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Jean Louise drives home in a blinding rage and begins packing to leave. Alexandra comes in, asks if she’s had a fight with Atticus, and tells her that no Finch runs. Jean Louise explodes at Alexandra, and Alexandra begins to cry, which immediately makes Jean Louise feel guilty instead of angry.
As Jean Louise puts her car in the back of Atticus’s car, a taxi pulls up and deposits Uncle Jack, who tells her to listen to him. Jean Louise yells at him, and Uncle Jack smacks her hard across the mouth. When her head swings to the left, he smacks her again. Jean Louise staggers, blood ringing in her ears. She admits that she can’t fight Atticus and Henry anymore, but she can’t join them either.
Uncle Jack asks Alexandra for “missionary vanilla,” which is his code word for whiskey, and with a little prodding, she produces some. Uncle Jack pours some and makes Jean Louise drink it. Uncle Jack gets himself a drink as well.
Jean Louise asks Uncle Jack if he knows about the fight she had had with Atticus, and he says that he heard every word of it. After Jean Louise reflects for a few moments, she says that everything has still happened, but now, it feels bearable. Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise that every man’s watchman is his conscience. (Sound familiar again?)
Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise that she had been using Atticus’s conscience as her own and that she worshipped him too much. When Atticus was doing something that didn’t match with her own morals, it made her physically ill, and she felt like one of them had to kill the other to function as separate beings. Atticus let her yell at him because she had to regard him as a human, not as a god.
Uncle Jack says that Jean Louise is a little bit of a bigot because she stubbornly keeps her own opinions. When she disagrees with people, her instinct is to run away, not to stay and argue. Uncle Jack reminds Jean Louise that the most important thing to Atticus is, and will always be, the law. Uncle Jack asks Jean Louise for a match, which astounds her, since he had once yelled at her for smoking.
Uncle Jack says that Jean Louise is color blind. He says that the white supremacists love to trumpet the fear of mixed marriages, but in reality, it is perfectly normal for people to be color blind yet marry people of their own race.
Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise that it’s time for her to pick up her father. He asks her if she’s thought about moving back to Maycomb, and he says that the town needs more people like her. There are more like-minded people in Maycomb than she might believe, Uncle Jack says. Uncle Jack says that she’ll have to let Henry down easy: after all, he says, it’s fine for people to love who they will, but you should marry your own kind.
When Jean Louise asks Uncle Jack why he’s being so patient with her, Uncle Jack confesses that he had been in love with her mother. Jean Louise feels deeply ashamed, but Uncle Jack reassures her that all is forgiven.
At Atticus’s office, Jean Louise makes a date with Henry for that evening. Atticus comes out to meet her. When Jean Louise begins to apologize, Atticus says that he’s proud of her. Jean Louise realizes that they need each other to balance each other out. Atticus gets in the front seat of the car, and for the first time since she’s been in Maycomb, Jean Louise takes care not to bump her head as she gets into the car to drive home.
Jean Louise’s reaction to her confrontation with Atticus is to run away from her family and Maycomb. She thinks that if she leaves Maycomb behind physically, she can also leave it behind emotionally. However, her intense rage as well as her guilt when Alexandra cries suggest strongly that Jean Louise still carries Maycomb and her family deeply within her heart. Jean Louise thinks that the only response to hypocrisy is to disavow it and leave it all behind. Alexandra, however, argues that Jean Louise shouldn’t run away from her problems, but instead must face them, since that is her family’s legacy.
Uncle Jack justifies hitting Jean Louise by claiming that he’s trying to slap some sense into her. And when Uncle Jack slaps Jean Louise, she is shaken both physically and emotionally. Both the slap itself and the fact that Uncle Jack was so powerfully moved that he hit her shock Jean Louise, and this outburst of emotion convinces her that she cannot leave Maycomb. Uncle Jack helps Jean Louise to forgive Atticus for being human, not a god. He also convinces her to forgive herself and not think that she’s been a fool all these years to worship Atticus. Jean Louise realizes that everyone has faults, and everyone makes decisions that might seem questionable, but we all have to live with these mistakes and choices, not run away from them.
Alexandra’s secrecy around alcohol is representative of many codes of Southern decorum that help to define life in Maycomb. Alcohol goes by many euphemisms, “missionary vanilla” being one of them, so that people don’t have to admit to having something unseemly in the house. Maintaining genteel manners and a decorous front are primary components of life in Maycomb. Keeping up appearances is not necessarily a bad quality, but Jean Louise cannot tolerate when putting on a good face becomes a way to conceal hypocrisy lurking just below the surface.
Go Set a Watchman is about growing up and knowing how to trust your own opinions instead of relying on what others’ tell you. And part of trusting yourself is knowing how to admit when you’ve made a mistake or are being mulish and pigheaded for no good reason. According to Uncle Jack’s somewhat convoluted but somewhat plausible reasoning, Atticus was testing Jean Louise to see if she had developed her own moral compass that ticked despite what others did in her surroundings. Jean Louise trusts Uncle Jack’s opinions and advice as much as she used to trust Atticus, and someday will probably trust Atticus again. As it turns out, Uncle Jack was also in love with Jean Louise’s mother, which, perhaps somewhat oddly, reinforces his role as a second father figure in Jean Louise’s life.
In the final scene, Jean Louise’s not bumping her head on the car door is symbolic in several ways. Ever since she arrived in Maycomb, she’s been bumping her head on the car door. Jean Louise feels like she doesn’t fit in anymore, even though she grew up in the town. And the more that she found out about her father and Henry’s involvement with the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council, and the more that Alexandra and the women at the Coffee talked so comfortably in such racist terms, Jean Louise felt increasingly out of place. Jean Louise feels conspicuous and out of place. However, by the end of the novel, Jean Louise begins to realize that even though she may not hold the same opinions as many people in Maycomb, this community is still her home.
Not bumping her head on the car door also symbolizes Jean Louise’s desire to try and integrate herself into the community instead of fighting it tooth and nail. Jean Louise sees herself as someone who doesn’t fit in. She wears slacks instead of a dress and gloves. At the Coffee, she drifts around the various social cliques, feeling as though she’s not part of any one of them. But trying to get into the car carefully shows a new awareness of Jean Louise’s part of her surroundings. Instead of getting her environment to adapt to her, Jean Louise shows that she is at least willing to try to meet those around her halfway.
Ultimately, in Go Set a Watchman, Jean Louise learns that sometimes you need to become disillusioned and see your childhood world crumble in order to grow up and embrace adulthood. Jean Louise also learns that running away from home isn’t a permanent solution. Although she needed to leave Maycomb in order to find her own voice and discover her independent self, she now has to return to Maycomb to give that voice the platform and purpose it has earned for itself. Jean Louise discovers that sometimes, the most courageous act of all is to accept and embrace people despite their flaws. She also realizes that she can’t rely on anyone else to be her conscience and guide her through life. Jean Louise must be her own watchman and can only rely on herself to navigate through the world, but she also has to be strong enough to stand firm in her values and help other people by being their watchman as well.