Study Guide

Go Set a Watchman What's Up With the Ending?

By Harper Lee

What's Up With the Ending?

Shades of Gray

Kill myself. Kill him. I had to kill him to live. (18.94)

This is Jean Louise's confession. Go Set a Watchman ends in murder/suicide.

...But don't call the police. It's a metaphorical murder/suicide. Both Jean Louise and Atticus are physically fine, but their psyches (more hers than his) are wounded.

The ending to this book is simple on the surface, but insanely complicated beneath. On the surface, Jean Louise and her father argue about different beliefs. We've all been there. She eventually forgives her father, even though her father makes no effort to compromise or understand where she's coming from. And they seem to live happily ever after. The end.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. (We know there are no icebergs in the South, just roll with it.) Beneath their argument are deep issues of ideals, mostly about race.

Atticus harbors views that Jean Louise finds offensive. Here's a quick laundry list:

  1. "If the N**** vote edged out the white you'd have N****es in every county office" (17.72). Don't tell him about Obama.
  2. "Jefferson believed full citizenship was a privilege to be earned by each man" (17.89). By "earned," he means, "granted by being born white and upper middle-class."
  3. "Do you want N****es by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?" (17.102) Ugh. Ye olde "separate but equal" claptrap.

Jean Louise has her rebuttals, but many of them are almost as offensive.

  1. "Atticus, the NAACP hasn't done half of what I've seen in the past two days. It's us" (17.95). Don't tell Jean Louise about Rachel Dolezal.
  2. "The N****es down here are still in their childhood as a people. […] They've made terrific progress in adapting themselves to white ways, but they're far from it yet" (17.108). Um—why should black people have to adapt to white people's ways, exactly?
  3. "You love justice, all right. […] Nothing to do with that black boy, you just like a neat brief" (17.116). This is a burn about Atticus's motivations in the Tom Robinson trial that might affect the way you interpret To Kill a Mockingbird.

She also calls Atticus a "double-dealing, ring-tailed old son of a b****!" (17.153), a "coward as well as a snob and a tyrant" (17.114), and he even compares him to Hitler.

So what's the solution? Well, Jean Louise proposes a "Be Kind to the N*****s Week" (17.146) which… just…. wow. There are no words to even begin to describe how jacked-up that sentence is.

At least her heart seems to be in the right-ish place (for the 1950s South?) even if her mouth isn't. "I wonder what kind of miracle we could work with a week's decency" (17.146), she thinks. (Psst: Jean Louise. Rethink the insanely racist title of your "week of decency.")

But Atticus won't entertain that. Jean Louise knows he "won't give an inch and [he] never will" (17.147). Her major blow: "I despise you and everything you stand for" (17.149).

Dang, girl, we're surprised no blood has been drawn.

Eyes Wide Shut

Okay, blood will be drawn. That was just round one.

Because Atticus can't stand up to his daughter on his own, he calls his brother as backup. Uncle Jack's job is to slap some sense into Jean Louise. We mean it literally. He hits her so hard, her mouth bleeds. And of course, "sense" is Uncle Jack and Atticus's brand of white patriarchy, smacking Jean Louise down for daring to stand up against it.

What follows is either peace making or brainwashing, depending on how you read it.

Uncle Jack calls Jean Louise a bigot:

"What does a bigot do when he meets someone who challenges his opinions? He doesn't give. He stays rigid. Doesn't even try to listen, just lashes out." (18.111)

Um, wait. This is exactly what Atticus does. He might not lash out (that's his attack dog, Uncle Jack's role), but he stays rigid and doesn't listen.

Jack does give her some good advice about learning to be her own person separate from her father, but he doesn't seem to believe in physical separation. He doesn't want her to go back to New York. He wants her to stay in Maycomb with her family and friends (um, she has no friends), and we're not sure if it's because he thinks she can be a voice of reason there, or because it's easier to silence her if she's close by.

"It takes a certain kind of maturity to live in the South these days. You don't have it yet, but you have a shadow of the beginnings of it." (18.171)

But what does he mean by maturity? The maturity to believe something different and speak up? Or the maturity to shut up about it?

His pep-talk/brainwash works, because Jean Louise agrees that both she and Atticus are important to society. To her, you need racism and non-racism to exist: "They're the drag and we're the thrust, together we make the thing fly" (19.23). Uh-huh. Sure.

Atticus says he's proud of Jean Louise for standing up for her beliefs. Wait—isn't that Uncle Jack's definition of bigotry? Does this mean Atticus is proud of his daughter for being a bigot, just like him? Ultimately, Jean Louise says she loves Atticus and they drive away.

To us, it seems like Jean Louise has been silenced, but she doesn't see this as a bad thing. She gets into the car and doesn't bump her head (which is a symbol throughout the book—check out our Symbols analysis for more). Jean Louise has finally learned to stoop, to accommodate to others in order to keep the peace.

This really is one of the most confusing, complicated endings in literature. But are debates about morals, race, and family ever simple?