Summary and Analysis
Jean Louise returns to the ice cream shop standing on the site of her old house, and Mr. Cunningham gives her a free pint of ice cream for guessing his name. As she sits, she recalls attending her first dance. Jem and Hank were both seniors, and Hank asked her to be his date. Self-conscious about her body shape, she wore a pair of false breasts (falsies) underneath her dress. A few hours before the dance, Jean Louise realized that she didn’t know how to dance, and Uncle Jack came over to give her a quick lesson.
Jean Louise enjoyed the dance, dancing with a number of other boys besides Hank and Jem. After a while, Hank clutched her tightly to him and suggested they go outside, where he pointed out to her that her falsies had shifted while she was dancing. She burst into tears and asked to be taken home, but he insisted that she simply take them out and continue dancing. He took the offending falsies and threw them as far as he could into the dark. They returned to the dance, and no one seemed to notice her change in appearance.
The next morning, Mr. Tuffett, the high school principal, was infuriated to find Jean Louise’s falsies hanging on top of a large billboard outside the school. He demanded a signed letter from the guilty party admitting responsibility for the act. Instead of confessing, Hank convinced more than a hundred girls to write a letter to the principal saying the falsies look like theirs, making it possible for Jean Louise to also confess without being punished. When Jean Louise asked where Hank got the idea, he explained that he “consulted [his] lawyer” (Atticus) for advice.
Set at this late point in the narrative, Jean Louise’s memory of her first dance heightens the sense of loss she feels as her confidence in her Maycomb community crumbles. In the memory, each member of her family is trustworthy and loving, giving Jean Louise a sense of identity and value even when she doubts herself. Calpurnia prepares her for the dance with motherly care and helps her manage her falsies. Uncle Jack teaches her to dance at the last moment. Jem ensures that she has a steady stream of dancing partners. Atticus gives Hank the insight he needs to get himself and Jean Louise out of trouble. Hank emerges as especially heroic, first asking Jean Louise to the dance, then rescuing her from embarrassment when her falsies slip, and finally refusing to let her take the blame for the vandalism of the billboard.
The safety and closeness Jean Louise felt with these five figures during high school stands in stark contrast to the abandonment she now feels. Jem is dead, Calpurnia treats her like a white stranger, and Jack gives her riddles instead of answers. Hank and Atticus no longer seem like saviors: They have become bigots, ideological enemies. At the chapter’s close, Jean Louise reflects that “Hell is eternal apartness.” She has returned home, but it no longer feels like home, a paradox emphasized further by the ice cream parlor that stands in place of her house. Although she thought she knew her family, she now feels like a stranger among them.