Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The multiple flashbacks throughout Go Set a Watchman create a dual layer to the town of Maycomb. Jean Louise experiences the town as a twenty-six-year-old visitor, observing it from afar. However, she also remembers how the town looked and how she felt when she was growing up in the community. In each flashback, Jean Louise re-lives a moment from her childhood that helps her process the present day, either by providing a point of contrast or a parallel moment. For example, when Uncle Jack tries to reason with Jean Louise about Atticus’s attendance at the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council, he tries to plant a seed of an idea in her mind so that she can come to her own conclusion about the events, but the seed fails to take hold immediately. Jean Louise remembers another time of profound and uncomfortable change in her life, that is, her awkward transition from girlhood to adolescence. Specifically, she recalls an incident in which Atticus planted the seed of an idea in Henry’s mind, which showed Henry how to save Jean Louise from humiliation and shame.
Groups hold many beliefs and perceptions in Maycomb, and individuals must choose whether or not he or she will follow what the group believes. When Jean Louise sees Atticus and Henry attending the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council Meeting, she immediately plucks them out individually from the group and blames them for attending the meeting. She perceives attendance at the organization as tacit acceptance of the group’s beliefs. As the novel progresses, Jean Louise learns different ways of maintaining individuality within group settings, as well as the difference between one group and multiple subgroups within a larger organization. At the Coffee that Alexandra hosts for her, Jean Louise feels like an individual who does not fit into Maycomb society as a whole. She also feels like an individual on the outside of each of the subgroups within the Maycomb ladies, since she does not identify with any of the various roles that Maycomb women play. Jean Louise staunchly maintains her own identity instead of attempting to assimilate.
Instances of individuals standing out against a group may be comical or serious. In church, the congregation’s interpretation of the Doxology, which has persisted over generations, easily overrides the music director’s individual decision to direct the organist in a different melody. Individuals might have differences of opinion, and in that case, they have to choose whether to express contrary beliefs to a potentially antagonistic group or whether they will keep their opinions to themselves. Sometimes, individuals have opinions that are right when the group is wrong. Uncle Jack doesn’t agree with the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council’s views on white supremacy, so he chooses not to attend. But Atticus and Henry’s choice to attend these meeting does not mean that they each believe everything that the group professes.
Joining the group isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and a group can rally for the benefit of the individual. When Zeebo’s son kills the white pedestrian in a driving accident, a large community of black people congregates at Calpurnia’s house to help Calpurnia, Zeebo, and Zeebo’s son. Similarly, when Mr. Tuffett finds Jean Louise’s false bosoms and threatens to expel the culprit, the whole school comes to her aid, thanks to Henry’s help. The students may or may not know whom they’re helping, but they all rally together to help the individual against injustice.
More main ideas from Go Set a Watchman
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