Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The River (Symbol)

When Jean Louise and Henry go swimming in the river (79), it is seen as a disgraceful act. Aunt Alexandra specifically mentions their age, and how adults should not act so immaturely. However, with regards to age, the river is actually a symbol of the moving passage of time. When Hank and Jean Louise go swimming, they attempt to recreate the carefree spirit of their days as children, and time becomes suspended. The whole trip to and from the river concerns Jean Louise’s painful memories and perceptions of new and old Maycomb, and the river’s escape is one way for her to accept that time will always keep flowing.

Leap Year Steps (Symbol)

The Leap Year Steps have a significant name, which comes from the result that there are 366 steps in it. These steps, on the cliff bluff that leads from the old Finch House, lead to a jetty with easy access to the river water. The Leap Year Steps are another symbol of the timelessness of Maycomb and Maycomb’s effects on Jean Louise’s youth. They are tied to her childhood memories, as well as her family’s ancestry (the old Finch House has just been sold, but Jean Louise hasn’t yet felt that impact.) The concept of the Leap Year – extending a regular year by a day – is reflective of Jean Louise’s desire to keep the Maycomb of her childhood the same, if just for one day.

Trains and Cars (Symbol)

On the way down to Maycomb, Jean Louise rides on a train and comments that “she was glad she had decided to go by train. Trains had changed since her childhood, and the novelty of the experience amused her” (4). Not only are trains the symbol of changing times, they are also a reflective, metaphoric symbol of the set paths that people take through life. The same way that trains only run on already laid railroads, so people have tendencies to follow through with their beliefs and ideologies during their lives.

Although Jean Louise begins on a train, at the end of the book she gets into a car. Throughout the story, Jean Louise expresses annoyance at cars. She bumps her head and curses cars for being so small. Going out with Henry, she says, “How long before they’ll cut ‘em down to one food high? We’ll be riding prone next year” (50). Cars, a very free and open form of transportation, is the last form of technology that Jean Louise will deign to accept. She does not stop crashing into them until the very end, when she is careful of not bumping her head. Jean Louise finally accepts her individuality and the freedom to go about however she chooses.

Stone (Symbol)

The concept of “stones” and the physical material of “stone” come up often in Go Set a Watchman. The man who delivers the line/Bible verse from which the title is derived is a Mr. Stone, the unlikable young church minister. Stone is unyielding and unforgiving, just like the bigots in the novel. However, Lee is also able to tie stones to her explorations of sight and blindness. While talking to the ignorant ladies at coffee, Jean Louise not only finds herself “drying up stone dead” (172), but also that she only looks into people’s faces and not their hearts as she is “stone blind… Mr. Stone. Mr. Stone set a watchman in church yesterday. He should have provided me with one” (181). Later that afternoon, Uncle Jack compares the Citizens’ Council to a first defense, like a stone that can be desperately picked up. In all of these scenarios, the unforgiving material of stone is a constant reminder of how staunch Maycomb's beliefs are, and how they need to change.

History of Maycomb (Allegory)

The history of Maycomb, delivered in the beginning of Chapter 4 (Part II), can be seen as an allegory to the current sociopolitical development of Maycomb’s residents. Built on crossroads and a tavern, the vastly different historical experiences of blacks and whites intersect to create something wholly new, and something that needs time. Furthermore, Maycomb’s preoccupation with government as part of its business (44) is reflective of its residents’ current preoccupation with legality, even when their racism is no longer legal.

Later in the story, Uncle Jack (Dr. Finch) also uses the extended metaphor of “birth” and “birthing pains” to parallel the development of Jean Louise into her own individuality to the South’s gradual and painful acceptance of racial equality (263).

Kind of People (Motif)

References to people being “of a type” are common in the story. Aunt Alexandra objects to Jean Louise possibly marrying Hank, because he is “not her type.” Dr. Finch (Uncle Jack) confirms this, too. This reaches a more difficult and complicated separation when the idea of black people as inferior to whites comes into question, and Aunt Alexandra tells Jean Louise that nobody goes down to visit the blacks anymore.

Grayscale Colors (Motif)

Frequent references to the colors of black and white, and occasionally gray, are not without purpose. The story deals with heavy issues of visible skin color. Examples can be found on pages 120, 127, 146, and 206.

Sight and Blindness (Motif)

The idea of seeing clearly, as opposed to being blind, is brought up consistently throughout the novel. Because many of the characters are bigots who refuse to see from other perspectives, people accuse each other of being blind. During the ladies’ coffee, Claudine talks about how Jean Louise “must be blind” if she can’t see black people sitting next to her in public places (181), and Jean Louise agrees quietly to herself that “Blind, that’s what I am.” At the end of the story, as she finally comes to terms with tolerance, Jean Louise is told by Uncle Jack to “open her eyes” (260)—both physically and metaphorically.

Outrage (Motif)

Outrage, or at least ridiculous occurrences, are frequently brought up as catalysts of understanding. A major theme of the story is understanding someone else, and ridiculous situations are able to help characters see each other more clearly. Many of these are brought up in flashback, such as the incident with Reverend and Dill, Scout’s near-suicide from the water tower, and the high school dance incident. Jean Louise’s fury at both Uncle Jack and then her father are also scenes of great outrage (226).

Conflict/War and Courage (Motif)

The Civil War and the losses of the South are still the backdrop to the issues of racial inequality in Maycomb. Frequently, people close to her refer to Jean Louise’s current conflicts with those around her as her “personal war,” and that it needs to be solved not with senseless fighting (270, 272), but with a kind of courage that Atticus still possesses.