The most prominent theme found in Go Set a Watchman is growing up. Readers follow the story of one Jean Louise Finch as she recounts her childhood, then revisits her hometown of Maycomb only to find it drastically different from how she remembered. As she has aged throughout the years, she has adapted what we consider more modern views of race, so returning to the southern, traditional, racist town where she grew up is a stark contrast to the beliefs she holds. She spends almost all of the novel trying to understand how the people she knows best, the people nearest and dearest to her, could be so racially blind. However, by the end, she seems to accept their stances even though she considered them so blatantly wrong when she initially comes home.
A substantial part of the evidence towards the racism in Maycomb is found at the coffee held in Jean Louise’s honor by her aunt Alexandra. She is forced to sit around and act formally to women that hold themselves to outlandish standards and discuss topics that they have absurd views on. She sits down to talk with one woman, Hester, about Calpurnia’s grandson that hit and killed a white man with a car. Hester is disappointed when Jean Louise mentions that he’ll be tried for manslaughter, not murder, since it was unintentional, and Hester says she “thought we’d have some excitement” (Watchman, 172). Jean Louise becomes increasingly uncomfortable but chocks it up to her losing her sense of humor. She then becomes distressed because Hester says “[there] hasn’t been a good trial around here in ten years. Good n***** trial, I mean” (Watchman, 172), and she realizes she has nothing to talk to these women about because they all hold such racist views and discuss such meaningless things that Jean Louise feels as if she can’t relate to any of them, and yet she thinks it’s something wrong with her. She is constantly questioning herself because she seems to be the outsider of the town, so it seems more and more apparent to her that her views are the ones that are “wrong”. When they talk about her life in New York, and how unsegregated they are, one of the women says to Jean Louise that “you must be blind or something” for not noticing people of color around her (Watchman, 181). The racial standards in New York differ so heavily from those in Alabama, and Jean Louise goes through very serious self-consideration to figure out which beliefs are the better ones to hold.
While the citizens of Maycomb are largely influential in Jean Louise’s road to maturing and finding who she is and what she believes in, even more influential are Atticus and Hank. Her witnessing them at the town meeting destroyed her mental images of them in their purest state, because they all of a sudden had become some of them– those who think themselves superior just because of their skin color. After seeing them at the meeting, she spends time by herself and thinks, “The one human bring she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her…had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly” (Watchman, 113). She feels as if he is completely against her, and these horrid views are not ones that the Atticus she knows and loves would hold. She feels equally as betrayed by Hank, who she liked very much and trusted. This makes her feel more alone than ever, as if she doesn’t even belong in this town that she came from. However, after some talks with her Uncle Jack and lots of time, she comes to find that these people, even if they’re not who she remembers, are still actually the same people that they’ve always been. She is the one who has changed and grown up over the years, and matured her beliefs to become a better and more welcoming person, while Maycomb remained static.
To summarize Jean Louise’s growth over her lifetime in one quote:
“Had she insight, could she have pierced the barriers of her highly selective, insular world, she may have discovered that all her life she had been with a visual defect which had gone unnoticed and neglected by herself and by those closest to her: she was born color blind.” (Watchman, 122)
Lee, Harper. Go Set A Watchman. Harper Collins, 2015. Print.