Go Set a Watchman

by: Harper Lee

Part II

The deep traditions and time-honored Southern ways of life, which Maycomb County had clung to even long after Civil War, are finally crumbling. The fact that Finch’s Landing no longer belongs to the Finches represents the family’s own quiet fading. The Finches are no longer a robust Southern dynasty, and their time-honored family reunions are a thing of the past. The sale of Finch’s Landing to the hunting club represents a broader trend in the South during the nineteen-fifties. The family homesteads and old traditions are being thoroughly eradicated and replaced with new businesses and modernization.

Just because Jean Louise’s family doesn’t own Finch’s Landing anymore doesn’t mean that she doesn’t own it in her heart, however. She’ll always have the memories of what this place meant to her while she was growing up. Jean Louise sees Maycomb with a sort of double vision. On the one hand, she recognizes the changes that have happened in the present day. On the other hand, she also sees the town in the same way that she saw it as a child. Finch’s Landing might be technically a hunting club now, but to Jean Louise, it will always symbolize not only her family’s past, but a bygone, genteel way of life.

When Jean Louise has a flashback to her childhood, she’s the age of the protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird. In that later book, which is a re-working of Go Set a Watchman, the entire novel takes place when Jean Louise is a child, and Henry doesn’t exist in the novel as a character. The introduction of Henry into Jean Louise’s life signals her entrance into womanhood. Go Set a Watchman is about a young woman looking back with nostalgia to her past, so every flashback seems wistful. To Kill a Mockingbird is about a child who doesn’t yet know that she should be nostalgic for her past, which makes every scene extremely poignant. To Kill a Mockingbird does take the perspective of a grown-up Jean Louise reminiscing about her youth, but the details of her adult life are never shown, and the primary narrative is of childhood, not adulthood.

In the flashback, Jean Louise, Jem, and Dill take the real events and turn them into a game. As children, they can still remain in their own world and have their own interpretation of life. They are safe from the ugly truths of the real world because they live in their imaginations. And when they do enter reality, they can trust that Atticus will keep them safe.

Throughout Jean Louise’s childhood, Calpurnia had always been a loyal and essential member of the family. Calpurnia both scolds and mothers Jean Louise. It doesn’t matter to Jean Louise whether Calpurnia is black or white, because Jean Louise fears and respects her for her strict and imposing yet compassionate and fiercely proud attitude

The re-enacted church revival scene that Jean Louise remembers foreshadows many of Jean Louise’s present-day character traits. She is still stubborn, rebellious, and wants to keep up with everyone. The way that Jem, Dill, and Jean Louise play games illustrates their childhood dynamic. Jem is the leader, Dill is the creative one who always wants to twist and re-interpret the game, and Jean Louise insists that she can keep up just as well as the rest of them. The childhood dynamic between Jem, Dill, and Jean Louise is different than the adolescent relationship that develops between Jem, Henry, and Jean Louise. Jem and Henry are friends independently of Jean Louise, but Henry and Jean Louise begin to show glimmers of a relationship that goes beyond friendship and doesn’t involve Jem. Jem, for his part, has his own romantic relationships with other girls. The triangle of friendship had equal sides as children, but in adolescence, the nature of the relationships shift.

The fake revival scene reflects many of the ways in which Maycomb still operates. All the members of Maycomb’s various churches go to revival meetings, no matter which church is the host church, which demonstrates Maycomb citizens’ penchant for group decisions and their tendency to think and act as a hive. People in town like to gather in big, like-minded groups, almost regardless of what the group is actually doing.

Young Jean Louise’s dunk in the fishpool also foreshadows her impulsive decision to pull Henry into the river with her at Finch’s Landing. Jean Louise wants to reclaim her past, where she felt safe and felt like she belonged seamlessly. Jean Louise can make the physical leap into the river with Henry, but mentally and emotionally, she’s still deeply conflicted over whether she should leap into their relationship and bond with him for the rest of her life.

The carload of black people that drives past Jean Louise and Henry at high speed is another symbol of the changes happening in the South. Henry, like many white Southerners, is afraid that black people are becoming much too powerful much too quickly in the South, and that their influence will flood society and completely wipe away life as everyone knows it. black people are seen as dangerous, uncontrollable menaces. Jean Louise sees no reason why they should be treated any differently than one would treat white people, but she is definitely in the minority among the society in which she grew up.

The car of black people driving incredibly fast also foreshadows events that happen later in the novel. Zeebo’s son is driving a car and kills a white pedestrian, and Atticus agrees to take his case, mostly to keep the NAACP out of Maycomb. Race relations are careening out of control in the town.

Throughout Go Set a Watchman, cars often symbolize transition and moments of not fitting in. Jean Louise frequently bumps her head as she enters cars in Maycomb, suggesting both her inability to fit in and her resistance to getting swept along with the current of public opinion. The car also symbolizes Maycomb’s own transition to modernity. The town is getting bigger and more modern, with more paved streets, so the outside world can enter Maycomb more easily. Maycomb is twenty miles from the train station and twenty miles from the river, so even though it’s the country seat, the town has historically enjoyed isolation. However, with more and more cars, more people of all races and beliefs are entering town and threatening to disrupt the town’s accustomed rhythms.