Synopsis: 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.
Title: Go Set A Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: William Heinemann
Pub Date: 14th July 2015
For book club, we decided to read To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman in order to compare Lee’s first draft to the final product. I’d never read To Kill a Mockingbird before and loved it completely. I fell head-over-heels in love with Atticus – the ideal single-father; the perfect gentleman; and a gentle soul with that hint of danger to him (who else would be the best shot in all of Maycomb!)
When I got round to reading Go Set a Watchman, I was hesitant. I’d heard rumours that Atticus is not shown in a good light and turned each page with dread; I just couldn’t believe he would turn out as a – dare I say it – racist.
The novel differs to the final version in that it is written in the third person; an unfortunate discovery as I loved Scout’s sassy childish perspective as in To Kill a Mockingbird. There are however, a few passages that overlap between the books that made for comforting reading, especially the comical legal consequences of the intermarriage between the Cunningham and Coningham clans. It felt as if I was coming home to a story I knew and loved.
Otherwise, Go Set a Watchman is a much less likeable read. Once you get halfway, everything seems to go wrong. The traditional depiction of Atticus as an inherently good single-father, whose views on race were decades ahead of his countrymen are shattered in the same way as they were built – in the courtroom.
My heart quite literally broke; how could he do this to me?! To Scout? To all of literary-kind? I felt Scout’s anger and pain as if it were my own. I continued reading expecting it to become unbearable, but it didn’t. Lee becomes more and more philosophical in her portrayal on morality.
“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”
No one can be your ‘watchman’ but yourself. As children, we often set our conscience to match that of our parents (especially if they’re as awesome as Atticus) but, as we grow older and move out, we start to build our own morals. It is only when we revisit our family homes that we take off those rose-tinted glasses and see our parents for who they really are – people. And isn’t that what Scout believes in whole-heartedly in the first place?
“If there is one slogan I believe in this world, it is: equal rights for all, special privileges for none.”
Surely if someone believes in something different to you, or makes what you consider to be a mistake has the right to do so – even if it’s the person you hold dearest?
So, no. I don’t hate Atticus. I experienced heart-breaking moments of disappointment, denial and, finally, acceptance. He is a human (well, at least between the pages of a book) and deserves the right to belief in his own moral code, even if I think he’s an idiot for doing so.
Neither do I hate Harper Lee. in fact, I think I love her more for making me ‘feel’ so much about a novel. Go Set a Watchman shakes the settled view of both an author and her novel and, unless they find another novel hidden within her files, Go Set a Watchman intensifies the sadness and regret I feel that she published so little.