Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman Summary

Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch is returning to her home county of Maycomb in Alabama to visit her family for two weeks on vacation. Jean Louise, also called by her childhood nickname Scout, left the South after college and now works in New York. Her father Atticus Finch is a well-known lawyer in the town, and once won an incredible acquittal for a young black man accused of rape. Jean Louise looks up to her father immensely, although Atticus is now seventy-two, and has a hard time getting around due to his rheumatoid arthritis.

Upon arriving home, Jean Louise is met by her childhood friend and lover Henry Clinton. Henry drives her home and they entertain ideas of marriage, but Jean Louise still cannot bring herself to fully commit to marrying Henry. They arrive home and talk to Atticus and Atticus’s sister, Jean Louise’s aunt, Alexandra, whom Jean Louise has never been able to get along with. That night, Jean Louise and Henry go on a dinner date and then go to a childhood haunt, Finch’s Landing. On the way there, Jean Louise remembers her older brother Jem, who died of a heart attack two years ago, and her childhood friend Dill, who is now somewhere abroad. She recalls the time the three children held a mock revival service and had other adventures together. Jean Louise and Henry swim in the river that night with their clothes on for fun, which earns Jean Louise a chiding from Aunt Alexandra. The next day, Sunday, they go to church, where Jean Louise is reunited with her Uncle Jack, with whom she is close and trusts dearly.

Although she is supposed to see Uncle Jack that afternoon, Jean Louise discovers a racist pamphlet in her house, which prompts Aunt Alexandra to reveal that Henry and Atticus have gone to the white supremacists’ Citizens’ Council of Maycomb meeting. Jean Louise sneaks into the courthouse and is appalled by the outright racism going on in the meeting, and feels betrayed by Henry and especially Atticus in their passive condoning. She runs home and falls asleep, dreaming of the time she mistakenly thought she was pregnant in the sixth grade. She was then so ashamed of her pregnancy that she attempted suicide by jumping from the water tower to save her family’s dignity, but was saved by Henry Clinton. She returned home to talk over issues with Calpurnia, her childhood cook and maid, a black woman who was practically her mother after Mrs. Finch died from a heart attack when the children were very young.

When Jean Louise wakes up, she hears that Calpurnia’s grandson has committed manslaughter while drunk, and Atticus will take up his case. However, Atticus is doing so because he does not want the NAACP to be involved. Disillusioned with him, Jean Louise visits Calpurnia, and is received coldly. Upon coming home, Jean Louise is immediately ushered into a coffee with the town ladies that her aunt has set up. Exhausted by the shallowness and bigotry of the town women, Jean goes to finally visit Uncle Jack that afternoon. She confronts her uncle about her father’s twisted views, and Uncle Jack unsuccessfully and in a roundabout way tries to explain to her the necessity of individual conscience.

Jean Louise storms back to town, and remembers her first high school dance. She went with Henry, and wore false bosoms; when the false bosoms slipped, Henry tossed them away into the night. They were found the next morning and caused administrative outrage; Henry devised a scheme to have every girl claim that the falsies were hers. Now, Jean Louise and Henry get coffee, and she tells him she will not marry him. They argue; she storms out and runs into Atticus. Jean Louise and Atticus argue until Jean Louise rushes home to pack and leave Maycomb as soon as possible. She is stopped by Uncle Jack, who slaps her and makes her see that she has finally become her own person. Jean Louise reconciles with Henry and Atticus, and prepares to stay out the rest of her vacation time in Maycomb.