Go Set a Watchman | Study Guide

Harper Lee

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Go Set a Watchman | Part 1, Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Tensions between Aunt Alexandra and Jean Louise emerge. Previously, Aunt Alexandra had tried to use guilt to coerce Jean Louise into "doing her duty" of returning home to care for the ailing Atticus. Jean Louise explains that such an arrangement would not benefit her father, but her aunt knows how to cut Jean Louise to the quick by referencing Jem's concerns about Jean Louise's thoughtlessness. When Aunt Alexandra announces plans for a coffee party to celebrate Jean Louise's homecoming, she thanks her aunt but is not looking forward to the event.

Jean Louise cannot keep her words in check when Aunt Alexandra expresses her views on Hank. Upholding old-school Maycomb society rules, Aunt Alexandra declares Hank unfit to marry a Finch because his parents were "rednecked white trash." She accuses Hank of using the Finches to establish a place in Maycomb society. To this, Jean Louise responds, "Aunty, why don't you go pee in your hat?"

Analysis

This chapter further explores Jean Louise's "ordinary world" and focuses primarily on Aunt Alexandra and the tensions that emerge between the two women. Described as "the last of her kind" with "river-boat, boarding-school manners," Aunt Alexandra is a follower of old Maycomb rules and traditions. Representing the views of many upper middle-class, white women of the 1950s South, she clashes frequently with Jean Louise's modern notions of equality. This is indicative of the larger racial and social tensions rising in the South during this era. Aunt Alexandra views the source of tensions as "people not doing as they're told."

Atticus and Aunt Alexandra live in a new house. Jean Louise's childhood home was torn down and replaced by an ice cream parlor. Atticus seems to have adjusted easily to this change, but Jean Louise struggles with it. This reflects the broader issue of change, which emerges as a major source of conflict for Jean Louise. Later in the story, Jean Louise goes to the ice cream parlor, which symbolizes her struggle to accept change.

The coffee party that Aunt Alexandra plans for Jean Louise further reflects the tensions between Maycomb's rules based on tradition and Jean Louise's progressive views. According to tradition, the coffee party is something always done for girls who return home. The purpose is for those "who had remained enisled in Maycomb to examine them," to determine whether or not they still follow Maycomb rules. Aunt Alexandra is a rule-follower, and she privileges Maycomb over Jean Louise's preferences.

Aunt Alexandra carries her privileging of traditional rules a step further in her assessment of Hank's suitability as a husband for Jean Louise. Despite Hank's education, military service, and profession, she deems him unsuitable because his parents were "white trash." According to Aunt Alexandra and the Maycomb social order, "Fine a boy as he is, the trash won't wash out of him."

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