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Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

She was almost in love with him. No, that’s impossible, she thought: either you are or you aren’t. Love’s the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There are different kinds of love, certainly, but it’s a you-do or you-don’t proposition with them all.

This quotation comes from the first chapter, when the reader first learns about Jean Louise’s relationship with Henry Clinton. Jean Louise and Henry have an on-again-off-again thing going on. Whenever Jean Louise comes home to visit Maycomb, she and Henry date each other seriously for those few weeks, but when Jean Louise is in New York, they don’t appear to stay in touch very regularly. Jean Louise feels comfortable in a state of transition and flux with Henry. When she hasn’t pinned down her emotions precisely, she can live in both states at once, and she doesn’t have to make an irrevocable decision that will sway her life decisively in one direction or the other. Jean Louise’s self-imposed ideas about love don’t really come from any experience, or from any real guidance. Even though Jean Louise spends much of the novel in spaces of transition, she still maintains the perception that love must be a black-and-white (no pun intended) binary.

Jean Louise’s relationship with Henry mirrors her ambivalence towards Maycomb. Whenever Jean Louise returns back home to Maycomb, she remembers why she feels so at home in this place. Even though she might not agree with everything politically and philosophically, Jean Louise’s whole family is rooted in Maycomb and the surrounding area, and she feels ties to the community that extend farther and deeper than her own lifetime. But Jean Louise also feels like an outsider in Maycomb. Her views don’t fit into what the community primarily believes, and she doesn’t fill any conventional role. And even though she argues against the conventional wisdom about love, she recognizes that ultimately, she can only maintain a halfway relationship with both Henry and Maycomb for a finite length of time. Either she will have to commit to marry Henry and settle in Maycomb, or she will have to reject Henry. Rejecting Henry doesn’t necessarily mean that she can’t live in Maycomb, but since the two are very intertwined, it’s sometimes difficult for her to perceive a future in Maycomb in which she is not married to Henry.

The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.

This quotation comes at the end of Chapter 8, after Jean Louise has seen Atticus and Henry in the meeting of the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council. In this scene, Jean Louise sneaks up to the Colored balcony of the courthouse to watch the meeting. This balcony is exactly where Jean Louise sat as a child to watch Atticus litigate to defend the one-armed black man accused of rape. In that scenario, Atticus publicly and shamelessly filled Jean Louise with pride. Now, just a few years later, Jean Louise feels as though Atticus’s actions completely undermine everything that he had taught her.

This quotation also demonstrates Jean Louise’s propensity for heightening the drama and implication of events in her life. The three adverbs—“publicly, grossly, and shamelessly”––that modify her emotion emphasize her abundant, irrational, emotional response. Jean Louise lets her flood of feelings wash over her and consume her entirely. She is not able to take things in stride, or to speculate about any of the rationale behind Atticus’s presence at the organization. Instead, she assumes the worst and plunges into the depths of despair.

Even though Jean Louise sees both Atticus and Henry at the meeting, Henry’s presence doesn’t evoke the same intense, sickened reaction that she has regarding Atticus. Although Atticus and Henry have essentially committed the same action, Jean Louise’s core-shaking anger is only focused towards her father. The fact that Jean Louise focuses solely on Atticus and doesn’t even think of Henry suggests that she is not in love with him, or that he is not as profoundly embedded in her own identity as Atticus is. Jean Louise has internalized Atticus’s influence on her and has turned him into a paragon of morality, so when Atticus the human proves to be imperfect, Jean Louise’s internal conception of Atticus also crumbles, since she has not learned to separate them consciously.

What stood behind her, the most potent moral force in her life, was the love of her father. She never questioned it, never thought about it, never even realized that before she made any decision of importance the reflex, “What would Atticus do?” passed through her unconscious… she did not know that she worshiped him.

