Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee retrieves the main character from her famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird and returns her to Maycomb.
Now a resident of New York, Jean-Louise Finch has chosen to return home to Alabama by rail this time rather than air in order to spare her aging father the long drive to Mobile's airport. Besides, the ride on the train as an adult now amuses her since so much is automated; by pushing buttons she can access the washbasin and call the porter. Also, now everything is within her compartment as there is no longer the journey down narrow halls to the lavatory. But, Jean-Louise did discover that she failed to adjust to all this automation when the night before she neglected to read the directions on how to secure her berth so that it would not snap closed. Fortunately, a porter was nearby and he heard the resounding bang of the berth and rescued the embarrassed young woman.
After awakening the next morning, Jean-Louise hears the train chugging through the tremendous circuit of rails in the Atlanta yard, so she remains on her berth until College Park's sign passes her window. Then, after her fourth cup of coffee, the Crescent Limited utters a long, shrill toot as it thunders across the bridge over the wide, muddy Chattahoochee River into Alabama. Glancing out at the historic river, Jean-Louise recalls a poem about this river by Sidney Lanier and, as so often occurs, this memory triggers another--one about her poet cousin, Joshua Singleton St. Clair. Elected by Aunt Alexandra to the level of "a credit to the family," his poetry is framed and prominently displayed in her living room.
Joshua, who resembled a disheveled Algernon Swinburne, was, according to Aunt Alexandra, "cut off in his prime"; while he was at the University of Alabama, Joshua became a voracious reader, devouring not only the words of the nineteenth century poets and writers, but donning the clothing of the era as well. His fanaticism fostered delusions that led him to committing an attempt upon the life of the president of the university, a man Joshua felt was "little more than a sewage disposal expert." So, after much passing of money through legal channels, Joshua was moved from the college to across the tracks where Bryce Mental Hospital was located. There he took up residency until his death.
Despite his failings, Joshua's name and poetry are yet praised by Aunt Alexandra, Jean-Louise recalls, but she chuckles as she brings to mind her father's delightful propensity for always filling in the realistic details to any of her aunt's tales about relatives. Added to this, Jean-Louise wonders if there is not the slightest devilish delight in Atticus's eyes sometimes as he provides these details.
As she nears Montgomery, a nostalgic Jean-Louise wonders why she never found the countryside beautiful before now. Another memory stirs her, as well: that of fear that the train may derail and plunge into a riverbank. But, nothing happens before she reaches Maycomb Junction.
Upon arrival, the reflective Jean-Louise recalls the history of her county which is named after Colonel Maycomb, who discovered the Creek Indians lurking in the thickets. Once the Indian Wars ended, however, Colonel Maycomb pressed on to what is now Mobile and entered into history.
Her father is not there because he is unable to drive today; his rheumatoid arthritis prevents his hands from gripping the steering wheel. Instead, a tall man rushes from the quay, grabs her, and kisses her. Although Jean-Louise resists this public display of affection, she is happy to see Henry Clinton who once lived across the street from her in their childhood.
After having been in the Army, where he received an injury that cost him six teeth and a pink scar across his face, Henry has become an attorney who works with Atticus; in fact, Atticus plans to turn his practice over to Henry because his son Jem died suddenly.
While Henry drives Jean-Louise home, they banter with one another, and Henry proposes marriage. But, Jean-Louise is not ready for this commitment. Primly she tells him, "I'll have an affair with you, but I won't marry you." When this proposal angers Henry, she apologizes, but lets him know that she is not ready for marriage. Henry grows petulant, but she gets him to banter with her so that they restore the old friendship between them.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is a sequel to the author's first published book To Kill a Mockingbird, a work originally published in 1960. Although Go Set a Watchman was actually written in the 1950s, before To Kill a Mockingbird, it was not published until July 2015. The manuscript, abandoned by Lee when her editor wished her to focus on the young Scout Finch, was rediscovered in 2014.
The first chapter is narrated in the third person, and though the narrator is omniscient and able to see into the thoughts of all characters, the narration primarily expresses the thoughts of the protagonist and viewpoint character, Jean-Louise (Scout) Finch.
The main event of the first chapter is that Jean is taking a train from New York to her family home in Maycomb, Alabama. After an elaborate description of the train ride, including various reminiscences about her cousin Joshua Singleton St. Clair and other family members and a long excursus on the history of the county and Colonel Maycomb, she arrives at the whistle stop in Maycomb. She had expected her father Atticus to meet her, but he is having a painful flare up of rheumatoid arthritis, and instead, she is met by Henry Clinton, a good friend with whom she has a fundamentally romantic relationship. He proposes marriage to her, but although she is very attracted to him, she is not entire certain if she wishes to marry him. The chapter ends with a brief flirtation between Henry and Jean in the car on the way back to Atticus' house.