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.