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.