental to Jean Louise’s own private war. Only later does Jean Louise realize that issue is racial equality. Although she thinks that the source of her distress is her concern for black Americans, her real concern is with the loss of a sense of personal identity.

Pop Quiz!

Why is Jean Louise surprised when Hank meets her at the train station?

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