Summary of Part II (Chapters 4-5)
Maycomb was founded by an inn-owner whose tavern sat on two cross-roads. It was a town full of professionals, which kept it going. Because of its small size and isolation, a lot of Maycomb is intermarried. One community of Maycomb, Old Sarum, is populated by two intermarried families: Cunningham and Coningham.
World War II changed Maycomb’s consistency and even appearance, as the young men returning from the war attempted to modernize it in some aspects. On their dinner date, Jean Louise and Hank talk about how Maycomb has changed, yet again, since she was last here. She begins to sound terribly cynical. They talk with a waiter at their restaurant, a black man named Albert whom Jean Louise knows somehow from the past.
On the way back, Jean Louise bumps her head getting into the car. She and Henry drink some alcohol and then drive along the highway. They bring up memories of a boy named Dill, Jean Louise’s childhood summer playmate. This brings up an actual prolonged flashback of the time Jean Louise, Jem, and Dill played a jungle adventure game, and then proceeded to have a mock revival service, in the style of the services going on in the local church. In the baptism part of their revival service game, the young Jean Louise takes off her clothes to go into the pond by which they are playing, only to have the visiting Reverend and his wife stop by the house for dinner and see her stark naked. At dinner that night, the Reverend prays for the children’s afternoon sins, and Atticus must excuse himself to the porch to laugh at the ridiculousness of the Reverend’s prayer.
Back in the present, Jean Louise and Henry reach Finch’s Landing, a set of stairs down a cliff side, set next to the Old Finch House, the family’s original property. The Old Finch house is now a hunting club. Jean Louise has memories of playing on the “Leap-Year Steps,” and Henry tells her that her family has actually just sold the old Finch property. Jean Louise is mildly annoyed that she was never told about the sale; she is not upset, only wishing that she had been kept in the loop.
Jean Louise and Henry go down the steps and sit at the jetty at the bottom. They debate back and forth about marriage, and Henry tells her he is thinking of running for office. Jean Louise says that she does not care for politics. They talk about how Atticus said that the time for Henry’s running is “ripe,” but also how it will not be as easy for Henry as it was for Atticus, since the politics of the times have changed. The government in Maycomb, as important as it was and is to its infrastructure, is largely stagnant.
The couple teases each other about going into the river, and finally do, plunging in with all their clothes on. They swim to the middle of the river quickly, in silence, and then swam slowly back to the landing. They joke about how marriage would cause them to be like the Merriweathers, who used to have comic conflicts.
On the way back, Jean Louise and Henry see a carload of young blacks driving too fast on the highway. At first, Jean Louise does not even know what it is, until Henry tells her what it is. They comment on how dangerous that is both for the blacks and for the white community. The young blacks buy used cars, but have no insurance and very few actual licenses.
Analysis of Part II (Chapters 4-5)
Part II gives the history of Maycomb and its founding, and provides a deeper cultural understanding of the place for readers. It also uses Finch’s Landing to discuss the history and intricacies of the Finch family lineage. Upon its founding and early existence, Maycomb’s “primary reason for existence was government” (44), something that still haunts it.
The idea of government extends beyond actual political governance to the idea of laws - who makes them, who enforces them, and what laws apply when, where, and how. The two most important men in Jean Louise’s life, Henry and Atticus, are involved in law, and although she hates politics, she will not be able not to get tangled in it upon her arrival to Maycomb. Everything in this part establishes how Jean Louise’s life is now relative to Maycomb, and how this is particularly difficult for her because of how much she has gotten used to New York. When Henry says, “You’re being very wise this evening. Where’d you pick up all this?” (48), Jean Louise responds, ironically, “Living in sin in New York,” (48). This is ironic because of how she will later condemn Maycomb’s residents for “living in sin” for their racism.
Jean Louise’s bumping her head into the car is a significant motif because it acts as a symbol. Jean Louise frequently talks about how small the cars have become, and how complicated the trains have become (she accidentally pinned herself to the wall in a sleeping cot on the way back). This refusal to change with the times and to adapt is representative of her bigotry, something that comes to light later in the story. Again, the recognition of Maycomb as specific comes up when she and Hank drink quickly: “In Maycomb, one drank or did not drink” (51). As they down the hard liquor, Henry asks, “Haven’t you learned to hold it yet?” to which Jean Louise responds, “Not the hard kind” (52), which is metaphoric of more than just the liquor. Jean Louise has not yet learned to hold the tough, hard, bitter parts of life that come along with the warmth the liquor, and life, provides.
Jean Louise’s memories of playing with Dill, her first childhood flashback, were part of the beginning for the final draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s editor enjoyed the flashback scenes and encouraged her to write from the perspective of the child Scout. The children’s play of the revival service showcases some of the ridiculous parts of southern religious culture, and also reminds readers of what a non-ridiculous, level-headed person Atticus is when he has to excuse himself to finish laughing.
When talking on Finch’s Landing, Jean Louise notes that Dill was the last person to find out about Jem’s death, and Henry says, “Always happens that way. You forget the oldest ones” (71), which is another metaphoric expression concerning larger, current events. It can be taken to mean the way that those Jean Louise loves, particularly Atticus, seem to have forgotten their old ways of tolerance. It is particularly true because Atticus seems to have forgotten about Calpurnia, the black cook and maid who practically raised Jem and Scout, and all Cal had done for them.
On the way back home, Jean Louise and Henry tease each other about getting married; they remember Mr. and Mrs. Merriweather and how the wife would sometimes leave her husband to hitchhike on the highway if he made her angry in the car. These brief reflections of Jean Louise’s dominant personality and the troubles that it can cause in marriage/relationships come up often.