Go Set a Watchman

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Go Set a Watchman Part 7, Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jean Louise drives home, feeling distraught beyond words. She is especially heartbroken by Atticus’s refusal to fight back, and his final phrases “I love you” and “as you please.” She goes into her room and starts packing furiously. Aunt Alexandra comes in and asks what she’s doing. Jean Louise curses at her and says she’s leaving, and she never wants to see Maycomb again. Alexandra tells her that “no Finch runs,” which makes Jean Louise even angrier. She starts to insult Alexandra, but stops when she sees that her aunt is crying.
The poignancy of this scene for Jean Louise (and the reader) is that it combines an ideological argument (integration vs. segregation) with a personal one (an idealized father vs. a flawed, realistic one). Jean Louise now turns her temper on Aunt Alexandra, but is brought short at the sight of her tears. Alexandra, like Atticus, is human too.
Themes
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Home and Belonging Theme Icon
Conscience and Principles Theme Icon
Jean Louise has never seen Aunt Alexandra cry, and it cuts through her anger to see her aunt looking “like other people.” Jean Louise apologizes, kisses her cheek, and gets ready to leave. Then Jean Louise sees a taxi drop off Uncle Jack in the driveway, and she remembers her promise to go see him again when her heart is broken. She doesn’t want to talk to him, and tries to get into the car before he reaches her.
One of the important conflicts of the book is Jean Louise accepting Atticus as a flawed human being, and we see that conflict in miniature with Aunt Alexandra as well. Jean Louise still disagrees with almost all of Alexandra’s opinions, but now she at least sees her as a human and a family member.
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Home and Belonging Theme Icon
Conscience and Principles Theme Icon
Uncle Jack asks Jean Louise to stop and listen to him, and she curses at him. Suddenly he strikes her hard in the face, and all the energy seems to leave her with the blow. She says she “can’t fight them anymore,” and Uncle Jack says that she can’t join them either. He leads her into the house, tends to her face, and yells to Alexandra to bring them some whiskey. He makes Jean Louise take a shot. She’s not used to the liquor and feels immediately tipsy.
Uncle Jack’s blow serves its intended purpose—snapping Jean Louise out of her blind rage—but this doesn’t justify his violence, as the narrator seems to do. (Again the novel serves as a kind of historical document regarding the social world of the time, that it does excuse Jack’s physical blow.) The climax of the book is over, and now Jean Louise feels exhausted and lets Uncle Jack preach to her. Her conclusion is basically that she can’t beat Atticus, and she can’t join him—she can’t accept his views as right, but she also can’t disown him as the father who made her who she is.
Themes
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Uncle Jack declares that he’s going to have a drink himself, and that he’s never struck a woman before and “it takes it out of you.” He has a drink and then tells Jean Louise that he knows about her talk with Atticus. He agrees to be straightforward with her now, and says he was so vague earlier to try and “soften your coming into this world.”
Uncle Jack once again avoids the issues of racism and injustice, but now he focuses on Jean Louise’s personal conflict instead of states’ rights and the South’s identity. He saw all along that Jean Louise’s argument with Atticus also involved accepting Atticus as imperfect.
Themes
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Jean Louise admits that everything feels more bearable now, and she’s less upset. Uncle Jack tells her that this is because she is her own person now. He says that “every man’s watchman, is his conscience.” Growing up, Jean Louise’s conscience was based around Atticus, and so Atticus became like God for her—she never allowed him to be a man, a human being capable of errors. This made Jean Louise an “emotional cripple,” always leaning on Atticus.
Uncle Jack now explicitly equates the “watchman” with one’s conscience—the idea of someone’s idea of right and wrong as separate from society’s influence. Jean Louise built up her conscience around Atticus’s integrity, while failing to recognize that this integrity might not extend beyond his personal interactions, and therefore meaning that she had no independent conscience of her own to lean back on when Atticus let her down.
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Conscience and Principles Theme Icon
Uncle Jack goes on: because of this, when Jean Louise saw Atticus doing something contradictory to her conscience (like sitting at the citizens’ council), it made her physically ill. Uncle Jack says that he and Atticus had wondered for a long time when Jean Louise would have such a realization, where her conscience would separate itself from his. Jack says that Atticus couldn’t speak plainly about this earlier because he had to let Jean Louise break her idols for herself.
Jean Louise had made Atticus her watchman, and so part of the pain of her disillusionment and the conflict of the novel involves her working to create a watchman within herself—a conscience apart from Atticus, and one that can even stand up directly in opposition to Atticus. Thus on one level all these arguments are also about Jean Louise finding her independence as an adult.
Themes
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Racism and Bigotry Theme Icon
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Jean Louise realizes that this is why Atticus only answered her curses with calm and loving phrases. She had tried to destroy him, instead of arguing with him. She thinks to herself of the phrase “Childe Roland to the dark tower came.” Uncle Jack congratulates her for not just running away, but for eventually turning around and facing her problems.
