Summary and Analysis Chapter 16

Summary

Jean Louise goes to look for her father at his office and finds Hank instead. He takes her out for coffee at a drugstore, and she furiously tells him that she doesn’t love him anymore. She explains that she saw him and Atticus at the citizens’ council meeting. Hank responds that their motives for being at the meeting were not the same as the motives of the other men; they were simply trying to keep an eye on the political discourse in Maycomb. Hank argues that Atticus once attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting just so he could know who the other members of the organization were. Conforming to your community in order to be of service to it, Hank says, is a necessity.

Jean Louise can’t understand this, Hank says, because her Finch family name has accorded her the privilege of being accepted even when she doesn’t conform. Hank, when he doesn’t conform, is dismissed as trash. Jean Louise denies her privilege, but Hank says she is blind to it.

Outside the drugstore, Hank asks what Jean Louise expects him to do, and she says she expects him to stand up for his beliefs by staying out of the citizens’ council no matter what it costs him. She calls him a hypocrite, declaring that she can’t live with a hypocrite. At that moment Atticus appears and dryly asks why she can’t live with hypocrites. He is smiling.

Analysis

Jean Louise’s confrontation with Hank focuses on two issues central to the narrative: the ethics of compromise and the invisibility of privilege.

First, this encounter raises the question of the degree to which upright people might tolerate or even support activities that violate their conscience in order to stay in positions of influence and use that influence for good. Hank claims this is precisely what he and Atticus are doing when Jean Louise questions him about the citizens’ council. In order to remain respected community members and advocate change from within, they need to tolerate people like those on the citizens’ council. This means, Hank says, that he may not always vote or speak according to his beliefs in order to keep his reputation intact. Jean Louise condemns this attitude as selfish and cowardly, but Hank insists that it is in the interest of the greater good.

When Jean Louise argues that it isn’t necessary to behave like the majority in order to be accepted and heard, Hank raises the second issue: the invisibility of privilege. He says that Jean Louise, because of her family identity, has been given a wide degree of latitude for her behavior. Hank, who comes from a less respected family and does not have the same automatic community acceptance, needs to constantly earn his identity and his right to belong in Maycomb. Jean Louise’s privilege is invisible to her because she has the luxury of taking it for granted. Hank, who is disadvantaged in this way, is forced to be aware.

Although their conversation about invisible privilege never extends to white privilege, the book’s larger theme of racial equality implies this connection. The same mistrust and challenges that Hank faces as a person from a low-status family are felt even more acutely by blacks, evidenced by the hostile attitudes of Maycomb’s white residents toward nonwhites. Establishing a social order in which black citizens are more likely to fail and then to blame them for failing is unjust.

Pop Quiz!

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

Q&A

I'm usually pretty good at guessing what words mean, but have no clue about exigence. What is it?

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