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Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions

1.

Analyze the scene in which Uncle Jack slaps Jean Louise. How does this scene change the tone of the novel?

The second half of the novel is primarily dominated by Jean Louise’s agonized reaction to Atticus’s hypocrisy. She cannot stand to be around him, since she thinks that he has betrayed all the values he instilled into her throughout her childhood. Jean Louise’s hysteria escalates and her anger builds and builds, but when Uncle Jack slaps her, Jean Louise’s entire demeanor changes instantaneously. Uncle Jack’s slap is totally out of character with the way he has behaved throughout the rest of the novel. Until this point, Uncle Jack seemed like an intelligent, highly rational, gentle, level-headed person. He likes carrying on conversation and staying in the background. But with this slap, Uncle Jack asserts his presence and becomes a commanding figure. Jean Louise submits to his suggests, and even domineering Alexandra is cowed by his orders. The slap also underlines the power dynamic between Uncle Jack and Jean Louise, and it emphasizes that traditional gender roles still hold sway. Uncle Jack is highly educated and very sensitive, so his sudden use of physical force is very much a reversal from his expected actions. The slap reminds Jean Louise both of Uncle Jack’s power and that no one is exactly who she thinks he or she is.

The slap has the effect of a thunderclap that breaks tension in the air so that the storm can come rushing out. Uncle Jack lets forth an impassioned speech to explain to Jean Louise why she must not blame Atticus and why she must be her own moral conscience. Jean Louise is stunned into submission. She finally slows down and listens to what Uncle Jack says, and instead of rebelling against him, she realizes that he has a point. Jean Louise’s anger is immediately gone after the slap, and in its place come humility and compassion.

2.

Discuss the significance of Jean Louise’s visit to Calpurnia. Why does Calpurnia react the way she does towards Jean Louise?

Jean Louise wants to visit Calpurnia to try and prove to herself that things are the same as they have always been between herself and Calpurnia. Zeebo’s son is in trouble, and Jean Louise’s instinct is to see what she can do to help. But Jean Louise’s visit to Calpurnia’s house illustrates just how tense and awkward race relations have become in Maycomb. In the best of times, the town has always been deeply segregated, but when Jean Louise was a child, some white and black families seemed to at least have mutual respect for each other. But that is no longer the case at all. Jean Louise is extremely conspicuous when she visits Calpurnia’s house, and everybody there appears to be deeply distrustful of her.

Calpurnia helped raise Jean Louise, and she served as a surrogate mother figure for Jean Louise and Jem. When Jem died, Calpurnia was as devastated as she would be upon the death of one of her own family members. Calpurnia’s role in Jean Louise’s life became especially important as Jean Louise moved into adolescence and no longer could go through life pretending to be one of the boys. But Calpurnia is stiff and cold to Jean Louise, treating her with company manners instead of as her warm, friendly self. Even Calpurnia, who was practically a member of the Finch family, feels the extreme rift between white and black people in Maycomb, and she does not dare cross this divide. Calpurnia does not respond emotionally to Jean Louise because she no longer works for the Finches and therefore does not want to take any chances of seeming to overstep her boundaries. Even though their relationship went far beyond employer / employee, now that that official contract is over, Calpurnia is constrained by societal rules from being too friendly towards Jean Louise.

3.

Discuss the presence of religion in the novel. How does religion have both a lighthearted and a serious role?

The phrase “Go Set a Watchman” comes from the Bible, which casts the novel immediately in a Christian context. Religion is one of Maycomb’s chief social activities, and churches serve as terrific gathering places. As children, Jem, Dill, and Jean Louise re-enact a church revival in a parodic version by a fishpool, which highlights how ridiculous some of the revival meetings can be. Church is also one place that deeply highlights the intense traditionality of Maycomb’s residents. When the music director attempts to change the melody of a particular hymn, the congregation instead barrels past him, singing it the way they’ve always sung it. Maycomb remains firm in its rituals. Religion and church also present a place where the residents of Maycomb can think in a group rather than making their own decisions for themselves.

But religious beliefs, including beliefs that are so deep as to be religious in nature, play a serious role in the novel. Christianity also presents itself as a possible way to reach the belief that all people are created equal. Even though Jean Louise doesn’t seem to be especially zealous about the church, she believes in her father’s integrity as thoroughly as the most fervent Bible-thumper believes in the Resurrection. Jean Louise trust in her father the way a devout person trusts in God. She lives her life by the precept “What would Atticus do?”, a riff on “What would Jesus do?” When she perceives Atticus as hypocritical, Jean Louise’s panic is the equivalent of a genuine crisis of faith.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Analyze the character of Jean Louise as a child versus Jean Louise in the present day. How does she seem to stay the same? How does she change?

2. Discuss the role of Finch’s Landing in the novel.

3. Analyze the relationship between Jean Louise and Henry, both in the past and in the present day. What role does the presence or absence of Jem play in their relationship?

4. Discuss changes in the geography of Maycomb, concentrating on Jean Louise’s childhood home.

5. What role does Alexandra play in Jean Louise’s life? Analyze how the relationship between Alexandra and Jean Louise evolves.

6. Is Atticus Finch a racist, or does he have some racist tendencies? Why or why not?

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