Go Set a Watchman | Study Guide

Harper Lee

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Go Set a Watchman | Part 4, Chapter 12 | Summary



Jean Louise awakens to the memory of seeing Atticus and Hank at the Citizens' Council meeting. It still disturbs her greatly, but she didn't "dare think about it now." She decides that "she would sit out her two weeks home in polite detachment, saying nothing, asking nothing, blaming not." Jean Louise goes out to mow the lawn, but it is so early, she disturbs Aunt Alexandra and Atticus.

Aunt Alexandra tells Jean Louise she will need to drive Atticus to work because his arthritis is acting up. Other than the arthritis that crippled him to the point of needing an apparatus attached to his tableware to be able to put food in his mouth, "he had not changed. His face was the same as always."

Hank stops by and announces that Zeebo's son Frank (Calpurnia's grandson) had run over and killed Mr. Healy, an elderly white man. Hank took it upon himself to tell Zeebo that Atticus "wouldn't touch the case." Atticus corrects him, saying, "You shouldn't have done that, Hank ... Of course we'll take it." Atticus says it is better for them to take the case than for it to "fall into the wrong hands" of the NAACP-paid lawyers. He explains that the NAACP just waits for such cases and then makes a series of demands and motions, such as getting blacks on the jury and ultimately moving the case to federal court.

Jean Louise fights nausea but vows to keep her coffee down. She wonders what has happened to her family. She feels separated from her town as well as her family.

Jean Louise visits Calpurnia and tells her Atticus will defend Frank. However, her words lack conviction and neither she nor Calpurnia believe Atticus can save Frank. Jean Louise senses Calpurnia pull away and become oddly distant. Jean Louise cries, "Cal, Cal, Cal, what are you doing to me? I'm your baby, have you forgotten me? Why are you shutting me out?" Cal replies with a question of her own: "What are you all doing to us?" Finally, Jean Louise asks her, "Did you hate us?" Calpurnia hesitates before shaking her head.


Atticus attempts to eat his breakfast using attachments to his tableware so he can eat independently. He struggles and ends up spilling his milk, which Jean Louise cleans up for him. Atticus is shown to be limited physically and in failing health. This reflects his human weaknesses and imperfections. He struggles to maintain his independence, and Jean Louise takes on the "parent" role, cleaning up his spilled milk. This suggests that their roles are reversing, as Jean Louise is required to act as the adult in the relationship. Atticus continues to drink milk, which Jean Louise perceives as childish, while she drinks coffee.

Initially, Jean Louise claims that Atticus has not changed. Perhaps she expected him to look different, given the courthouse meeting she witnessed. But as Atticus eats his breakfast, Jean Louise notices the white stubble in his beard and his graying hair. This suggests that she is just beginning to see that he is not the 50-something father she had always idolized.

Hank assumes that Atticus would not take the case defending Zeebo's son, but Atticus says he will. As a child, Jean Louise would have viewed this action as noble, contributing to the heroic image she held of her father. But Atticus articulates his true motives, that of keeping the NAACP and, ultimately, the Supreme Court out of the situation. Jean Louise fights to keep her coffee down, signifying her difficulty in accepting the reality of her father as a human being with views so different from her own.

For the first time since Jean Louise's return visit to Maycomb, Atticus refers to her as "Scout." This was her childhood nickname. This angers her because she is having a hard time reconciling the present-day Atticus with the idealized image she has held of him in her mind.

Jean Louise finds momentary comfort in a trip to the Jitney Jungle, the local grocery where things seemed just as they were when she was a child. But overall she feels separated from Atticus, Hank, and all of Maycomb. Reality jars her childish perspective. She bumps her head getting into the car, signifying the difficulty and pain she is experiencing in entering the adult world, where she must function as her own person and bend when necessary. Again taking the parent role, she attempts to protect Atticus as he exits the car and steps into the path of another car.

Jean Louise visits Calpurnia. The blacks standing and sitting around on the porch there "become as one," suggesting the coming together of blacks in society as they stand together in the face of white privilege. The men remove their hats and a woman folds her hands as Jean Louise approaches. Jean Louise is clearly an outsider. They treat her with the respect blacks are expected to show to white adult women, according to Maycomb social rules. But she feels watched and experiences some discomfort. In Maycomb, a white woman does not call on black people; the races exist in their own separate worlds.

The description of Calpurnia's house conveys the poverty in which she lives, despite having been employed for years by the Finch family and assuming the role of mother figure to Jean Louise. In addition, the décor, such as photos of black family members, reflect her identification with the black community. Jean Louise, in her colorblindness, has been oblivious her entire life to Calpurnia's reality.

Calpurnia's manner of speaking with Jean Louise shows the distance between them in spite of their shared history. Jean Louise is hurt as her childish notions of Calpurnia collide with reality. More important, Calpurnia is largely voiceless and frail, lacking hope. This indicates the repressed silence of most blacks up to this point in American history as well as the powerlessness they felt in addressing injustice.

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