Hey book lovers,
Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee’s second novel to date, came out in July amidst a flurry of anticipation and anxiety. I had my own fears here but those were nothing compared to how I feel having read the novel back in July. If you think Atticus’ ‘betrayal’ was bad…
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch–“Scout”–returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchmanperfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past–a journey that can be guided only by one’s conscience.
Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision–a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.
Back in July, soon after the book was published, the literary community expressed outrage over Atticus’ racism. I can’t exactly say it didn’t break my heart but I guess a white, prestigious lawyer defending the black man to the death in the 1950s just seemed too good to be true.
Atticus was a white knight in the literary world and his disgusted attitude towards the growing number of black freedom fighters just didn’t seem authentic. I always kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Just kept thinking, ‘Nah. Atticus? Come on! You singlehandedly inspired the meaning of justice for the black man. This can’t be happening!’
Turns out, he was just a stickler for the law. The black man was wrongly accused and Atticus just likes when justice is done right. How disappointing. But, to me, not outrageous.
Maybe its because the novel was published during the Black Americans versus the white police officer saga. Published in the wake of the Charleston shooting aftermath, the unlawful arrest of the black girl at the pool party etc. If I kept seeing an explosion of racism everywhere in social media, then Atticus’ racism left me with little impact. Besides, it was the 1950s. We really shouldn’t be surprised.
I think the broken relationship between Calpurnia and Scout had more impact. Race was never an issue between Calpurnia and the Finches. Never. But when she turned her back on Scout, signifying the Them vs. Us rule which had characterized the freedom fighter movement, it damn well broke my heart. Scout saw that woman as a unyielding rock, a role model and a second mother.
Believe me, you couldn’t blame Calpurnia. In those dangerous times, you had to protect your own or get killed for it.
The Lows: However, to be frank, I wish I hadn’t read this novel. It wasn’t the best follow-up to the first one. I expected more characterization and a more thematic presence. We had specific follow-ups on Atticus’ family and two of the children’s closest friends. But not much else. What the hell ever happened to Boo Radley? Surely his villainous-turned-hero presence in To Kill A Mockingbird could have amounted to some mention from Scout in the sequel.
The Highs: The changing dynamic between Scout’s childhood and adulthood years was not only poignant but applicable to anyone growing out of his/her parent’s cocoon. As children, we look to our parents for guidance in every situation we are presented. They are our gods before religion and they are not capable of wrongs.
But Scout comes to realize that her perspective differs immensely from her father. She senses betrayal, which is perfectly understandable. But we are not carbon copies of our parents (thank God). We have to make our own paths with our own conscience. I liked that, despite its disappointing elements, this book still served a life lesson for all of us.