This quotation occurs in Chapter 9, after Jean Louise has seen Atticus and Henry in the white supremacist meeting. Jean Louise reflects on her perception of Atticus and how that has impacted the way she leads her life. For many people in Maycomb, religion is a reflex, as they believe in God unquestioningly and subconsciously. For Jean Louise, Atticus fills the role that God fills in others’ belief systems. The phrase “What would Atticus do?” gently riffs on the common Christian dictum “What would Jesus do?” This phrase was popularized in 1896 by Charles Sheldon in his popular book In His Steps, subtitled “What Would Jesus Do?” Sheldon’s book promotes the Protestant idea that good works and following in the example of Christ are critical components to living a full, successful, devout life. Jean Louise’s substitution of Atticus for Jesus highlights the centrality of Atticus in Jean Louise’s moral and spiritual life.

The idea of Atticus forms an almost spiritual bedrock underpinning how Jean Louise perceives the world. Jean Louise has always prided herself on her independence and her ability to make individual decisions, but in reality, she has always made her decisions by checking in with a higher power. The internal Atticus in Jean Louise’s imagination is not the same as the real Atticus. Rather, Jean Louise has internalized what Atticus taught her growing up, and now, she uses the imagined voice and judgment of Atticus to help her make moral and ethical decisions. But Jean Louise has conflated her own internal Atticus with the real-life Atticus. She doesn’t realize that when she’s asking herself, “What would Atticus do?” she’s really checking in with her own moral compass. Atticus didn’t teach Jean Louise how to imitate him exactly. Instead, he taught her how to make her own decisions and be honest with herself.

Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.

This quotation is from chapter 18, near the end of the novel, when Uncle Jack is explaining to Jean Louise why she must not run away from Maycomb and why she must instead stand up for what she believes to be ethically important. The “watchman” comes from Isaiah 21:6, which reads, “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” This text from Isaiah formed the center of sermon that Jean Louise attends with her family earlier in the novel. The idea of the “watchman” is that of a person who can maintain strong moral guidance even among a sea of intolerance. The watchman serves as a beacon of truth and strength in the midst of rumors and hypocrisies. Jean Louise had always perceived Atticus as her watchman, and when he acts in a way that she thinks a watchman should not act, she feels aimless. But Uncle Jack reminds Jean Louise that relying on anyone to be one’s personal watchman will never provide a lasting way to approach the world.

The phrase “every man’s island” recalls the seventeenth century poet John Donne, who famously wrote, “No man is an island.” Donne emphasizes the connection between all human beings and criticizes the false perception than any one person can exist solely by himself or herself. People need connections and the help of others to live. Uncle Jack adapts Donne’s sentiment for his own purposes. According to Uncle Jack, humans need each other to live, but no one human can provide another’s internal moral compass. People need help, but others can only guide individuals to a certain extent. Although people can help each other, each person must have his or her own conscience, since relying on others to make ethical decisions will never ultimately be sufficient.

That’s the one thing about here, the South, you’ve missed. You’d be amazed if you knew how many people are on your side, if side’s the right word. You’re no special case. The woods are full of people like you, but we need some more of you.

This quotation is from Chapter 18, when Uncle Jack is lecturing Jean Louise for lashing out against Atticus. Uncle Jack explains to Jean Louise that she might try giving people in Maycomb more credit. Jean Louise feels like everyone in the South is racist, unable to look past his or her prejudices. Jean Louise has a tendency to dramatize the world into all-or-nothing scenarios, and she has trouble seeing shades of gray, so when somebody says or does something that hints at racist tendencies, she immediately labels that person as a bigot. But Uncle Jack reminds Jean Louise that even though she feels like she’s completely on her own against the group, she’s not actually alone in her beliefs. After all, Jean Louise’s beliefs didn’t arise out of nowhere. If she let herself listen to others, Uncle Jack suggests, she might be surprised to learn how many people have similar opinions.

Uncle Jack’s reference to “the woods” has many layers of symbolism. Uncle Jack literally refers, on one level, to the actual woods. Maycomb County is a rural area, and many country people who live in the woods seem as though they hold backward, old-fashioned views about the world. However, Uncle Jack points out that one of the reasons that many people might be afraid to share their true opinions is that they lack the language to do so or a spokesperson to lead the way. Jean Louise, he suggests, can serve as the town’s watchman to help them see what they already know to be right. The woods also frequently appear in Shakespeare as places of danger, magic, or both. The idea that the woods might be full of people like Jean Louise represents a romantic notion of the South as a land full of potential wonder. The woods suggest both an idyllic past and an unknown future.

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