Jean Louise is both an outsider and an insider in Maycomb, Alabama. Although she grew up in Maycomb, she has lived in New York City for five years and only returns home for two weeks annually. Jean Louise is out of touch with Maycomb society, since she has made an independent life for herself outside of town. She has perspective to see the changes that have come over Maycomb within the past several years that people living in the town every day might not be able to perceive. Because Jean Louise isn’t enmeshed in Maycomb society, she doesn’t feel any pressure to agree with townspeople or follow commonly held beliefs, and she can see many of the underlying issues in the town more sharply than current residents. Segregation and race relations seem to have become more profoundly divided than ever before.
On the other hand, Jean Louise is also very much an insider in Maycomb. Her roots are in the town, and she is profoundly connected to the town through her blood. Everywhere Jean Louise goes in Maycomb, she is haunted by memories and constantly remembers the town as it used to be. Jean Louise travels around Maycomb with a sort of double vision: she sees the town as it is today, and she sees herself as a child in the town that she remembers. Even though Jean Louise has moved away and lives her own adult life, she is still growing up, caught between her past and her present. She feels deeply conflicted in Maycomb. Even though she doesn’t believe in the values that most people in town espouse, she also feels deeply tied to the community.
Jean Louise’s ambivalence about Maycomb is also illustrated in her relationship with Henry Clinton. Although she cares deeply for Henry, she is not head over heels in love with him, and she cannot commit to marrying him, because she cannot commit to settling down into the role of a Maycomb wife.
Jean Louise’s family is very prominent in town. All the Finches are well regarded. Atticus is a successful lawyer and one of Maycomb’s most respected public figures. Alexandra is a popular hostess and society lady. Jack, though somewhat reclusive, is universally accepted as very brilliant. Jean Louise’s personality represents, in many ways, a mixture of her father and his siblings. Like Atticus, Jean Louise has a very strong moral compass and firm sense of right and wrong. Jean Louise realizes throughout the novel that she is color blind in terms of how she thinks about people of different races. Jean Louise sees racial differences, of course, and she doesn’t actively seek to de-segregate her daily life by deliberately pursuing relationships with people of different races. But she believes fundamentally that all humans are created equal and that discrimination on the basis of race is unfounded. Living in New York City has desensitized Jean Louise to issues of race, since she has to interact on a daily basis with all sorts of people.