Study Guide

Go Set a Watchman Race

By Harper Lee

Race

Chapter 2
Jean Louise "Scout" Finch

"I don't know anything about that bunch except that some misguided clerk sent me some NAACP Christmas seals last year, so I stuck 'em on all the cards I sent home." (2.94)

At first you might applaud Jean Louise's progressive politics here, until you learn that she actually despises the NAACP. She doesn't put those seals on her letters to make a progressive statement about race. She does it to be annoying. To her, making a joke is more important than having respect for another race.

Chapter 5
Henry "Hank" Clinton

"They're a public menace." (5.289)

Henry says this about a carload of black people. The car is driving fast, which is super dangerous. Considering that, is this a racially charged statement?

It was used for more things than family reunions, however: N****es played basketball there, the Klan met there in its halcyon days, and a great tournament was held in Atticus's time in which the gentlemen of the county jousted for the honor of carrying their ladies into Maycomb for a great banquet. (5.205)

This is the heritage of Finch's Landing. Sure, the Klan was there. Sure, it had slaves. But remember the banquet?! To Southerners like the Finches, that is what is really important.

The South's the land of opportunity now. (5.243)

This is a racially charged line with a meaning that is muddled throughout the book. Henry believes this, because he is on a track of upward mobility. But the older white men, like Uncle Jack and Atticus, don't believe this. They see black people—who are basically the same social class as Henry, i.e. "trash"—and their increased opportunity as a threat to their own.

Chapter 8

When she finished, she took the pamphlet by one of its corners, held it like she would hold a dead rat by the tail, and walked into the kitchen. (8.16)

Jean Louise is especially disgusted by the racist pamphlet she finds in her father's study. She treats it as though it is diseased. Fitting, since it is called The Black Plague.

Jean Louise "Scout" Finch

"Yes, indeedy," said Jean Louise wryly. "I especially liked the part where the N****es, bless their hearts, couldn't help being inferior to the white race because their skulls are thicker and their brain-pans shallower—whatever that means—so we must all be very kind to them and not let them do anything to hurt themselves and keep them in their places." (8.26)

This is Jean Louise's sarcasm here; she is repulsed by these beliefs. Although she doesn't use the term eugenics, which is the hateful philosophy Atticus is studying.

Chapter 17
Atticus Finch

"Do you want N****es by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?" (17.102)

Atticus's "our world" comment is the most telling here. To him, it's a white person's world, and he can barely tolerate the existence of other races, like tolerating a mosquito.

"From the looks of you, Miss Priss, it'll be the blind leading the blind." (2.79)

This quote is about golf, but it has a double meaning that could be applied to the book's racial politics. Both Jean Louise and Atticus have different opinions on race, and neither of them really have any idea what they're talking about.

With company came Calpurnia's company manners: although she could speak Jeff Davis's English as well as anybody, she dropped her verbs in the presence of guests; she haughtily passed dishes of vegetables; she seemed to inhale steadily. (5.191)

Note that Jean Louise/Scout says "Jeff Davis's English." This line shows us how similar Southern culture is to ancient British culture, but it's also offensive: why should Calpurnia, a black woman, have to speak Jefferson Davis's English? Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederacy… and he fought to keep slaves.

"It takes two races to mongrelize a race—if that's the right word—and when we white people holler about mongrelizin', isn't that something of a reflection on ourselves as a race? […] At its best, it denotes an alarmin' mistrust of one's own race." (13.95)

Okay, Jean Louise sounds progressive up until this point. She's not willing to say that there is no problem with interracial marriage. In fact, the way she talks, it's almost as though she believes it's a myth. To her, there's no way a self-respecting white person would be with a black person. It's just an issue for the trash.