The narrator describes the history of the town of Maycomb. It began with a man named Sinkfield, who started a tavern and convinced the governor’s land surveyors to arrange the new town they were planning to his liking. The town is small and out of the way, but it has a high percentage of professional people living there, which saves it from “becoming another grubby little Alabama community.”
Lee re-used this description word for word in Mockingbird, showing how the most consistent carryovers between the two books are its setting and the backstories of its characters. The description establishes Maycomb as unique among Alabama towns, with unique qualities that stop it from being “grubby,” though one might argue that this description mirrors Jean Louise’s perception of the town at this point.
There are few newcomers to Maycomb, so families intermarry many times over. The two families living in an area called Old Sarum are the Cunninghams and the Coninghams, and they often argue over which is which when it comes to a land dispute. Maycomb didn’t have a paved street until an F. D. Roosevelt program provided a small one in the grammar school, which only led to confusion for the playing children.
The humorous anecdote about the paved road also shows the wide divide between the world of the North and the federal government and the way the small, self-sufficient community of Maycomb perceives the federal government as incompetent. This divide leads to more sinister clashes between Maycomb and the outside world when it comes to the federally mandated issues of segregation and integration.
After WWII, some of Maycomb’s young men returned and changed the look of the town with new buildings and ideas about making lots of money fast. Many of the older people dislike the change, and Jean Louise also can’t help disapproving of her hometown becoming different. During their date, she and Hank eat dinner and talk about their old childhood games. Hank is frustrated by Jean Louise’s seeming mood swings regarding her feelings for him. Jean Louise teases him by explaining the best way for him to “catch a woman.”
Here the description of Maycomb now differs from that of Mockingbird, as the world Jean Louise grew up with has changed in the last twenty years (and To Kill a Mockingbird took place before World War II). She is progressive in her social politics, but still conservative when it comes to resisting change. Hank exhibits the sexism that is ingrained in Maycomb’s society, as women are supposed to be proper ladies whose role in life is getting a man.
Jean Louise apologizes for being coy, but says she is wary of marrying the wrong man after watching so many unhappy young married couples in New York. Albert, the black waiter, greets Jean Louise and calls her “Scout,” her old nickname. Jean Louise wonders how many people in Maycomb remember her as Scout, the troublesome tomboy. Hank comments on Jean Louise’s habit of only drinking half of her second coffee after dinner, and she is surprised that he noticed this personal eccentricity.
Jean Louise wants to love Hank and fulfill her seemingly inevitable role of marrying him and letting him take care of her, but she still has too much “restlessness” in her. Lee doesn’t present the North as any superior to the South, even while she criticizes the racism in the South—New York is still a place of high divorce rates and unhappiness. Hank’s observation of Jean Louise’s personal eccentricity following after Albert’s use of Jean Louise’s childhood nickname suggests both her connection to Hank in particular and her broader connection to the town. This is her home; these are people she’s known her whole life.