When the Coffee is finally over, Jean Louise goes to visit Uncle Jack. His house is disorderly and full of books. Uncle Jack examines Jean Louise for sickness and then feeds his cat its meal at the table. Jack gives Jean Louise some salad and asks her what’s the matter. She says she can’t figure out what has happened to Atticus and Hank and Aunt Alexandra. Jack laughs at her, which makes Jean Louise angry.
The eccentric figure of Uncle Jack now comes into play as a more major character. In Watchman he acts as more of a father figure to Jean Louise than Atticus does, though most of Jack’s speeches are unnecessarily convoluted and patronizing to Jean Louise.
Uncle Jack examines Jean Louise like she’s a medical anomaly, and says she’s making a bad mistake if she thinks Atticus is a “nigger-hater.” He says that Atticus and those Southern men like him are fighting to preserve a certain philosophy. Jean Louise says “good riddance” to this, and then Uncle Jack starts going off on tangents, confusing and frustrating his niece. He discusses how everyone in Maycomb County is nearly related, and brings up examples of people in town that Jean Louise can barely remember.
Uncle Jack takes a more high-minded and idealistic approach to the subject of integration, as he examines the political and social philosophies behind it instead of its practical effects on people. This clashes with the personal sense of betrayal Jean Louise has been feeling and her disgust with the racism among her family and friends.
Uncle Jack delves back deeper in history, asking Jean Louise about the old South before the Civil War. He asks why all those independent Southern farmers joined together to fight, and Jean Louise says it was “slavery and tariffs and things.” Uncle Jack is appalled at this answer, and tells Jean Louise that only five percent of the South’s population owned slaves. He says it’s obvious that the South was fighting not to preserve slavery, but to preserve its identity as its own nation with its own way of life.
Uncle Jack’s argument is essentially that the trouble over integration and the Supreme Court is a matter of states’ rights more than it is of racism and interpersonal hatred. Some of his points are valid, though one could certainly argue that the novel treats them as more valid than in fact they are: he essentially lives in an ivory tower of privilege and so cannot see how his politics affect real people in the present, and how one issue cannot be separated from the other.
Jean Louise tries to catch up with Uncle Jack’s reasoning, and argues that the War ended a hundred years ago. Uncle Jack says that its effects still linger on though, resulting in the latest breed of white man who lives in competition with black men and has only his pride in his skin color to maintain his sense of superiority. Uncle Jack says that now, with the Supreme Court decision, a foreign policy is again being forced upon the nation of the South, and so the South is resisting once more.
The narrator presents Uncle Jack’s arguments as beyond Jean Louise’s comprehension, and Jack is condescending to his niece as he goes on, but stepping back we can see that he is essentially rambling to distract Jean Louise from the more personal issues at hand. His analysis concludes that Brown vs. Board of Education is a kind of second Civil War. Watchman in this way serves as an interesting and important historical document, as it captures viewpoints (even if those viewpoints are debatable) that the passage of history has smoothed out of consciousness in much of the nation.
Uncle Jack continues, saying that the rest of the country has long passed by the South in its ideas about government—in the North people expect the government to have powers to restrict and regulate and ensure that the “have-nots” get their due. He argues that the federal government is profiting off of the new class of poor whites in the South by lending them money to build their houses, giving them an education if they fight in its army, and providing them with Social Security if they pay into it all their lives.
Uncle Jack disagrees with the power of the federal government in the North, but recognizes that with it comes greater empathy for the “have-nots” and minorities, and therefore less bigotry and racism. But once again Lee doesn’t refrain from criticizing the North, as Jack explains that the North is essentially capitalizing on the South’s poverty.
Jean Louise calls Uncle Jack a “cynical old man,” but Jack counters that he just has a natural suspicion of big government. He’s afraid that someday the government will grow too huge for the country, and then America won’t be unique as a land of opportunity anymore. Jean Louise is frustrated, and doesn’t understand why Uncle Jack is being so difficult in his vague arguments. She again asks him straightforwardly what is wrong with Atticus and Alexandra, and why black and white relations are so bad right in the South right now.
Uncle Jack is giving a vague and winding argument for conservative politics (politics that even Jean Louise seems to agree with), and has purposefully avoided the very issue that Jean Louise is so upset about—the racism that she has discovered in her family and friends. Jean Louise tries to be her usual straightforward and outspoken self, while Jack continues to dance around the issue.
Uncle Jack answers by saying that human birth is a messy and painful process, and the South is giving birth to its new self right now. He says when someone is faced with “the double barrel of a shotgun,” he’ll pick up anything he can to defend himself, even if that thing is a citizens’ council. Jean Louise gets angry at these evasive answers.
Uncle Jack is saying that the racism of citizens’ councils (like that of the KKK in earlier generations) isn’t about racial hatred, but about the South asserting itself against the North’s power and intrusiveness. His argument that people in extreme circumstances may act extremely in response, thus exacerbating racism in this case, is, again, not un-valid. And yet it is also ignoring a huge—or perhaps it would be better to say the huge—part of the issue, however: the slavery and systematic oppression of black people in the South.
Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise to look in the mirror, and when she continues to be frustrated he seems to give up. He calls her “Childe Roland,” and tells her to do what she wants to do, but to be careful about it. He ends by saying that “what was incidental to the issue in our War Between the States is incidental to the issue in the war we’re in now, and is incidental to the issue in your own private war.” He tells Jean Louise to come back and see him after she’s done what she has to do and her heart is truly broken. She promises to do so. Jack sends her away, picking up the telephone right after she leaves.
“Childe Roland” is from a poem by Robert Browning, written in 1855: “Childe Roland to the dark tower came.” Jean Louise is equated with Childe Roland because she is confronting the “dark tower” of racism within her own family and her idealized father, and so is on a kind of quest to see why everything she loves has changed. Jack now explicitly states his position: that racism is “incidental to the issue” in the Civil War, in segregation, and in Jean Louise’s problems with Atticus. In some way this is true, but in another racism is at the very heart of all of these issues. It is difficult to pin down Lee’s or the novel’s position as to these arguments, though it seems that Lee has some sympathy for Jack’s arguments here.