Summary and Analysis Chapter 5



Getting in the car as she leaves dinner with Hank, Jean Louise hits her head on the top of the car and complains that cars aren’t as tall as they used to be. They stop to buy “set-ups,” the socially sanctioned form of alcohol, and then Hank drives them to Finch’s Landing, a riverside house once owned by Jean Louise’s extended family. As they drive, Hank mentions Jean Louise’s childhood friend Dill, which prompts Jean Louise to become lost in a childhood memory.

Jean Louise remembers the time that she, Jem, and Dill held a mock revival service. Jem “baptized” a naked Jean Louise in the fishpool of Dill’s great-aunt, Miss Rachel. Miss Rachel caught them and sent Jem and Jean Louise home, where they discovered that Reverend Moorehead, the visiting revival preacher, and his wife had come to their house for dinner. Jean Louise worried that she had disgraced Atticus by appearing naked in front of a preacher, but Atticus found the entire situation funny.

In the present day, Jean Louise and Hank arrive at Finch’s Landing. They flirt in the moonlight and push each other, fully clothed, into the water. As they drive home wet, Hank says that they can’t continue swimming at midnight once he’s in the state legislature. They drive past a car travelling dangerously fast, a “carload of Negroes” according to Hank.


Hank is the image of a Southern gentleman. He helps Jean Louise into the car after dinner. He only drinks alcohol according to the unspoken rules of the community. Although he goes for a midnight swim with Jean Louise, he is conscious of how that action might be perceived, and he knows such behavior will need to stop if he is to join the state legislature. He is, in all ways, a master of the rules of propriety laid down by his community.

The narrative leads readers to wonder, though, whether this propriety is really an asset. Jean Louise hits her head getting into the car, negating Hank’s gesture of chivalry. The set-ups he buys don’t have the stigma of alcohol, nonetheless they are alcoholic. The spontaneous plunge in the river is the height of his romantic interplay with Jean Louise, yet this is precisely the kind of behavior that propriety demands he avoid.

Moreover, Hank’s good manners seem to extend only to his own race. When Hank and Jean Louise drive past a speeding car, Hank assumes it is a “carload of Negroes” and calls them a “public menace.” As in previous chapters, the racial tones here are subtle and appear only for a brief moment at the end of the chapter. Each of these moments appears deceptively insignificant to the narrative; in fact, however, the seeming insignificance of race is quite purposeful, reflecting how society at large (and even Jean Louise) tends to view racial issues.

The challenge to normative standards of propriety also appears in Jean Louise’s childhood flashback. Her “revival service” with Jem and Dill, although it follows the structures of religious behavior, is nonetheless entirely lacking any spiritual content. For these children, religion is simply a way of reaffirming propriety, one more set of societal rules to follow. The dinner visit of Reverend Moorehead and his wife, who equate Jem and Jean Louise’s misbehavior with sin, corroborates this portrayal of religion. Atticus, who often resists his community’s rules of propriety, likewise resists the Mooreheads’ version of piety with his laughter.

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