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Jean Louise Finch—you know her better as scrappy, overalls-wearing Scout—returns home to Maycomb, Alabama. We haven't seen her in about 17 years in book time (and 55 years in real time).
Yep, in the time between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, she aged to a whopping twenty-six years old. But has she grown?
She now lives in New York City Lives, where she "beat[s] [her] brains out all year round" (2.51). Doing what, we have no clue. But she still does whatever she wants to do, sometimes to her own detriment. Within the book's first two pages, she "ignore[s] an injunction" (1.3) to strap down a folding bed on a train, and she gets trapped in it. It's her own dang fault.
She continues her rebellion against society itself by changing into her "Maycomb clothes" (1.5), which are monochrome pants, a blouse, and loafers, a uniform which serves the double purpose of being comfortable and annoying Jean Louise's traditional aunt, Alexandra.
She childishly flirts with her beau, Henry, who tells her, "Don't be such a damn child, Jean Louise" (1.69). And we often get flashbacks to her youth, which only serve to illustrate how little she has grown. But, uh, behavior that was cute in a nine-year-old isn't so much in a twenty-six-year-old. Her insolence. Her need to poke and prod people for no reason other than to humor herself.
She needs to grow up.
(And yes, we're editorializing.)
And grow up she will. A little. Maybe.
She suffers a crisis of conscience during the course of Go Set a Watchman when she sees her father, Atticus, at a racist town meeting. In a bit of symbolism echoing that of Mockingbird, Jean Louise witnesses it from the Colored balcony of the Maycomb County courthouse, where, in that book, she watched her father defend an innocent black man from rape charges by a lying white woman.
The scene in Watchman is significantly different. Here, instead of seeing her father as a heroic white savior, Jean Louise sees her father's racist motivations. It's an agonizing revelation for this young woman who idolized her father (and for every reader who idolizes Atticus):
Every nerve in her body shrieked, then died. She was numb. (8.72)
"It hurts so much I can't stand it." (10.25)
She's so messed up by this revelation that she literally pukes. (Delicious ice cream, too. What a loss.)
However, it isn't necessarily Atticus's racism that bothers Jean Louise. It's the fact that he thinks differently than she does. She doesn't seem to even care about the Civil Rights struggles of black people in the South. (Come on, Scout. You're better than that apathy.) In fact, she and her father agree in their dislike of the NAACP. What bothers Jean Louise is that her world is changing:
She was aware of a sharp apartness, a separation, not from Atticus and Henry merely. All of Maycomb and Maycomb County were leaving her as the hours passed, and she automatically blamed herself. (12.130)
This is an essential, painful, difficult part of coming-of-age—separating yourself from your parents and finding your own place in the world, where you belong. But Jean Louise isn't sure where that is.
So where is her place? In the end, we're not sure. Jean Louise confronts her father's hypocrisy while only barely touching on her own. See, Jean Louise, in her own eyes, is perfect. An extended scene about her getting her first period illustrates Jean Louise's clean conscience:
She hated herself, she hated everybody. She had done nobody any harm. She was overwhelmed by the unfairness of it; she had meant no harm. (11.55)
Yes, we get it! She's perfect!
Atticus, however, has a more succinct assessment of his daughter: "'You are inconsistent,' said her father mildly" (17.78). Their argument is muddied by Jean Louise's focus on race, which is inconsistent at best. Even though Jean Louise is angry at Atticus for his racist beliefs, she, too, is just as comfortable as he is ignoring the true struggles of black people and putting herself first.
She uses them as tools, but in a different way. Less malicious, less hateful, sure. But still troubling and hypocritical…the same things she accuses her father of.
In the end, Jean Louise seems to accept her father—because to reject him would be to reject herself. T
But what's next for these two? Jean Louise's relatives want her to stay in Maycomb, but she never makes a decision. Like her racial politics, her future is shaky and uncertain.