Go Set a Watchman

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Mockingbird and Watchman Theme Analysis

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.
Mockingbird and Watchman Theme Icon

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 consent, to publish it unrevised. There was some controversy surrounding this decision—because of Lee’s age, health, and previous declaration that she would never publish another book—whether she was actually capable of fully consenting to the publication of Watchman, but no conclusive proof has been found otherwise. Either way, Watchman is best read as both its own novel and as a first draft, the bones of what would become an American classic.

On one level, the text shows how Lee’s writing developed, as Watchman is scattered, disjointed, and often awkwardly written, compared to the focused and polished Mockingbird. Some passages (mostly descriptions of the citizens of Maycomb) are borrowed word-for-word from Watchman to Mockingbird, while other important facts are changed. The most notable of these is the trial of Tom Robinson. In Mockingbird the trial is the central conflict of the novel, ending with Tom being convicted, while in Watchman the trial is barely mentioned at all, and there it ended with Tom being acquitted.

The biggest changes are in characterization, however, most notably regarding the figure of Atticus. It is implied in the novel that Atticus changes in his old age, but he is also written as a slightly different character in the two novels, and it can be argued that the Atticus of Mockingbird could never have realistically grown into the Atticus of Watchman. The change represents a development of the character (since Mockingbird was written after Watchman) but also a different worldview Lee is expressing. Her portrayal of Atticus in Watchman is more cynical and realistic—he is a good father and a morally principled man, but still supports segregation and holds some racist, condescending views—while the Atticus of Mockingbird is more idealized and unrealistic—a saintlike father seen through the eyes of his young daughter, and written to provide an example of white morality and justice even in the Jim Crow South. This theme doesn’t lead to any cohesive conclusion, but it is vital for an informed reading of the novel, as Go Set a Watchman is almost impossible to read without also taking into account its publication history and the content of To Kill a Mockingbird.

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Mockingbird and Watchman Quotes in Go Set a Watchman

Below you will find the important quotes in Go Set a Watchman related to the theme of Mockingbird and Watchman.
Part 3, Chapter 8 Quotes

Mr. O’Hanlon was born and bred in the South, went to school there, married a Southern lady, lived all his life there, and his main interest today was to uphold the Southern Way of Life and no niggers and no Supreme Court was going to tell him or anybody else what to do… a race as hammer-headed as… essential inferiority… kinky woolly heads… still in the trees… greasy smelly… marry your daughters… mongrelize the race… mongrelize… save the South… back to Africa…
She heard her father’s voice, a tiny voice talking in the warm comfortable past. Gentlemen, if there’s one slogan in this world I believe, it is this: equal rights for all, special privileges for none.

Related Characters: Atticus Finch (speaker), Grady O’Hanlon (speaker), Jean Louise Finch
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

In this dramatic passage, Lee "outs" Atticus as a racist character, or at least a character who's willing to support openly racist people. Atticus has agreed to introduced a public speaker, Grady O'Hanlon, who makes a long, rambling speech in which he criticizes the Supreme Court's decision in "Brown v. the Board of Education," the decision usually credited with integrating schools, and therefore communities, in the South. Jean Louise is appalled as she listens to O'Hanlon, who goes on to then use racist slurs to attack African-Americans: she can't believe her good-hearted father, who'd defended the principle of equal rights in the past (as reflected in a quote we might recognize from To Kill a Mockingbird), could partner up with racists like O'Hanlon.

The passage is frightening and yet also interesting in the way it contrasts (or perhaps compares?) Atticus's previous commitment to equal rights with his current support for racist anti-integrationists. Atticus had supported equal rights for African-Americans in the past, or so Jean Louise believed, and yet here Lee shows us the insufficiency of Atticus's beliefs. It's not enough to say that blacks should be "equal," as Atticus has, because equality can theoretically coexist with segregation (hence "separate but equal," the guiding principle of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court case that strengthened segregation in the South fifty years before Brown). We also start to see one of the central conflicts of the novel, and of the tension between Lee's two novels, in this passage--how both Jean Louise and the reader of Mockingbird can reconcile the Citizens' Council Atticus of the present with the idealized, saintlike Atticus of the past.


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Atticus took his career in his hands, made good use of a careless indictment, took his stand before a jury, and accomplished what was never before or afterwards done in Maycomb County: he won an acquittal for a colored boy on a rape charge. The chief witness for the prosecution was a white girl.

Related Characters: Atticus Finch
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

In this flashback scene, we learn that years before the action of the novel, Atticus defended a black man from rape charges, resulting in a rare acquittal for a person of color (the "skeleton" of the plot of To Kill a Mockingbird, but with a crucial change--in Mockingbird Tom Robinson is still condemned, despite his obvious innocence, yet in Watchman Atticus wins an acquittal).

Atticus has defended African-Americans before, and done such a good job of defending them that he's freed them from prison and execution. How is it possible, Jean Louise wonders, that Atticus could be so helpful to certain members of the black community and yet also enable anti-integrationists like O'Hanlon? Atticus is an honorable character, but he seems to subscribe to a kind of libertarianism, in which government shouldn't be allowed to integrate Southern communities without those communities' consent. Thus, Atticus defends black people in court and yet allows the white community to keep the same black people out of their schools and restaurants.

