Summary of Part VI (Chapters 15-17)
Jean Louise sits at a table behind Mr. Cunningham’s ice cream shop and tries to work through all of her conflicting and confusing feelings and thoughts. In this space that used to be her old backyard, she reconstructs her days in school. In the last two weeks of a school year in high school, she was about to go to her first dance: Jem had asked Henry to take Jean Louise with him so that Jem could take a girl he liked from across the river. Jean Louise bought a new dress and, in order to fill out the space, also bought fake bosoms. The afternoon before the dance Jean Louise also remembered that she didn’t know how to dance, so Uncle Jack came over and quickly taught her the basics.
That night, she had a wonderful time at the dance, and developed a crush on Henry. Later in the night, Henry noticed that Jean Louise’s fake bosoms slipped to wrong places on her body, and led her outside. Jean Louise was so embarrassed by this that she demanded to be taken home. Henry refused, and instead took the fake bosoms and flung them away into the night.
The next morning, the whole school was met with an assembly, where the uptight principal showed them a pair of fake bosoms hanging on the school’s front billboard. The principal demanded a confession in writing from the owner of the bosoms and the perpetrator of this outrage. Henry came up with the idea, after consulting Atticus, of making every girl in the school write a note to the principal. Jean Louise delivered her own note to the principal nervously, unaware of Henry’s plans.
Back in the present, Jean Louise and Henry grab coffee at the drugstore, where she tells him she will not and cannot marry him. She expresses her distaste with his and Atticus’s involvement with the Citizens’ Council, and their argument escalates. Henry reminds her that she has certain privileges that he does not, and that he has had to work for everything in the world; being a part of the Citizens’ Council is a necessary part of his work at this time in his life.
Jean Louise marches out of the drugstore and to Atticus’s office, “unaware that Maycomb was looking at her” (233), and has a talk with her father. During this talk, Atticus reveals himself as a mild white supremacist, and endures Jean Louise yelling at him and calling him terrible names, even comparing him to Hitler. In enduring her harsh words, Atticus still maintains his calm demeanor, and does not retaliate. Jean Louise marches out of his office, shattered and disillusioned.
Analysis of Part VI (Chapters 15-17)
Whereas the rest of the story has been rather expositional, the climax of the story finally occurs in this part. Like most of the story in Go Set a Watchman, the climax is dialogue-based rather than event- or action-based.
When Jean Louise thinks of her high school memory of the dance with Henry, she actually ends up using this to inform what she does next in present time: that is, tell him that she will not marry him. During the embarrassing aftermath of the dance, Jean Louise says, “I will never understand men as long as I live” (219). She echoes this sentiment frequently in present time as well, and thinks to herself that she was “no longer in love with Henry” (219).
Another noteworthy aspect of Jean Louise’s memories of the assembly the morning after the dance is her commentary on the principal’s principles. The young Jean Louise complains to her friends that “He just loves confessions in writing… He thinks it makes it legal” (218). Her classmates add, “He doesn’t believe anything unless it’s written down” and “When it’s written down he always believes every word of it” (218). The legality of writing is an idea that haunts the Finches throughout their history, since so much of the work Atticus deals with surrounding race is completely unwritten. Despite written laws that allow blacks to vote, there is no enforcement, and instead there are plenty of preventive measures (hence the “interference” of the NAACP in the South).
When Jean Louise tells Henry that she can’t and won’t marry him, their conversation about gender roles and equality also reaches a head in Jean Louise’s explicitly asking, “Is that what loving your man is?... You mean losing your own identity, don’t you?” (227). Her mind is only further made up when Henry responds, “In a way, yes” (227). Jean Louise’s concern with personal identity reflects the talk that she had with Uncle Jack earlier. When Henry tells her “Honey, I’m only trying to make you see—” (232) from his perspective, readers further understand that, as much as Jean Louise accuses others of being blind, her Uncle Jack is right in that she does not always open her eyes to others’ perspectives, either.
Atticus, who holds white supremacist beliefs, says: “Let’s look at it this way. You realize that our Negro population is backward, don’t you? You will concede that? You realize the full implications of the word ‘backward,’ don’t you?” (242). By saying “let’s look at it this way,” he attempts to make his daughter see from his perspective. He, too, realizes that for her entire life Jean Louise has already been “seeing from his perspective,” but can no longer, due to her racial color blindness. In her rage, Jean Louise cries “God!” and goes on to say, sarcastically, “And speaking of God, why didn’t you make it very plain to me that God made the races and put the black folks in Africa with the intention of keeping them there so the missionaries could go tell them that Jesus loved ‘em but mean for ‘em to stay in Africa?... Jesus loved all mankind, but there are different kinds of men with separate fences around ‘em” (249). Atticus interrupts this tirade with the simple request, “Jean Louise, come down to earth” (249), which, with a slight allusion, asks her to do what Jesus did to humankind. It is also a foreshadowing and a reflection of what Atticus and Jean Louise will have to do, together, to her deified image of her father.