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Themes

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Pervasiveness of Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy and perceived bigotry form the central emotional crux of Go Set a Watchman. The main hypocrisy that is at the center of the novel is the one that Jean Louise perceives from Atticus. Jean Louise enters the novel with the firm belief that Atticus can do no wrong, ethically and morally speaking. He taught her to treat all people equally and with great respect. However, when Atticus attends the meeting of Maycomb’s white supremacists without actively protesting, Jean Louise feels as though the bottom has dropped out from underneath her.

When Jean Louise perceives Atticus’s hypocrisy, she begins to believe that there is no one in the world whom she can trust. Alexandra also seems like a hypocrite to Jean Louise because she is willing to accept Maycomb’s racism and does not chastise Atticus for attending the white supremacist meeting. Henry is a hypocrite because he attends the meeting for his own political gain, wiling to accept others’ bigotry just so that he doesn’t get singled out and lambasted for seeming antagonistic. The ladies at the Coffee just seem like uninformed bigots to Jean Louis: instead of thinking for themselves and acting on their own accord, they are perfectly willing to accept the rumors that their husbands and their friend promote.

The Depth of Family Ties

Even though Jean Louise resists life in Maycomb and feels betrayed by Atticus, she is continuously pulled back to her childhood home because of her love for her family. Jean Louise fights with Atticus and accuses him of deceiving her throughout her entire childhood. In Jean Louise’s perception, Atticus taught her by his own example that she should always be on the side of justice and should promote equality without ever tolerating intolerance. When she sees Atticus acting in direct opposition to these precepts, her impulse is to flee. But Uncle Jack convinces Jean Louise that she herself would be a hypocrite if she turned her back on things she disagrees with instead of facing them and arguing for her own beliefs. If Jean Louise left Atticus and the rest of Maycomb, she would be the bigot. But if she stays and explains her beliefs, she will be following Atticus’s true teachings. Instead of setting himself up as her primary moral example, Atticus teaches Jean Louise how to become her own conscience and her own guide.

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