Go Set a Watchman | Study Guide

Harper Lee

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Go Set a Watchman | Part 1, Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

Jean Louise and Hank arrive at Atticus's home. Atticus is described as a man diminishing in size because of the effects of arthritis, although Jean Louise still thinks of him as someone in his 50s.

Jean Louise wants to catch up on the news of her family and hometown. Aunt Alexandra shares the news of the death of Cousin Edgar's boy, which she considers sad. The others clearly disagree, but Atticus, knowing his daughter well, sends a silent signal to warn Jean Louise not to provoke her aunt. Jean Louise holds back but only until Aunt Alexandra, referring to Jean Louise's outfit, asks, "Did you come down on the train Like That?"

Jean Louise challenges her father to a game of golf, and they make plans to play. Hank leaves, promising to return later for a date with Jean Louise.

Analysis

This chapter reveals Jean Louise's "ordinary world." Atticus is described as wearing two watches: "an ancient watch and chain his children had cut their teeth on, and a wristwatch." This suggests two perspectives on Atticus: the "old Atticus" (in reality the young Atticus) so well known by his children and the Atticus of the present times. Arthritis has diminished the size of Atticus. This further suggests "two Atticuses," one being the memory Jean Louise holds and the other the present Atticus, crippled from arthritis. Atticus's crippled condition reflects his human frailty, a characteristic Jean Louise has yet to acknowledge. In contrast to Jean Louise's preference for coffee, the beverage Jean Louise perceives as "adult," Atticus prefers milk, which Jean Louise perceives as the choice of children.

References to vision appear again in various forms throughout the chapter. Jean Louise refers to Atticus's impaired sight, hinting at his limited discernment. At this point in the story, however, Jean Louise still views him through the idealistic lens of her childhood, despite the obvious clues that he is subject to human failings. This is evidence of her blindness, even as she perceives herself to have superior vision. Aunt Alexandra and Jean Louise never see eye to eye, mirroring the larger tensions in the Maycomb social order. Aunt Alexandra's old-school beliefs conflict with Jean Louise's progressive notions. This conflict parallels the racial and class prejudices that have ruled Maycomb society for generations but which are now being challenged.

Aunt Alexandra relies on knowledge from the past to guide her moral judgments. For example, because she is not familiar with a particular author, she "condemns" the author's book. Similarly, she views Cousin Edgar positively because of his upper-class ancestry. She seems blind to the fact that his death resulted from his own foolish actions. In addition, Jean Louise's outfit is deemed inappropriate according to the Maycomb rules of Aunt Alexandra's generation and social class.

During the sparring between Aunt Alexandra and Jean Louise, Atticus warns Jean Louise with his eyes, and the reader is told that his eyes were like Jean Louise's. The similarities of their eyes suggests that the two characters think alike. Atticus seems to know what Jean Louise is going to say because he warns her, yet the reader is told "only God and Robert Browning knew what she was likely to say." This implicit link suggests that Jean Louise sees her father as God.

Browning was a 19th-century English poet who penned Childe Roland, a poem referenced several times in the text. The poem is about Childe Roland's journey to "the Dark Tower." Jean Louise's journey toward understanding her own identity parallels Childe Roland's journey in many ways. Later in the book, Uncle Jack calls Jean Louise "Childe Roland."
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