Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee)

go set a watchman

Why did you choose this book?

I would hazard a guess that I chose this for the same reason the 1.1 million people who bought it the first day it was available chose it.  Partly because I loved To Kill a Mockingbird, partly to see what the fuss was about, and partly because everyone else was reading it.

What’s it about?

Jean Louise (previously known as Scout) is now 26 and heading back to Maycomb from her apartment in New York City.  She is met by Henry, who obviously wants to marry her, and heads home to Atticus and Aunt Alexandra.  It’s not really a spoiler for me to share that Jem has died before the book begins, since it is written in the first 20 pages.  After discovering Henry and Atticus are involved in some activities she considers racist, Jean Louise confronts the men.

Categories?

Historical fiction – American Civil Rights era, classics

Other recommended reads?

To Kill a Mockingbird, for obvious reasons.

Final thoughts?

There has been quite an uproar online about Atticus being a racist.  I can see where that is coming from, but let me tell you what I took from the book.  I think, even more than racism, this book is about being able to see our parents as humans rather than gods.  As children, they seem perfect and only as adults do we realize they make mistakes just like we do.  It is also a book about learning to understand that what seems perfect in childhood (the town of Maycomb), is imperfect just like anything and anywhere else.  It’s a coming of age story.  It is also about racism, but it doesn’t tackle those issues in the clear, bold way that To Kill a Mockingbird does.  I need to reread the book to fully understand a lot of the dialogue – it gets very philosophical very fast, and I think without the pressure of wondering how it ends, I’ll be able to absorb it more fully and give a better opinion about the racial message embedded in Lee’s prose.  I also need to reread TKAM for a full and accurate impression.  I will say that it has been nearly 10 years since I read TKAM and I can tell that the prose in Go Set a Watchman is filled with Lee’s distinctive and beautiful voice.

Bonus section – my favorite dialogue

“—everybody knows the NAACP’s dedicated to the overthrow of the South…”

Conceived in mistrust, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created evil.

“—they make no bones about saying they want to do away with the Negro race, and they will in four generations, Bill says, if they start with this one…”

I hope the world will little note nor long remember what you are saying here.

“—and anybody who thinks different’s either a Communist or might as well be one.  Passive resistance, my hind foot…”

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another they are Communists.

Page 176

This is my favorite section of the book because the way that Lee writes Jean Louise’s thoughts as paraphrases of important documents in American history (the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence) is a clever and meaningful word play of which I can’t get enough.

Up next?

5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

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