Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman is the long-awaited successor to Harper Lee’s masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. In it, we find Jean Louise as a New Yorker and young adult, “easy to look at and easy to be with most of the time, but…afflicted with a restlessness of spirit.” She must contend with her Aunt’s assertive manners and standards, and try to understand her uncle’s and her father’s small-town ethics through a new perspective. While Mockingbird showed us some definitions of societal and racial prejudices, Watchman forces us to watch heroes fall, to rediscover the beginnings of bigotry and prejudice, and to reassess survival in a small town, even if it means sacrificing part of yourself. With more controversial themes and conflicts than its predecessor, Go Set a Watchman is a book that will be heavily debated for decades to come.

Recommendations:

If you haven’t read it yet, To Kill a Mockingbird also by Harper Lee, should be the next book on your list. It tells the story of the events that shaped Jean Louise’s childhood and much of whom she has grown to become.

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee is a biography by Charles J. Shields about the life of the secretive author who until recently only published one novel in her entire life, despite its instant success.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride is another novel about race, identity, and unraveling the past to understand the present.

The Reason Why:The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade is one of the books on Uncle Jack’s shelves that you could explore to get a further insight into his character. Or you could look up the poetry of Mackworth Praed or Edith Hamilton’s Mythology to understand his mythology references. Also, some of Atticus’ books read to his children are mentioned, including True Detective Mysteries by Vance Trimble, military histories, and Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of poetry.

Themed Recipe:

Jean Louise has a memorable moment at her old home’s location, now an ice cream parlor, in Go Set a Watchman. While her chosen flavor of ice cream is plain vanilla, and you can certainly make these cupcakes that flavor if you have picky eaters, I chose a pink lemonade version because Scout has fond memories of drinking lemonade on the porch of that home, brought out for her, Jem, and Dill, by Calpurnia to cool them on the long summer days they spent playing outside.

Themed Recipe:

Jean Louise has a memorable moment at her old home’s location, now an ice cream parlor, in Go Set a Watchman. While her chosen flavor of ice cream is plain vanilla, and you can certainly make these cupcakes that flavor if you have picky eaters, I chose a lemonade version because Scout has fond memories of drinking lemonade on the porch of that home, brought out for her, Jem, and Dill, by Calpurnia to cool them on the long summer days they spent playing outside.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 stick salted butter, room temperature
  • 2 packets Crystal Light lemonade drink mix
  • 18-24` flat (not cone-shaped) ice cream cones
  • rainbow ice cream sprinkles
  • 2 sticks butter, unsalted, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp heavy whipping cream, or milk, if that’s all you have on hand
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk

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Instructions:

  1. For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a stand mixer, combine on low speed the white granulated sugar with one stick of salted butter, and one stick of unsalted.
  2. Once incorporated, add half of the flour on low speed, followed by the milk, then move up to medium speed. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then add in the eggs, one at a time on low speed. Add in the rest of the flour, one packet of lemonade, and the vanilla extract.
  3. Place ice cream cones in a popover pan. Fill each cone about 2/3 full with cake batter.
  4. Place a baking sheet under the popover pan or muffin tin and bake about 14-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean of raw batter.
  5. Remove from oven and cool for 5-10 minutes. Gently prick the bottoms of the cones with a toothpick to allow steam to escape. Cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. For the frosting, cream together the stick of salted butter with one cup of powdered sugar on medium-low speed in the bowl of a stand mixer. Next, add one more cup of powdered sugar, then the heavy whipping cream. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the lemonade drink mix, followed by the last cup of powdered sugar, and mix to combine.
  7. Use a sandwich bag with the tip cut off to pipe icing onto the cupcakes. Pipe icing from the outside in, building up in the center, so it looks like soft-serve ice cream. Top with sprinkles.

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Discussion Questions:

1.Cousin Joshua is one of the first examples we have of the fact that Scout is now an adult, exposed to the dark adult world. She has grown up, as has her cousin who shot at the president of his university. What does it say about Scout with how she handles this information? Are there any other family instances like this?

2.Scout mentions the South’s political predilections, and that they are NOT generally Republican for the previous 90 years. Is this still true today? Why not? Have views on both sides shifted at any point since Scout’s time? You may need to do some research of the history of the political parties for this question.

3.Scout is described as “easy to look at and easy to be with most of the time, but she was in no sense of the word an easy person. She was afflicted with a restlessness of spirit…” What and how may certain factors contribute her restlessness? (Suggestions: her age and life stage, where she lives and the media and lifestyle she is exposed to, her personality, her losses, her longings to belong)

4.One of the main conflicts Jean Louise (Scout) has with her Aunt is about her decision to leave Maycomb instead of staying to care for her father. Jean Louise believes that going back to their old lives (hers in another state) would be better for their individual recoveries after their tragic loss. She claims they would be miserable together if she came back any sooner than absolutely necessary. Why is that? What has happened to make her and Atticus so contentious since we last read about their close relationship? Is this something that happens in nearly all father-daughter relationships during certain ages/phases of life? Who or what is to blame and what is the remedy?

