Study Guide

Dr. "Uncle Jack" Finch in Go Set a Watchman

By Harper Lee

Dr. "Uncle Jack" Finch

Medical Malpractice

Uncle Jack Finch looks like Alexandra, had his education paid for by Atticus, dresses like Atticus ("Styles may come and styles may go, but [Uncle Jack] and Atticus will cling to their vests forever" [14.9]), and seems to combine the worst traits of these two family members into one package.

Great.

He talks like a pompous academic, dubbing Jean Louise "daughter of Nereus" (6.47) and calling her swimming escapade a "predilection for ablutionary excesses" (6.48)…which would send anyone running for an encyclopedia. Also, "it was his custom to state one or two isolated facts, and a conclusion seemingly unsupported thereby" (13.34). Not a great argumentative strategy, if you ask us.

But even though Jean Louise calls him an "old quack" (6.49), she says it as a joke. In fact, she regards him as a great oracle of wisdom. And cultural critic Kiese Laymon calls Uncle Jack "a white supremacist Yoda," which is pretty much the best description for any literary character ever.

"A White Supremacist Yoda"

Like a Southern female Luke Skywalker (but somehow whinier) Jean Louise goes to Uncle Jack with her conundrum regarding Atticus. Unsurprisingly, one white male racist defends the other. Uncle Jack—whose dialogue ranges from cow obituaries to the Civil War—tells Jean Louise to "leave the slaves out of it" (14.105) and just accept her father for who he is.

When that doesn't stick, he slaps her out of it. Literally. He gives her a "savage backhand swipe full on the mouth" (18.34), so severe that she spits blood and almost loses consciousness.

And...Jean Louise accepts the whole thing.

Ugh. Who wants a time machine back to the 1950s? ("No one" is the only correct answer.)

Like Atticus, Uncle Jack is a member of the white patriarchy, threatened by civil rights, and threatened by Jean Louise, who might be veering toward the belief that civil rights are a-okay. He has to slap her out of it. If black people have rights, what's next? Equal pay for women? Gay marriage? Never.

Ironically, Uncle Jack, in many ways, reads (in a coded, mid-century way—check out Other Voices, Other Rooms for a comparison) like a gay man. He's a lifelong "bachelor [who] gave the impression of harboring amusing memories" (6.45). He dotes on a yellow cat named Rose Aylmer, pretentiously named after an 18th-century poem. When he blurts out at the end that he was in love with Jean Louise's mother, it makes no sense. That confession only seems to exist to prove that he is, in fact, heterosexual.

Jean Louise sums up Uncle Jack's confusing, conflicting nature by saying, "You're handsome in a horrible sort of way" (14.155).

Which parts are handsome? Which parts are horrible? And how do we rationalize the two?