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When Jean Louise returns home, Alexandra is in the midst of preparing elaborate sandwich platters for Jean Louise’s Coffee. Alexandra is furious when Jean Louise tells her that she had gone to visit Calpurnia. Alexandra says that ever since the NAACP had arrived in town, the organization had filled black people’s ears with poison against white people, and that relations between the two races were strained. When Calpurnia left, says Alexandra, she couldn’t be bothered to train a new servant because black people were too difficult to keep happy.
Jean Louise feels like she’s going insane. Her aunt is hostile, Calpurnia won’t talk to her, Henry is insane, and Atticus has betrayed her. She thinks that something must be the matter with her, because it’s unfathomable that everyone else could have changed so profoundly.
The ladies arrive for the Coffee. They’re all dolled up in natty clothes and elaborate makeup. The newlyweds talk about their husbands, the new mothers discuss their children, and the woman who are slightly older discuss domestic affairs. Jean Louise tries to talk with the single girls, but all they want to do is gossip about high school friends. Eventually, Jean Louise mechanically passes around sandwiches and lets the various waves of conversation wash around her. Jean Louise realizes that she has nothing in common with these ladies, but if she marries Henry, they will form her social circle, and she’ll be out of place for the rest of her life.
The ladies at the Coffee begin discussing old Mr. Healy and Zeebo, and some express the rumor and fear that the black people are planning an underground revolution. The ladies seem to have their reactionary groups mixed up, since they are convinced that the members of the NAACP are also all Communists. Jean Louise finally snaps when one lady brings up “mongrelization,” pointing out that it takes two to mongrelize and that there’s no point in mistrusting one’s own race, let alone another.
Jean Louise contemplates what has happened to her family, and why everyone, in her perception, has become so deeply racist all of a sudden. She protests to herself that she learned about human decency while growing up in Maycomb, but now, the very people who taught her about such decency are no longer treating others with respect. Jean Louise is deeply conflicted because Calpurnia and Atticus have both instilled values of respect and equality for all in her, yet now, they are acting so differently.
Jean Louise pays attention to the Coffee again when one lady is discussing her recent visit to New York. Jean Louise explains that she knew she was a part of the city when someone pushed her on the subway and she pushed back. The ladies say that she must be blind not to see all the people of different races around her. Jean Louise thinks that she needs a watchman to sort through the hypocrisy surrounding her.
After the Coffee, Jean Louise visits Uncle Jack. Uncle Jack keeps the house immaculate, save for the stacks of books piled everywhere. Uncle Jack serves salad to himself and Jean Louise. Jean Louise asks Uncle Jack what the matter is with Atticus, Henry, and Alexandra. When she tearfully says that she couldn’t stand to see Atticus and Henry sitting in that meeting, Uncle Jack bursts into laughter.
Uncle Jack explains to Jean Louise that Atticus isn’t a racist, but that he’s caught in local culture. Atticus is trying to preserve states’ rights and stop the federal government from intervening in local politics. Uncle Jack reminds Jean Louise that before the Civil War, the South was an agricultural society with deep-knit family ties, and that family feelings still ran very deep. To most of the South, the Civil War was less about the right to keep slaves and more about preserving identity. Uncle Jack says that now, the South is having a political philosophy forced upon it again. Jean Louise points out that he’s still dodging the issue of why race relations in town are worse than they’ve ever been. Uncle Jack can’t give her a straight answer. He tries to get Jean Louise to come to a conclusion about the whole thing, but she struggles to put it together.
Not only is Maycomb divided sharply by race, it is also divided by gender. The Coffee parallels the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council in that all the women in town gather together in the former setting, whereas all the men congregate in the latter. The Coffee represents a women’s world, a place where men cannot enter. The town has been traditionally divided into hierarchies and groups throughout its entire history, and to accept Maycomb society is to accept these divisions.
The Coffee makes Jean Louise deeply uncomfortable because she can’t be classified into any of the social roles that a Maycomb lady plays. She is not a young married lady, a new mother, a wistful single girl, or an experienced wife. Rather, Jean Louise is an individual and wants to be thought of as an individual. Much to Alexandra’s chagrin, Jean Louise doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t want to fit in. The ladies in the Coffee seem naïve and backwards to Jean Louise. None of them stand out to her as individuals.
When Jean Louise was growing up, she was a tomboy, and her closest friends were boys. When she reached puberty and her teenage years, she was awkward and bookish. Then, she grew up and moved away. So Jean Louise never joined the female society of Maycomb in any significant way. Now, Jean Louise feels as though she has become a woman who does not fill any of the roles that a Maycomb lady should fill. Also, and more importantly, none of the other ladies at the Coffee express any interest in having opinions of their own. Instead, they rely on each others’ and their husbands’ advice, rather than thinking things through.
The Coffee represents another kind of hypocrisy in Maycomb. The women gather on their best behavior, yet they are able to speak so casually in such racist terms that Jean Louise is shocked. Jean Louise continues to feel betrayed. The same world that taught her decency and respect for humans now seems to be proclaiming the opposite views. Jean Louise refuses to play along and pretend that she accepts others’ beliefs out of the sake of politeness. Jean Louise feels like she has to be the town’s symbolic watchman. There isn’t any moral compass guiding the town, and Jean Louise feels like the only person who can see this.
Uncle Jack treats himself differently both physically and mentally from the bulk of Maycomb. Uncle Jack spends his days reading Victorian literature, which keeps him wrapped in his own bubble instead of immersed in Maycomb gossip. He also eats salads and other healthful foods instead of the heavy, traditional Southern fare, suggesting that he is more concerned about certain aspects of physical fitness than most people in town.
Uncle Jack doesn’t agree with the activities of the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council, but he has a much more diplomatic, measured response than Jean Louise does. Jean Louise reacts entirely through her emotions. When she sees Atticus and Henry at the meeting, her world appears to come crashing down around her. Jean Louise immediately feels deeply angry and frustrated at Atticus and Henry for what she perceives as deep betrayal. But Uncle Jack is far more practical and logical about the whole situation. To Uncle Jack’s eyes, Atticus and Henry aren’t racists, but pragmatists. Since they both have to get along with men in town, Atticus and Henry have to swallow their pride and show up at meetings and functions that they might not love for the sake of the community.
To Uncle Jack, Atticus’s attendance at the meeting reflects not racism but a desire to preserve the culture of the South in the face of meddlesome outsiders reaching in to change their practices. Atticus believes in the law, and he believes in states’ rights. Uncle Jack points out that just because Atticus went to the meeting, that doesn’t make him a racist or a hypocrite. Actually, attending the meeting makes him a person who wants to get along with and understand the leanings of the whole community. Uncle Jack’s explanation for Atticus’s behavior takes the rationalization of “Know thy enemy.” In other words, Atticus thinks that it’s better to understand how everyone around him thinks and feels and to try and compromise with their belief system, rather than lashing out all the time in violent protest. Even if Atticus doesn’t agree, it’s better to know what everybody else is thinking about and where they are than to be left in the dark.
Jean Louise isn’t convinced. To her, if Atticus really had the strong convictions that he’d taught her to have, he wouldn’t be caught dead at one of these racist gatherings. In Jean Louise’s perspective, Atticus’s presence at this meeting still represents the betrayal of everything he had taught her to believe. Although Jean Louise listens to Uncle Jack, she doesn’t mull his advice over and draw a conclusion from it. Instead, she mulishly stays in her own belief system, stubbornly insisting that Atticus has betrayed her, rather than thinking about any other reasons why Atticus might have acted in the way that he did.