5.Much like high school reunions, Jean Louise is forced to attend a Maycomb traditional “Coffee,” and to catch up with former schoolmates who never left the area. She observes “Childhood friendships were rarely renewed under such conditions.” Why do some people enjoy doing this at her age, but some, like Jean Louise, despise it? Is there a reason she lost contact with all of these people? Is the same true for us, or are there other factors as well?

6.Much can be said about the abrasive, uptight nature of Aunt Alexandra, but Jean makes one observation that could be a sort of compliment: “No wars had ever touched her, and she had lived through three.” How is this possible, and what does this say about her traits that Scout despises, yet may have served her aunt well?

7.Aunt Alexandra believes that “young people were the same in every generation-but this cockiness [of Jean Louise’s] nettled and irritated her.” Do generations all begin the same way with the same potential outcomes and the same passions attributed to their years, with only the factors of society and culture and war dictating who they become? Or are there variances in generations coming from certain predispositions and their mentality as a whole? For an interesting theory about generational differences and possible cyclical revolutions, research the Strauss–Howe generational theory and generational archetypes, or read the book Generations: The History of America’s Future by Strauss and Howe.

8.Some people believed about Henry that, “Fine boy as he is, the trash won’t wash out of him.” How is this a form of prejudice as well, and how has it carried over from the previous book? What characters in To Kill a Mockingbird were labeled as trash, and what is their hierarchy, if there is one, in the minds of the people of Maycomb? Is one form of trash better than another, and according to what standards? How does this inhibit such people from achieving their goals, and why does this make Jean Louise more entitled than she realizes?

9.Henry observes that “Jean Louise was most like herself when she was at Finch’s Landing.” Is she a true Alabamian at heart, in love with the fresh air, running rivers, and a huge old house that once belonged to her family? Is this only special for her, or do places like this call out to all of us? Other than her family history, why else might this place hold a special appeal for her?

10.Henry and Jean Louise debate about what type of man “all women” want. She says it is “a strong man who knows her like a book, who’s not only her lover but ‘he who keepeth Israel.’” Henry calls this a father figure. In what ways is Jean seeking for Atticus in Henry, and in what ways is she balking at the prospect? (Remember, it is later observed that she doesn’t realize it, but she worships her father). What elements of their fathers do other women search for in relationships with men? To what type of strength does she refer? What other wisdom does Scout observe about the relationships between men and women (look at the next part of the conversation about married couples).

11.Were you surprised about where the novel found characters like Jean Louise, Jem, or Dill? How was Dill’s choice to stay in the army appropriate to his activities and tendencies as a child? How might they conflict? Do we sometimes see glimpses of the adult a child will become, in certain behaviors or preferences?

12.At Jem’s funeral, Jean Louise wore a hat for the only time in her life, “fully aware that Jem would have laughed had he been able to see her, but somehow it made her feel better.” Was this because it would have made him laugh and she missed his laugh, or because it seemed the right thing to do at a funeral? What makes people do odd things when someone they love dies, and what are some examples you can think of? Is this healing, and something we should allow or encourage in others and ourselves, or are there boundaries, and ways such activities can be hurtful to the individual?

13.The title of this book comes from a verse in a sermon at their Methodist church, given by Mr. Stone. It comes from the book of Isaiah in the Bible, chapter 21:6. What is the significance of this and why was it chosen as the title? Think forward to the reference mentioned again in chapter 13, when Jean Louise says she needs a watchman “to lead me around… to tell me this is what a man says, but this is what it means, to draw a line down the middle and say here is this justice and there is that justice and make me understand the difference.” (Also, think of the final chapter, and Uncle Jack’s definition of a watchman).

43.Why did Atticus have the pamphlet, “The Black Plague,” and why were Atticus, Henry, Uncle Jack at the meeting of the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council?

15.Atticus once said he believed in “equal rights for all, special privileges for none.” What does this mean at that time and who was receiving special privileges-think of the classes and people in other locations, as well as race. How have those things changed over the decades, and which have remained?

16.Why is incest discussed in both of Harper Lee’s novels? Was it a common occurrence in this area and time period, and was it any more or less common than now-or are things covered up differently?

17.What reasons does Atticus give for being against his case falling into the “wrong hands,” those of the NAACP? Why are they a threat to him? Is Scout right in thinking this is as simply as black vs. white, literally and figuratively, for her and Atticus? If not, how does he see the situation? How does this case affect judicial rights, and those of state’s rights vs. federal jurisdiction?

