Study Guide

Go Set a Watchman Setting

By Harper Lee


Maycomb Alabama, 1950s

You Can Never Go Home Again

A bunch of things changed in the two years between Harper Lee's writing Go Set a Watchman and writing To Kill a Mockingbird, but Maycomb, Alabama isn't one of them. In fact, some of the descriptions and lore of Maycomb in Watchman are in Mockingbird, word-for-word.

But the setting is still important, naturally. In fact, the South might be the biggest character in the book. Returning home is the impetus for Jean Louise's journey, and physical description of the countryside is the first thing we see in the book:

Over her breakfast coffee, she watched the last of Georgia's hills recede and the red earth appear, and with it tin-roofed houses set in the middle of swept yards, and in the yards the inevitable verbena grew, surrounded by whitewashed tires. (1.1)

The South has a mystical pull for some people, like Mr. Fred the grocer, who tells Jean Louise:

"The longer I stayed away the more I missed Maycomb. I got to the point where I felt like I had to come back or die. You never get it out of your bones." (12.125)

That's either heartwarming or something out of a horror movie, depending on your perspective.

We are told both that Maycomb is a special snowflake and that "It's typical South" (14.61).

Whatever it is, it has an allure for Jean Louise, who "wonder[s] why she had never thought her country beautiful" (1.12).

That wonder won't last long.

There Is No Place for You Here

Maycomb has changed a little. After all, it's lived through World War II since the time of To Kill a Mockingbird. However, "Although Maycomb's appearance had changed, the same hearts beat in new houses" (4.7). And it's these beating hearts that begin to disturb Jean Louise's conscience.

Even though the Second World War rocked the world, the American Civil War—or, as Uncle Jack calls it, the "War Between the States" (14.164)—has left scars across the American South.

Uncle Jack goes on, saying:

"No war was ever fought for so many different reasons meeting in one reason clear as crystal. They fought to preserve their identity. Their political identity, their personal identity." (14.118)

He also leaves slavery completely out of it. Um. Uncle Jack, aren't you supposed to be all well-read and pedantic?!

They Didn't Land on Finch's Landing, Finch's Landing Landed on Them!

Within the book, we have the mini-settings of Finch's Landing and Scout's old home. Although Maycomb has changed very little, these places are very different, and Jean Louise doesn't like change. After Jem died, "Atticus tears down the old house and builds a new one in a new section of town" (3.30). Jean Louise thinks she could never do that. Maybe she's more attached to the past than he is?

Also, Finch's Landing, her grandmother's estate, has been sold to a country club, irritating Jean Louise because no one told her.

This is a sticking point for her, and makes her feel left out, a feeling intensified when she learns who her father really is:

Go away, the old buildings said. There is no place for you here. You are not wanted. We have secrets. (8.76)

Where will Jean Louise find a home?

She Wants to Be a Part of It

Uncle Jack describes the Civil War as "an army of individuals!" (14.111) shortly after Jean Louise says, "In New York you are your own person" (13.124). His rationalization is a way to trick her and draw her back into the South, saying, you can be your own person here. When we see how desperate everyone is to conform—Aunt Alexandra and Henry especially—we know that's not true in good ol' Maycomb.

Another parallel between the South and New York City comes when Jean Louise tells the story of a man pushing her on a bus. "After I pushed back I realized I'd become a part of it" (13.125), she says.

At the end of Watchman, she pushes Atticus. Does this mean she is now a part of Maycomb again?