Summary and Analysis
Jean Louise wakes the next morning to an angry Alexandra, who has heard that Jean Louise and Hank went swimming naked the previous night. Instead of correcting her aunt, Jean Louise says that now she has to marry Hank. Atticus comes into the bedroom, making light of the situation. He discovers Jean Louise’s swimming clothes, proving that Jean Louise wasn’t naked. Alexandra is not appeased and says that as far as Maycomb is concerned, Jean Louise might as well have swum naked.
As Jean Louise and Alexandra dress for church, Jean Louise imagines how her aunt will try to defend the Finch family reputation among the church ladies that day. Alexandra unsuccessfully tries to persuade Jean Louise to wear a hat. When they arrive at church, Jean Louise is met by her uncle Jack, a medical doctor and Atticus’s younger brother. Jack, with whom Jean Louise has always felt a special connection, makes fun of her for her midnight indiscretions and tells her that Hank is waiting for her in the church building. She goes inside to her Sunday school classroom, where she ignores the lesson and sleeps with her eyes open.
Just as Hank provides a model of Maycomb propriety in the previous chapter, Alexandra provides a complementary model in this chapter. When she hears that Hank and Jean Louise swam naked, her concern is not with the inherent ethics of their behavior but with the fact that the story is “all over Maycomb.” Her fury doesn’t subside when she learns that her niece wasn’t actually naked: The nudity itself doesn’t bother her; the Finch reputation does. In Alexandra, we see the shallowness of propriety, which is a matter of appearances, not a matter of true integrity.
Although Alexandra’s propriety requires her to chide Jean Louise at home, that same propriety will compel her to defend her niece once they arrive at church. Because the measure of propriety is based on societal perception, Alexandra will use her influence to wage a “defensive war” in honor of the Finch name among the church ladies. Her claim that Jean Louise’s behavior was reprehensible will suddenly shift once she arrives at church. This shift in her behavior reveals once again that the nature of Jean Louise’s actions does not interest Alexandra directly but rather only for the ways they affect the family’s reputation.
Unlike Alexandra, Atticus and Uncle Jack don’t appear to be caught up in the quest for propriety. Because the community’s perceptions do not worry them, they feel unthreatened by Jean Louise’s night swim and can joke with her about it, which makes her trust them and turn to them as sources of comfort. Uncle Jack’s disinterest in others’ perceptions is also evinced by his many eccentricities: He makes no effort to adapt himself into something more palatable to others.
Jem also never bought into the logic of Maycomb propriety. When Alexandra tries to convince Jean Louise to wear a hat to church, Jean Louise remembers wearing a hat to Jem’s funeral and knowing he would have laughed at her for it. During the funeral, this realization made Jean Louise feel better in the midst of her mourning, reminding her that she and Jem shared a distaste for the strictures of propriety and reputation.