Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee Summary Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Go Set a Watchman


Jean Louise (a grown up version of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird) comes back to Maycomb, Alabama after a long stay in New York City to visit her father Atticus.  There are pages and pages of descriptions of trees, buildings, and roads which I will spare you.

She meets Henry, who she has been dating her on her visits home. Jean Louise tells Henry that she will have sex with him, but will not marry him. In other words (a) she doesn't love him and (b) she's kind of slutty.

Jean Louise meets her Aunt Alexandra. Jean Louise is fascinated by her tits and ass:

Her corsets drew up her bosom to giddy heights, pinched in her waist, flared out her rear, and managed to suggest that Alexandra's had once been an hourglass figure.

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Alexandra's dress is supposed to symbolize her old fashioned nature. Alexandra stays with Atticus to take care of him because he has arthritis. Alexandra does not think Henry is good enough to marry Jean Louise. She think he's white trash because he licks his fingers when he eats cake and coughs without covering his mouth.

Jean Louise asks Henry to take a late night swim with her in the river. They do so. I think Jean Louise is testing Henry to see if he will make a move on her. Any man with a pulse and half a brain knows that when a girl asks you to take a late night swim with her, she wants some action. But Henry is a perfect gentleman. It is at that moment that the reader knows that he will never get any action from Jean Louise.

News of Jean Louise and Henry's late night swim gets around town quickly. It is scandalous. Again we see the clash of the old culture, where people did not swim late at night, and the new culture of Jean Louise, where anything goes. The townsfolk might have been relieved had they known that Henry didn't even have the guts to try and give her more than a peck on the cheek, that it was a perfectly platonic date.

Jean Louise follows Atticus to town and listens in on a Citizen's Council. The Council is full of white people who say mean things about blacks. They say blacks are

  1. a) hammer headed

  2. b) essentially inferior

  3. c) kinky woolly heads

  4. d) still in the trees

  5. d) greasy and smelly

  6. e) want to marry white girls

  7. f) look like apes

  8. g) have mouths like "Number 2 cans" and

  9. h) should return to Africa.

Jean Louise is shocked to see her father there. She thought her father loved black people because of the time he defended one on rape charges .

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Jean Louise Finch: Jean Louise is a grown up version of the "Scout" character from To Kill a Mockingbird. When I first read To Kill a Mockingbird I thought Scout was the boy and Jem was the girl, they kind of have transgendered names, but now I am 100% sure that Scout is the girl, only in this book she is called Jean Louise. Jean Louise lives in New York City but just returned to Maycomb, Alabama to visit her family and to decide whether to let Hank, her part-time boyfriend, bone her. She comes back and is horrified to learn that Hank and her dad Atticus are part of a racist cabal that is trying to keep the black man down. She has to decide whether she still loves them. After consideration, she decides to embrace Atticus once more but not Hank's penis.

Henry Clinton (Hank): Henry, who for some reason is also called Hank, is Jean Louise's boyfriend. He wants to marry her but she isn't sure she wants to. Hank is "white trash", from a family of lower class white people who get drunk, have a lot of inappropriate sex, dress poorly, and park their cars on the front lawn. But Hank worked his way up, went to law school, and is Atticus's junior law partner. People think he's not right for Jean Louise because of his white trashedness, but Jean Louise dislikes him for a different reason, because of his racism.

Atticus Finch: Atticus is Jean Louise's father. He's a lawyer and very smart. In To Kill a Mockingbird he was this great civil rights lawyer who helped an innocent black man avoid a rape conviction. But in this book he's almost a KKK guy, talking about how black people need to be kept in their place. Jean Louise can't understand how her wise Daddy has turned out to be a racist monster.

Calpurnia: Calpurnia was Jean Louise's black nanny growing up. Jean Louise's mother died so Calpurnia was like a mother for us. They bonded when Jean Louise started to inexplicably bleed from her vagina and didn't know what to do about it. Calpurnia helped her put a cork in it and explained to her to get ready to enjoy it, once a month, for the next 30 years. Helping Jean Louise with her bloody vagina caused Jean Louise to bond with Calpurnia.

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 You can like people you disagree with. At various points  in this book Jean Louise believes everyone around her are racist monsters and can't understand how she can like any of them. But her Uncle Jack makes her realize that you can like a person even if you don't agree with them on everything. In fact it shows great open-mindedness on your part, according to the author, to like a person you disagree with, and Jean Louise is treated as a woman still "continuing to develop" because she is still working on being able to separate the two feelings.

People are not always what they seem to be. Growing up Jean Louise thought Atticus was supremely wise and just. Then she saw him at the racist meeting and thought he was a monster. Then when Uncle Jack explained his "live and let live" attitude she realized she loved him again. He was the same man throughout, it's just that Jean Louise learned different things about him. After learning of his racist views she realized he was still largely the father she had loved for so many years.

Guys won't get the girl if they don't make a move. Hank is perplexed at the end of the book that Jean Louise won't spread her legs for him. She gives him the perfect chance when she invites him to go for a midnight swim with him, but Hank doesn't take the opportunity to make a move. Is it any surprise that Jean Louise dumps him shortly thereafter?

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Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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