Go Set a Watchman

by: Harper Lee

Part IV

Jean Louise remembers when Jem came back from the war and gave Calpurnia a jacket that Calpurnia loved. When Jem died, Calpurnia was as distraught as all the Finches, since she loved Jem as though he were her own child. Jean Louise asks Calpurnia if Calpurnia hates her and her family, and Calpurnia finally shakes her head no.

Jean Louise asks Zeebo to help her maneuver her car back into the road. She remembers how devastated Calpurnia had been when Jem had died.

ANALYSIS

Jean Louise’s flashback to sixth grade, when she had recently gotten her period and is just beginning to discover what sex is, has many symbolic layers. In the flashback, Jean Louise is terrified that she had gotten pregnant after French-kissing a boy, since one of the girls at school tells her that people get pregnant after French-kissing each other. The information haunts her, foreshadowing the power of unwanted knowledge to haunt people throughout the novel.

Jean Louise remembers what it’s like to grow up from being a girl into being a woman at the very point in the novel when she has just become disillusioned about Atticus’s morality and integrity. It’s no coincidence that Jean Louise remembers becoming a woman at the same time as she is losing her faith in her father. Although she became an adult physically long ago, now, she’s dealing with the same sort of earth-shaking, profoundly flip-flopping emotions that appear in puberty.

Another layer of symbolism around the flashback in which Jean Louise starts growing up from a child to a woman is that it represents one of the few times in Jean Louise’s childhood in which Atticus doesn’t have all the answers. When Jean Louise begins to menstruate, Atticus didn’t properly and thoroughly explain the facts of human sexuality, so Jean Louise must create her own theories secondhand from what she can glean from schoolyard knowledge. Jean Louise keeps the secret of her “pregnancy” to herself for months, not telling anyone else her fear that she will have a baby in the fall. Jean Louise’s understanding of how pregnancy actually works is limited at best.

When Jean Louise was growing up, any false information she acquired always came from outside the family, and she learned that she could rely on those that she trusted to guide her correctly. Jean Louise develops the wild idea that she is pregnant and that this will cause her family much shame and distress by her interactions with the other kids at school. But when she finally confesses her belief to Calpurnia, Calpurnia, like a mother, soothes her and sets her on the right path. Jean Louise learns to trust her family at all times, no matter what the outside world might lead her to believe.

Atticus is a wonderfully caring and supportive father, but the time when Jean Louise is growing up from a girl into a woman represents a parenting moment in which Atticus has to relinquish the reins. Atticus didn’t adequately prepare Jean Louise for what it would mean to become a woman, so Jean Louise had to figure it out on her own. And when Jean Louise makes an error in her thinking, Calpurnia, not Atticus, is the one who corrects her. Calpurnia serves as Jean Louis’s surrogate mother figure, which is part of what makes the idea that Atticus could be a racist so much more deeply and personally terrifying.

Henry eventually saves Jean Louise, climbing heroically up the water tower like a prince rescuing a princess trapped at the top of her turret. At the time, the young Jean Louise didn’t think much of the fact that Henry was her rescuer. However, the scene foreshadows Henry’s current role in Jean Louise’s life as the lover figure who will always be there for her, no matter what else happens. Now, just as then, Jean Louise is grateful for Henry’s presence. In the flashback, he quite literally brings her back to earth, whereas he fills this role more metaphorically in the present day.

When Jean Louise finds out that Atticus has agreed to defend Zeebo’s son, Calpurnia’s grandson, she’s relieved at first, since she thinks that it proves that Atticus is, in fact, just as moral and fair as she’s always thought that he was. But it turns out that Atticus is less interested in saving Calpurnia’s family and more interested in smoothing over potential disruption from the NAACP. If the NAACP gets involved, the case will become long, elaborate, and drawn-out. Atticus and Henry don’t want the NAACP meddling in the town’s affairs, since they want to solve local matters in the way they’ve always been solved. Atticus always puts equality, peace, and the law first. Jean Louise has always perceived these as good traits, but now, these traits have become frustrating and feel to Jean Louise like an obstruction of justice.

Jean Louise’s visit to Calpurnia shows Jean Louise exactly how strained race relations have become in Maycomb. In Jean Louise’s childhood, segregation dominated the town, but Jean Louise was able to ignore some of its uglier sides, partly because Calpurnia was always such an integral part of her family life. Even though Jean Louise knew that segregation and racism were problems, she was able to stay inside the safe world that her family had created. Now, however, Jean Louise feels deeply like she’s an outsider when she goes to visit Calpurnia. The people part to let her pass like she’s Moses coming through the Red Sea.

Calpurnia spurns Jean Louise, withdrawing herself from her affections. Calpurnia feels betrayed, just as Jean Louise does, by Atticus’s hypocrisy. Calpurnia extends her feelings of betrayal not just to Atticus but to all the Finches. Jean Louise feels rejected and devastated by Calpurnia’s spurning. Jean Louise begins to cry, begging Calpurnia to drop her company manners and treat Jean Louise as she always has, but Calpurnia remains cold.