Summary and Analysis Chapter 8



After Sunday dinner, Hank and Atticus go to a meeting at the courthouse. Jean Louise discovers a pamphlet in the living room titled “The Black Plague” bearing a drawing of an African cannibal. The pamphlet argues that black people are genetically inferior to white people and that non-white races ought to be always under the leadership of whites. Disgusted by the pamphlet, Jean Louise asks Alexandra where it came from, and Alexandra says it belongs to Atticus. Jean Louise assumes that Alexandra doesn’t know what the pamphlet says and shockingly learns that Alexandra has not only read it but agrees with it.

Jean Louise learns from her aunt that her father and Hank are active members of the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council, a group dedicated to preserving whites’ authority. Convinced that her aunt must be mistaken, Jean Louise walks into town to the council meeting currently in session at the courthouse.

She slips into the Colored balcony of the courtroom and sees Atticus and Hank in the company of men she knows to be deep-rooted racists, men she is sure her father despises. Grady O’Hanlon, a travelling speaker, begins to lecture the group on the importance of segregation. While O’Hanlon makes highly offensive statements about blacks, Jean Louise remembers a trial during her childhood when Atticus won an acquittal for a black man accused of rape. The incongruity of seeing her father and Hank now sitting in silence during O’Hanlon’s racist invective is too much for Jean Louise to bear.

Dazedly leaving the courthouse, she wanders automatically to the place where her childhood home used to stand. In its place is an ice cream shop. She purchases a dish of ice cream from the man at the window, who recognizes her although she doesn’t recognize him. He offers to give her a second helping of ice cream if she can remember him. She sits at a table in her former backyard and tries to fight back nausea.


Jean Louise is so disgusted with the contents of “The Black Plague” pamphlet that she says it makes “Dr. Goebbels” seem innocent by comparison. Joseph Goebbels, a high-ranking Nazi official prior to and during World War II, was an outspoken believer in the biological superiority of the Aryan race. He strongly supported the slaughter of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. Such beliefs seem to Jean Louise to be the very definition of evil, and she can’t understand how people she loves and trusts can possibly tolerate these attitudes (or even agree with them, as Alexandra does).

Even more shocking to Jean Louise is when she sees Atticus and Hank sitting in company with, and seeming to give implicit approval of, O’Hanlon as he condemns the integration of the races. That she watches this scene from the same balcony where she once saw her father win a trial defending a black man heightens the irony of the moment. The place where she had formed a firm belief in her father’s moral uprightness becomes the place where her image of him begins to crumble. The balcony is also specially designated for “Colored” viewers, a signal of the segregation the council is fighting to maintain.

The details of the plot here significantly differ from those of To Kill a Mockingbird. In Mockingbird, the circumstances of the trial are slightly different and the jury returns with a guilty verdict. That Atticus wins the case in Go Set a Watchman makes him seem all the more perfect to Jean Louise, all the more pristine in his record against racism. The higher his pedestal, the farther he has to fall when Jean Louise finally begins to doubt her idealized view of him.

When Jean Louise wanders to the site of her old house only to find it replaced by an ice cream stand, her internal agony expresses itself physically. In the wake of what she has seen at the citizens’ council, she longs to return to her childhood memories of Atticus and Hank, her simple childhood view of morality. Instead, she finds that her notion of home is not what she thought it was: She stands in a place that used to be familiar and feels like she has become a stranger to it all.

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