Theme Gender in Go Set a Watchman


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Harper Lee’s novels, To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman portrays the theme of gender through the protagonist, Jean Louise. Gender plays a crucial role in portraying the stereotypical beliefs held against a woman in the 1930’s society. Women are silenced and cannot voice out their independent opinions. Women are demanded to be lady-like, cooking good meals and dressing well. Harper Lee’s novels portray gender in the most delicate yet intriguing manner. Harper Lee also portrays Feminism through her works which demands equality between sexes. Harper Lee grew up amidst a stereotypical and indifferent society. Gender in Harper Lee’s novels- To kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman is explored through various instances which explains the constructs of gender in the 1930’s Alabama society.

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The Southern society in America during the 1930’s was certainly patriarchal as portrayed through the character Atticus, the father of the young protagonist. To Kill A Mockingbird, portrays Atticus as a ‘Godly’ figure, flawless, with the sole ability to do right. He stands up for the people of the coloured community; he takes up Tom Robinson’s case. The black man is deceitfully accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Atticus knows that the Jury will certainly be in favour of Mayella, as a white women’s word was considered the final word against the black men. 

The court in the South of America was indifferent towards the coloured community; Atticus knowingly fights for Tom’s case and though he doesn’t attain justice for him he attains respect and honour from the coloured community for simply taking up the case. He teaches his children values like ‘wear someone else’s shoes and walk in them’. He holds a respectable position among all and his children look up to him as a role model. In Go Set A Watchman, the coming of age Atticus is portrayed contrary to that in To Kill A Mockingbird. He is a member of the Citizen Council; against the coloured people in the South, Alabama ceasing them rights of equality among all and has also been a member of the Ku Klux Klan for Nobel purposes. 

The same Atticus who fought for all right reasons in the first book has a revelation or rather just pulls off his mask in the sequel. Gender plays its part in portraying Atticus as the ‘Godly’ figure even though he is unjust and shady in Go Set A Watchman. The male dominant society of Maycomb, Alabama reflects the patriarchal society of the South of America in the 1930’s.

One of the emotional through-lines in both “Mockingbird” and “Watchman” is a plea for empathy as Atticus puts it in “Mockingbird” to Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” The difference is that “Mockingbird” suggested that we should have compassion for outsiders like Boo and Tom Robinson, while “Watchman” asks us to have understanding for a bigot named Atticus. What happens to “It’s not okay to hate anybody.” where did the Atticus from the first book go? what changed in-betweens books? Over time there should have been progressed to eradicate racism but Atticus seemed to go backward. Atticus was a man that stood out from the rest and now it is surprising that he blends in with the rest.

Undeniably there were views that concerned the femininity and masculinity in the town of Maycomb. Besides race, gender also has been the main theme of Harper Lee’s novels. It is seen from the perspective of Scout who is not afraid to rebel against the norms laid by the inhabitants of Alabama society. 

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