Utilising post-civil rights theory of colour blind racism to examine Jean Louise’s ‘visual defect’ and subsequently her bildungsroman in Go Set A Watchman
Lim, Zhi Yi
Date of Issue2017-05-17
College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
The study of Go Set A Watchman (GSAW) left many readers such as Judy M. Cornett seeking the essence of realism within Jean Louise’s dramatized reaction upon her discovery of her family’s views on race, which contrasts sharply with her upbringing. It bewilders readers how “any well-informed person, much less a native of the South, [can] be surprised that whites have become wary of black activism” (Cornett 366). Harper Lee too, raises doubt through Hester’s and Jean Louise’s dialogue in GSAW, “We were both born here. We went to the same schools, we were taught the same things. I wonder what you saw and heard” (Lee, GSAW 175). Hester’s and Jean Louise’s contrasting views towards race despite their similar upbringing, coupled with the uncertainty as to why “Jean Louise views her family as so enlightened” (Cornett 359) have mystified readers. Via application of the colour blind theory, I aim to unravel the mystery surrounding Jean Louise. On the surface, it appears that Jean Louise suffers from a visual defect in GSAW and hence is unable to distinguish between the races. However, through delving deeper into the façade, I seek to illustrate how Jean Louise is in actual fact practising colour blind racism which encapsulates the “the general set of ideas that race does not matter in post-civil rights America” (Forman 45) and how colour-blindness “blinds [us] to the effects of race and colour in the world around us” (Forman 46). Such adoption of a colour-blind perspective which “arises from a lack of awareness of racial privilege” (Tarca 106) entails that Jean Louise is opting to remain ignorant so as to remain in her comfort zone and achieve her idealistic “illusory state of equality” (Lea 60), without having to deal with her fear of change or “any difference” (Lea 60). Additionally, this façade stretches on to Atticus Finch- Jean Louise’s father, whom critics such as Marie Failinger and Tom Shaffer are of the opinion that he is a truly legendary heroic figure. Shaffer stresses that “Atticus' moral heroism lies both in what he did and in his seeing that it was important to do right even if he ended up doing wrong” (Shaffer 188). Steven Lubet too, urges that Atticus does indeed provide “a moral archetype, by reflecting nobility upon us and by having the courage to meet the standards that we set for ourselves but can seldom attain” (Lubet 1340). Although Atticus’ displays of kindness towards those who are inferior to him, and his moral heroism is praiseworthy, I shall bring forth his failure as a father to Jean Louise. Atticus’ attempts to preserve a sheltered and idealistic world for Jean Louise and shield her from the complexity of race, which though arises from goodwill, leaves Jean Louise misguided. She is influenced into believing that there are no distinctions between people, and there is only “one kind of folks” (Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAMB) 250) in this world. A colour blind view, which is in itself erroneous, is formed. Through exploring Jean Louise’s seeming visual disability in relation to the prevailing color-blind racism theory in post-civil rights America, allows for a revised reading of Jean Louise’s bildungsroman. With the aid of Dr. Finch, Jean Louise eventually confronts her “colour-blindness” and chooses to see and accept reality for what it is. No longer “blind” to the existing “systems of difference, of dominance, and of privilege” (Lea 64), as well as Atticus’ flaws, Jean Louise comes of age.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University