With the repetition of Jean Louise as “Childe Roland,” she is presented as a kind of epic hero on a quest to discover the ugly truth about her own family and hometown. She had built up Atticus as a god, and so had to “break her idols” by cursing at him and leaving.
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Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise that she and Atticus are very similar, actually, except that she is a bigot and he’s not. He clarifies by saying that a bigot cannot accept opinions or beliefs other than his own. And so when Jean Louise heard all the segregationist talk in Maycomb, she wanted to just abandon everyone and not hear them anymore. Jack says that people like Atticus might not agree with the Klan, but they don’t stop them from marching. If they devolve into violence, however, then Atticus would be the first one to stop them.
Uncle Jack’s argument here is very flawed. Atticus supports the right of the Klan to march but not when they use violence, and yet there are many degrees of racism between free speech and lynching—segregation, systemic oppression, and differences in education and housing, for example. Jean Louise might technically be a “bigot” for refusing to accept the hate speech she heard at the citizens’ council meeting, but the white men at the meeting have all the power of society and government behind them, and so their bigotry has far-reaching effects over others’ lives, while Jean Louise’s does not. Yet the novel seems not to recognize this flaw in Jack’s argument.
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Uncle Jack says that this is the law Atticus lives by: letting people do what they please, as long as they aren’t actively hurting each other. Jean Louise starts to feel guilty for cursing so viciously at her father, but Jack says it was necessary for her to destroy her “tin god.” Uncle Jack then asks her for a match, and she gets angry because he had once punished her for smoking. He says he smokes sometimes now, and “there’s no justice in this world.”
The narrator presents Jean Louise as having somehow “learned her lesson,” but it is also clear that Uncle Jack’s explanation of the lesson is deeply flawed. Jack points out the contradiction between Atticus’s personal morality and racist politics, but doesn’t see anything hypocritical about it: he sees it all as just an old-fashioned philosophy about independence and responsibility. It’s easy and lazy to say there’s no justice in this world when you are a part of the group with all the advantages that let you enjoy this un-just world.
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Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise that she’s “color blind,” so she cannot think in racial terms even now that race is the most important issue in politics. Jean Louise says that despite this, she doesn’t feel especially inclined to marry a black person. Jack says that the fearmongering about interracial sex and marriage is how the white supremacists avoid reasoned argument (which they will lose) and strike at the hearts of the fundamentalist South.
Here we see the limits of Jean Louise’s progressive ideas—she clearly isn’t “color blind” as Uncle Jack claims—and then Jack goes off on another tangent about why segregationists linger on the white fear of interracial marriage, yet in this tangent he seems to recognize that in any reasoned debate that an argument for racism is bound to lose. But it remains unclear what Jack sees as racism, as he seems blind to systematic, structural racism.
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Conscience and Principles Theme Icon
Southern Politics and Society Theme Icon
Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise to take him home and to then pick up Atticus. Jean Louise feels like she can’t see Atticus again after what she said to him, and Uncle Jack angrily responds by asking her “have you ever met your father?” Jean Louise feels like she has not, and she is frightened.
After this the ideological debates basically end, and the conflict returns to the personal one of Jean Louise facing a father she has tried to destroy, and one whom she must finally accept as human. This feels like “meeting him” for the first time, and it scares her.
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Uncle Jack suggests that Jean Louise should think about moving back to Maycomb, as the town needs her. She is apprehensive, saying that she wouldn’t fit in at all. Jack says that she would be helpful just by being a contributing member of the town, while still having her contradictory views. He says “the time your friends need you is when they’re wrong.” Jean Louise asks what she should do about Hank, and he agrees when she suggests that she should “let him down easy,” because he’s “not your kind.” She thinks he means this in the same way Aunt Alexandra did, but Jack says this has nothing to do with Hank being “trash” or not.
Uncle Jack now makes an argument similar to Henry’s, but with more hope for change and room for Jean Louise’s firm principles. He asks her to become a useful citizen of Maycomb—like Hank—but to still hold her differing views, and so try to change others’ ideas on a personal level. Jack seems to disagree with Atticus’s racism, but to believe in change at a human, personal pace and scale rather than imposed by others or by law from without. This is the kind of integrity Atticus lives by, though it is reasonable to argue that though such a “tactic” might never effect real change on a larger scale. Hank is not Jean Louise’s “kind” because he doesn’t have a strong and fierce conscience—not because he is poor.
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Jean Louise asks Uncle Jack why he took so much trouble over her today, and he says that she and Jem were the children he never had. Jean Louise asks him what he means, and he tells her that he was in love with her mother. Jean Louise feels ashamed again of yelling at him, and asks if Atticus knew this. Jack says he did. Jean Louise thanks him, and he thanks her too, calling her Scout.
This is a random twist that adds little to the narrative of Watchman, and has no relation to Mockingbird either. We know almost nothing about Atticus’s wife, so there is no backstory to add any power to this revelation. Jean Louise and Jack end on a good note at least.
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