Go Set a Watchman | Study Guide

Harper Lee

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Go Set a Watchman | Part 2, Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Jean Louise recalls her childhood with her brother, Jem, and best friend, Dill, specifically a time when they playacted the revival meetings that took place every summer. Dill cut holes in his aunt's good bedsheet and pretended to be the Holy Ghost; this brought a severe reprimand from his aunt. When the preacher and his wife came to dinner at the Finch house, Rev. Moorehead prayed for Jem and Jean Louise's misdeeds. When Atticus left the table, Jean Louise and her brother thought they were in big trouble, but Atticus left because he was unable to control his laughter.

Jean Louise and Hank arrive at Finch's Landing, the estate of Jean Louise's grandmother. She is surprised to learn the estate has been sold without her knowledge. This disturbs her. Hank challenges Jean Louise's perception of her ability to accept change, accusing her of wanting to "have her cake and eat it."

Jean Louise and Hank go swimming fully clothed in the river. Later, a speeding "carload of Negroes" passes by. Hank explains, "That's the way they assert themselves these days ... They're a public menace."

Analysis

The chapter opens with Jean Louise bumping her head on the car roof. The car, symbolizing independence and self-direction, is a source of pain for Jean Louise. In addition, bumping her head suggests her unwillingness to see what is in front of her and to bend, a hint at her limited perspectives of herself, her behavior, and her beliefs.

According to Joseph Campbell's model of the Hero's Journey, the second phase of the archetypal journey elicits a "call to adventure," which in this story is the call to maturity and moral independence. In this chapter, the knowledge that Jean Louise's grandmother's estate has been sold without her knowledge really shakes Jean Louise. She claims that not being told is what bothers her, further evidence that she is not as self-aware as she thinks she is; Finch's Landing represents Jean Louise's past and many good childhood memories of playing around the estate with her best friends. Temporarily resisting "the call," Jean Louise and Hank revisit their childhood by engaging in the childish act of swimming with their clothes on.

Much of the chapter is devoted to a flashback of Jean Louise's childhood, playacting with her brother, Jem, and her best friend, Dill. The flashback serves two purposes. First, it shows Jean Louise viewing her childhood as something in the past, a place different and far from where she is now as an individual. However, readers see the dramatic irony in a character who wants to hang on to her childish notions while at the same time thinking she is progressive and happy to accept the changes in her life in New York. Second, the children playacting the town's revival meetings hints at the traditions that rule Maycomb. For example, every year revival meetings brought people to the altar, confessing their sin. Then they went back to their old ways. Atticus's laughter at the preacher's concern for his children's souls suggests that Jean Louise perceives her father as the voice of reason in Maycomb.

Jean Louise, Jem, and Dill were inseparable during the summers of their childhood. But now Jem is dead and Dill is in Europe. Jean Louise, as the hero, must complete this "heroic" adventure on her own.

The carload of black teenagers speeding past Jean Louise and Hank suggests the increasing presence and voice of blacks on the Maycomb social scene. Ultimately, this changing social scene will help move Jean Louise away from clinging to a childhood past.

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