Go Set a Watchman

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Themes and Colors
Disillusionment Theme Icon
Racism and Bigotry Theme Icon
Home and Belonging Theme Icon
Conscience and Principles Theme Icon
Southern Politics and Society Theme Icon
Mockingbird and Watchman Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Go Set a Watchman, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The central plot of Go Set a Watchman revolves around Jean Louise (Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird) returning home to Maycomb after years in New York City and becoming disillusioned with Henry “Hank” Clinton, her old friend and possible fiancé, and Atticus, her father. Most of this disillusionment focuses on Atticus. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus is a saintlike figure whom Scout and Jem idolize and depend upon. The…

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Jean Louise’s disillusionment centers around the racism she discovers in Maycomb, and particularly in Atticus himself. In To Kill a Mockingbird, she experienced this to a certain degree with the citizens of Maycomb, but there she had Atticus to teach her about human dignity and to provide a good example. Now Jean Louise has grown up, but she is still “color blind” in the way Atticus raised her to be: she sees all…

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Go Set a Watchman portrays Jean Louise’s homecoming to Maycomb after a long time away, so the idea of home and belonging is an important one in the novel. Much of the plot involves Jean Louise’s memories of her past (scenes that would later be developed into To Kill a Mockingbird). Growing up, she felt out of place as a tomboy in a society that wants women to be “ladies.” Because of this…

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The title of the book comes from a Bible verse read during a sermon at Jean Louise’s church: “Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” Uncle Jack then links the concept of “the watchman” to one’s conscience: the idea of someone’s innate knowledge of right and wrong, separate from society’s influence. Jean Louise has always considered Atticus to be her moral compass, and the very definition of a “gentleman”—someone who…

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Much of the novel’s conflict is related to the 1954 Supreme Court decision “Brown v. Board of Education,” which declared state-sponsored segregation to be unconstitutional. This meant that all kinds of whites-only Southern institutions (like schools) suddenly had to include blacks, and many Southern whites resisted this change. These whites resented the federal government and Supreme Court imposing rules on them from the outside—an echo of one of the Civil War’s main causes—and reacted in…

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Outside the text of the novel itself, the writing and publication of Go Set a Watchman is just as important as its content. It was written in 1957 and then reworked to become To Kill a Mockingbird, which was published three years later and became a Pulitzer Prize-winning, nationally-beloved novel. Go Set a Watchman was seemingly lost, until (as the story goes) Harper Lee’s lawyer found the manuscript decades later and decided, with Lee’s…

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