Summary and Analysis
On the way to the restaurant with Hank for their date, Jean Louise thinks about the history and culture of Maycomb. Things have changed since her childhood, and she tells Hank she doesn’t like the changes. They talk about their childhood games and make a plan to go to the river that evening.
Hank tells Jean Louise that she is a mystery to him: Every time he thinks he has won her attention, she seems to slip away. She tells him he is being too obvious about his uncertainty, that what women really want is to feel safe, understood, and protected. She learned all this about romance, she says, from watching the failing marriages in New York.
When Hank questions her sudden cynicism, Jean Louise apologizes, explaining that she is afraid of marrying the wrong man. Hank declares that he is not the wrong man. A familiar black waiter named Albert briefly interrupts their conversation. He calls Jean Louise by her childhood name, Scout. Hank asks why Jean Louise never drinks more than half of her second cup of coffee after dinner. The fact that Hank knows her eccentricities so well startles her.
Jean Louise’s fixation with the past is important to her relationship with Hank. When she thinks in the present tense as a New Yorker, she has difficulty imagining herself marrying Hank and staying in Maycomb. Meanwhile, the “Scout” of her childhood belongs in Maycomb and has always loved Hank. Their plan to go to the river (where, Hank observes, “Jean Louise was most like her old self”) and Albert’s use of her childhood nickname help her feel like someone who could be in love with Hank. However, the newly renovated restaurant where they eat and her reflections on New York romance make her feel distant from Maycomb and the possibility of marrying Hank.
Albert’s brief appearance as a waiter provides an important racial backdrop to Hank and Jean Louise’s date. Societally, a black man serving as a waiter for a white couple is not surprising (whereas the reverse would be unheard of). Jean Louise tries to speak to Albert as an equal, commenting on his white coat as a way of acknowledging that she remembers him as something other than a waiter. Albert, however, maintains the propriety of the social structure in their relationship, calling Jean Louise “ma’am” and “Miss Scout.”
As with Jean Louise’s conversation with Atticus about the Supreme Court ruling in Chapter 2, her interaction with Albert is told in such a way that it seems merely incidental. Albert’s presence is not central to the narrative at hand; it appears to be merely an ornament, like Jean Louise’s passing comments about the NAACP. Once again, Jean Louise does not consciously think about racial issues but rather only notices them peripherally as she goes about her life.