18.Why does Calpurnia treat Jean Louise so differently, and why does she take it so personally? Should she, or should these actions be attributed to grief, or worry, or the exhaustion of an old woman living so long in this world with all its conflicts?

19.Aunt Alexandra believes that keeping a black person happy is like catering to a king…all they do is bite the hands that feed them. Compare this to Atticus and Uncle Jack. How can either of these statements be true for any person, at any given time? How are they also false, and what do they say about Aunt Alexandra, given the place and period she lives in, and what has been happening in Maycomb while Jean Louise was away? Contrast this with the following statement thought by Jean: “How can they devoutly believe everything they hear in church and then say the things they do and listen to the things they hear without throwing up?”

20.Jean Louise has a conversation with Hester, whose husband Bill is against the NAACP and their “mongrelization” of races by whites and blacks marrying each other and having mixed babies. Scientifically speaking, what are some of the actual benefits of one race having children with another, not just blacks and whites? What genetic traits become eliminated in a family line when it happens, and what dangerous diseases can be passed on if races keep only to themselves?

21.Other than her Uncle Jack’s home, Jean Louise “had never seen a shelter that reflected so strongly the personality of its owner. an eerie quality of untidiness prevailed amid order” with military cleanliness, yet books were splayed haphazardly around the home. By that standard, what should Jean Louise’s New York apartment look like, or Henry’s home? How would your home look if it reflected your personality?

22.Uncle Jack plays a much bigger role in this book, and serves as a buffer for Scout and Atticus, attempting to answer his niece’s questions in a way that makes her think. “People’s attitudes toward the duties of a political government have changed. The have-nots have risen and have demanded and received their due…the haves are restricted from getting more. You are protected from the winter winds of old age…by a government that says we do not trust you to provide for yourself, therefore we will make you save.” Are these statements true, then or now? Who does he consider to be the haves, and who are the have-nots? Would you agree with his statement: “I’m a healthy old man with a constitutional mistrust of paternalism and government in large doses” or is there more about himself he has chosen not to reveal to Jean Louise?

23.Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise that “What was incidental to the issue in the war between the States is incidental to the issue in the war we’re in now, and is incidental to the issue in your own private war.” Of what issue is he referring to, and what private war does she have going on? How does she resolve them?

24.The great controversial question of this novel is, “Is Atticus a racist?” Before answering, consider this quote from Henry about Atticus attending a meeting of the Citizens’ council: “He had to know who he’d be fighting if the time ever came to-he had to find out who they were…see beyond men’s acts to their motives…A man can be boiling inside, but he knows a mild answer works better than showing his rage. A man can condemn his enemies, but it’s wiser to know them…Men, especially men, must conform to certain demands of the community they live in simply so they can be of service to it. ” How does (or doesn’t) this justify Atticus’ actions and involvement?

25.What do you think of Atticus’ comment, “some men who cheat their wives out of grocery money wouldn’t think of cheating the grocer. Men tend to carry their honesty in pigeonholes” ? Does that seem honest, rational, or even right? Is it something limited only to men?

26.What is the Supreme Court decision Jean Louise and Atticus discuss, and how did they “in trying to satisfy one amendment, it looks like the rubbed out another one, the Tenth” ? Also, what does the tenth amendment say, and what does one have to do with the other? Also, “to meet the needs of a small portion of the population, the Court set up something that affect the vast majority of folks, adversely.” What are some of those effects that have taken place as a result?

27.Why would it be bad, according to the thinking of Atticus and Scout, for a group of people to have all the privileges of citizenship, but not share in the responsibilities of it? (Think in their time and the issue of which they speak, and also of other peoples here in America now-do not think only of race or class). what are some of the negative effects on society as a result? Who pays the price and how?

28.Several times, Jean Louise thinks of a literary character “Childe Roland.” In the final conflict of the novel, she thinks the entire line: “Childe Roland to the dark tower came.” What stories/plays/poems is this a reference to? What does the dark tower symbolize in each of those stories, and what does it represent to Jean Louise? Is it a blessing, a curse, or a necessary evil that she must face, and must we all, in order to become adults?

29.How do “Prejudice…and faith…both begin where reason ends,” and why would this make anyone fear reason or hold onto prejudice? What things can fear drive people to do, and how can that fear be remedied, if not with logic or reason?

30.Jack tells Jean Louise not to leave or give up on her ignorant friends, because “the time your friends need you is when they’re wrong…they don’t need you when they’re right.” Why would that be, and how can she approach them or support them without sacrificing her own beliefs? (Think about his advice a few sentences later about maturity and humbleness of mind.)

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