Part 4, Chapter 12 Quotes

“Thanks, but Scout’ll run me down later.”
His use of her childhood name crashed on her ears. Don’t you ever call me that again. You who called me Scout are dead and in your grave.

Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (speaker), Atticus Finch (speaker), Henry Clinton (Hank)
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Atticus refers to Jean Louise by her childhood nickname, Scout. Jean Louise grows furious with Atticus for using her old name: she feels that the name conjures up a time in her life when she still worshipped her father like a god, and could look to him as a moral standard. Therefore, for Atticus to use the nickname Scout now is a reminder that his star has fallen--Jean Louise feels like she no longer knows Atticus at all.

Jean Louise is engaged in a fierce conflict with her father--albeit one that her father is so far oblivious to. Jean Louise, a more open-minded and racially tolerant person than her father, hates that Atticus has become (or always has been) so bigoted in his thinking, even as he taught Jean Louise her own open-mindedness. Furthermore, the passage gains extra significance, beyond anything Lee could have originally intended, because so many of Lee's readers grew up learning about "Scout's" adventures. For Atticus to use the nickname now is to remind us of the old, innocent days of To Kill a Mockingbird, thus adding another tragic level of disillusionment to the passage.

Jean Louise sat in the car, staring at the steering wheel. Why is it that everything I have ever loved on this earth has gone away from me in two days’ time? Would Jem turn his back on me? She loved us, I swear she loved us. She sat there in front of me and she didn’t see me, she saw white folks. She raised me, and she doesn’t care.
It was not always like this, I swear it wasn’t. People used to trust each other for some reason, I’ve forgotten why. They didn’t watch each other like hawks then. I wouldn’t get looks like that going up those steps ten years ago. She never wore her company manners with one of us… when Jem died, her precious Jem, it nearly killed her…

Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (speaker), Jeremy Atticus Finch (Jem), Calpurnia
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Jean Louise has just visited Calpurnia, her former black maid and mother-figure, and has been hurt by Calpurnia's coldness and the distrustful looks of Calpurnia's family members. Here Jean Louise thinks about her dead brother, Jem, who--now that Atticus has been outed as a bigot--is Jean Louise's last remaining non-racist family member; her last connection to a childhood in which she was innocent of the pervasive racism of her community. By the same token, Jean Louise thinks about Calpurnia as she was (or seemed to be) in the past. Calpurnia took good care of Jean Louise when Jean Louise was a girl--but now, Calpurnia has turned cold and indifferent, as if she recognizes that Jean Louise and Atticus are just "white folks" now.

Jean Louise continues to hang onto an idyllic past, even as it becomes clear that such a past was never that idyllic to begin with. As a child, Jean Louise's world was as racist as it is now, if not more so, but because she was only a (white) child at the time, she was able to see it as a relatively innocent, happy place. As readers, we must therefore reexamine our perceptions of Mockingbird in light of these revelations--perhaps Scout wasn't as reliable a narrator as she seemed, and the events she related were idealized by the same kind of naïveté that affects Jean Louise's nostalgia here.

Part 6, Chapter 17 Quotes

“Have you ever considered that you can’t have a set of backward people living among people advanced in one kind of civilization and have a social Arcadia?”
“…Of course I know that, but I heard something once. I heard a slogan and it stuck in my head. I heard ‘Equal rights for all; special privileges for none,’ and to me it didn’t mean anything but what it said. It didn’t mean one card off the top of the stack for the white man and one off the bottom for the Negro, it—”

Related Characters: Jean Louise Finch (speaker), Atticus Finch (speaker)
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Jean Louise finally confronts Atticus about his racist beliefs, and Atticus responds by insisting that he's not a racist at all. He loves black people, but doesn't believe that black people are ready for the responsibilities of American citizens: he doesn't believe that they can be trusted to vote responsibly, attend schools at the level of white children, etc. In short, Atticus is sure that mixing black and white culture will simply dirty white culture, creating social chaos. The only way to maintain order in the South is to keep blacks and whites separate. Jean Louise responds by citing something Atticus told her long ago: "Equal rights for all; special privileges for none" (a famous quote from Tom Robinson's trial in Mockingbird). Jean Louise clearly believes that Atticus, in his loyalty to Southern culture, is evading his own moral philosophy.

The scene is really the climax of the book, because it shows the dialogue that took place between the North and the South in the 1950s and 60s. Atticus, representing the position of the educated, supposedly non-racist Southerner, argues that it's possible for two communities to be separate but equal--while Jean Louise insists that such a point of view is racist. Atticus seems to be sincere in his arguments (i.e., he's not just using "separate but equal" as a strategy to hide his secret hatred for black people), and yet his willingness to think of the black community as "backward" betrays his bigotry. The great conflict for Jean Louise, and for readers of both Mockingbird and Watchman, is how to accept that such bigotry can live alongside such strong moral principles within one man.