Jean Louise and her Aunt Alexandra have vastly different worldviews, and this has often led to quarrels between them. Alexandra had been married to Uncle Jimmy for thirty-three years and had a son named Francis, but she was close with neither of them—Uncle Jimmy lived alone by a river and Francis now sold insurance in Birmingham.
Jean Louise considers Aunt Alexandra to be nothing like Atticus, even though they are siblings. Jean Louise loves her aunt because she is family, but knows that Alexandra has a very bigoted and unrealistic worldview. Jean Louise can’t comprehend that Atticus might share some of her views.
Aunt Alexandra is “the last of her kind,” a true Southern lady who is very proper and proud. She doesn’t realize just how deeply she can affect Jean Louise with her guilt trips and disapproving comments. Their last real fight was after Jem’s funeral. Alexandra told Jean Louise that it was now her duty to stay home and take care of Atticus. Jean Louise insisted that if Atticus wanted her to come home he would have told her, and that she would be “doing her duty” to him better by living her own life independent of him. Alexandra, like the rest of Maycomb, couldn’t even comprehend this: to them, a daughter’s duty was to take care of her father.
Jean Louise and Atticus share a bond of honesty where Jean Louise would expect Atticus to ask her for help if that was what he wanted. Aunt Alexandra is still trying to mold Jean Louise into a proper Southern lady, and doesn’t see that the real Jean Louise would never fit that mold. In fact, Jean Louise sees Atticus as having molded her, and as having molded her to be independent and honest. In this belief is visible the seeds of Jean Louise’s veneration for her father.
Aunt Alexandra had already planned out how Jean Louise could spend her time in Maycomb. Jean Louise argued with her until Alexandra declared that Jem had “worried about [her] thoughtlessness until the day he died.” Jean Louise knew this was untrue, but it still hurt her and she felt selfish and guilty for going back to New York.
Jean Louise’s closeness with Jem isn’t shown here the way it is in Mockingbird, but it’s clear that this was another relationship Alexandra didn’t understand. Yet Jean Louise’s strong connection to her family means that everything Alexandra says affects her more than she’d like.
That was two years earlier, and now Alexandra had done “the one generous act” of her life by going to live with Atticus and help take care of him. Calpurnia, the family’s old black housekeeper, had gotten too old to do much work anymore, and so she retired when Alexandra came.
Calpurnia, another major figure from Mockingbird and Jean Louise’s childhood, is also conspicuously absent from the Finch household now. Aunt Alexandra is often an unsympathetic character, but she shows her genuine love and sense of duty with this act of caring for her brother.
Jean Louise helps Alexandra do dishes and looks around, admiring Atticus’s new house and thinking that he is “an incredible man.” He had torn down their old house and built a new one in a different part of town. There is now an ice cream shop in the place of Jean Louise’s old childhood home.
In addition to Jem’s death and Calpurnia’s retirement, even the old Finch house has been torn down and rebuilt in a different part of town. The ice cream shop that replaced it will come to symbolize the change and disillusionment Jean Louise experiences during this homecoming, the way she experiences the town as having dramatically changed while she was away (though there is always a sense in the novel that this change may also be a product of Jean Louise having grown up and being able to perceive what was always around her).
Aunt Alexandra tells Jean Louise that she is giving a “Coffee” for her on Monday. This involves inviting over the young women of Maycomb to examine and socialize with a peer (Jean Louise) who has returned home. Jean Louise is horrified by the idea of the event, but she is still grateful to Alexandra for taking care of Atticus, so she doesn’t complain too much. Jean Louise asks about Hank, and Alexandra boasts that he was made “Man of the Year” by the Kiwanis club, and is doing well with Atticus’s legal work.
Jean Louise dislikes the idea of the Coffee because she can already tell that she won’t fit in with her peers who have stayed in Maycomb. Jean Louise has worked for her independence by moving away and holding progressive views that go against the norm of her hometown. Likewise Hank has worked to rise above his poor background.
Jean Louise suggests that she might want to marry Hank, but now Aunt Alexandra strongly disapproves. Alexandra likes Hank, but doesn’t think he has the proper background to marry a Finch. She points to his father who deserted him and the “drinking streak” in the family. Jean Louise makes a joke of Alexandra’s warnings, but Alexandra is worried that she is about to “make the worst mistake of her life.”
Most of the bigotry in Watchman centers around racism, but sexism and classism are present as well, particularly classism here as Aunt Alexandra claims that bloodlines affect one’s quality, and that Hank despite all his success will never be good enough to marry someone from an “old family” like Jean Louise.
Aunt Alexandra declares that Hank will never be suitable to marry Jean Louise, because “fine a boy as he is, the trash won’t wash out of him.” She points to his bad manners, and then gets worked up imagining him taking advantage of Atticus’s charity. Jean Louise finally can’t take it anymore and she tells Alexandra to “go pee in her hat.”
Aunt Alexandra exhibits another kind of bigotry (other than racism) tied into the identity of the old South—the idea that family names determine a person’s value, and that no matter how hard Hank works, he will always be white trash.
Jean Louise gets ready for her date with Hank, and talks to Atticus, who is reading in the living room. He chides her for being crude to Aunt Alexandra but doesn’t push the subject when she says it was about Hank. Hank arrives and Jean Louise puts her arms around him, and he is pleasantly surprised. The couple leaves, and Jean Louise thinks about how close she is to marrying “trash” now.
Jean Louise has no tolerance for this kind of bigotry, and we see just how outspoken she can by when she insults her aunt. She is feeling especially affectionate towards Hank now, though this affection seems to be a product of Jean Louise rebelling against her aunt). Still, Lee is building up the sense of an idyllic homecoming for Jean Louise before her experience of disillusionment.