Summary and Analysis Chapter 18

Summary

Jean Louise drives home and begins packing in a fury. Alexandra finds her, correctly guesses that she’s had a fight with Atticus, and tries to persuade her not to leave. Jean Louise responds with a string of insults that makes her aunt cry.

As Jean Louise is loading her suitcase into the car, Jack arrives by taxi. She yells at him, and he hits her across the face, making her bleed and nearly pass out. All her energy to fight suddenly leaves her. Jack brings her inside, gives her a glass of whiskey, and asks her if she still remembers why she is angry. She remembers, she says, but the pain is now bearable.

Jack tells her that she is becoming her own person, learning for the first time to separate her own conscience from her father’s. Atticus needed to let her attack and destroy him so that she could finally learn to understand the world independently of him. Jack explains that Atticus has never shied away from resisting anyone he objected to: not the Ku Klux Klan, not the citizens’ council, not even the Supreme Court.

Jack asks Jean Louise to consider moving back home: Maycomb needs more people who think like she does, more people committed to racial reconciliation. As they part ways, Jack tells her that he has always been in love with her mother and that Jem and Jean Louise have been like the children he never had.

Analysis

The meaning behind the novel’s title, Go Set a Watchman, finally becomes clear. For Lee, the prophet Isaiah’s call to set a watchman (first introduced in Chapter 7) is a call for people to pursue what they believe to be right without simply accepting the ethics of the world around them. Jack tells Jean Louise, “Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.” Jack challenges Jean Louise to establish her own “watchman,” to take responsibility for her own understanding of right and wrong instead of relying on her father’s beliefs. For Jean Louise, this challenge is part of her coming of age and becoming independent from her father; for any reader, though, the call to reconsider what you believe and take responsibility for your own conscience remains equally relevant. Jack’s words reveal the closest thing to a moral that the novel offers.

That Jack serves as the author’s mouthpiece here, though, does not mean that all his words and actions should be regarded as equally good. Jack, like Atticus, is a complex figure, both wise and flawed. His choice to hit Jean Louise so hard that she nearly passes out, though it ultimately appears to have a good outcome, is not an admirable one. Likewise, Jack’s environment affects his attitude toward racial equality, and racist thoughts clearly taint his remarks. But Jack’s imperfections do not damage the credibility of his message to Jean Louise; rather, they enhance his credibility by proving that everyone, even he himself, is flawed. To attempt to read Jack as an ideal character would be to miss the very heart of his message.

Jean Louise, too, is a flawed hero. When she accuses Atticus of being a bigot, Jack tells her that she is the true bigot because she immediately dismisses anyone who disagrees with her. Whereas Atticus has been willing to listen to her point of view and learn from her, Jean Louise has not extended her father the same courtesy. Nor is Jean Louise completely free of racial prejudice. Despite her insistence that she is “color blind,” she still subscribes to the belief that she must marry her “own kind,” and she tells her uncle she has no desire “to run out and marry a Negro or something.” Her self-righteousness is especially dangerous because it blinds her to the ways society has influenced her own thinking about race relations.

Pop Quiz!

Why is Jean Louise surprised when Hank meets her at the train station?

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