Go read “Go Set a Watchman”

Bibliophilopolis is pleased to welcome a guest reviewer for this post!

Adrienne is a high school French and English teacher in Central Indiana, and a single mom. With the enormous amount of free time she has, she loves to read, wait for the next season of BBC’s “Sherlock” to be released, and cheers on her favorite soccer teams.

go set a watchman

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

When I first heard that Harper Lee was releasing a new novel, fifty years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, I was one (of the many) who was ecstatic. So when reviews came out painting Go Set a Watchman in a negative light, I was disappointed and worried it might damage my love for To Kill a Mockingbird.  Because you can’t always believe what you read on social media or on blogs (gasp!), I decided bad reviews wouldn’t deter me from reading the new novel.

When the book was finally released, I’ll admit I started reading cautiously.  With a lot of the reviews screaming “Atticus is a racist”, I almost expected the novel to open with Atticus bursting into the first scene donning a white sheet and carrying a burning cross. Instead, the novel opens with Scout, going now by her given name, Jean Louise, as an adult traveling from New York City back home to Maycomb for a visit.  I was immediately drawn into the novel with a few comical mishaps that prove to the reader that although she has grown up, Scout is still Scout, after all of these years.  While a lot in Maycomb has changed, one thing that has not is the way Jean Louise views her father: at 26 years old, Jean Louise still holds her father up on a very high pedestal. Herein lies the problem: all idols must eventually fall, and Atticus is no exception.  During her visit, Jean Louise begins to discover her father isn’t as perfect as she always imagined him to be.  For her, this discovery is devastating. Yet as I continued to read, I didn’t become angry as many others have. I actually understood the why: when you’ve placed your idol up so high that nothing can touch it, it takes something colossal to knock said idol down. What I discovered is that this book isn’t about Atticus Finch being a racist. It’s really about that moment when kids realize that their parents aren’t perfect; they’re human, with their own flaws and scars.  This process is something that we all must go through with our own parents, and for Jean Louise, it takes a massive shock to open her eyes to this life lesson.

In examining the negative reactions that have come from so many reviews, I’ve found it to be a great example of life imitating art. We (the readers), just like Jean Louise, have held Atticus Finch up on a literary pedestal since he first appeared in literature. He has been adored and loved for so long, and just as it was for Scout, it would take a massive flaw in order to knock him off our pedestals too. In a sense, WE are Jean Louise.  The difference is that it only took her 20 years to figure it out, instead of the 50 years it took us, as readers.

One thing the reader should keep in mind before casting the proverbial first stone at Atticus, is that we are, in part, a product of the time period in which we are born and raised. Atticus, for example, grew up in a time and place where segregation was the status quo. So although he had evolved enough to raise Scout to see and believe things very differently from how he was raised, it was also very hard for him to completely leave old, antiquated ways of life behind. He did the best that he could, and one redeeming quality is that in this novel he still tries to keep an open mind in every situation, even if he doesn’t always make the best decisions.

Overall, the novel is a very good read. I thought Harper Lee did a great job in representing both sides of the race issue (and what better timing than right now to release a book that can open further dialogue about race and race relations?). There are definitely some choppy spots where the novel would have benefited from a good, healthy edit, but there are also moments of absolutely gorgeous writing that remind you why Harper Lee is so highly revered.  Even in the rough spots, her talent still shines brightly.  It is also important to remember that this novel was never meant to be published. It was used simply as a springboard for the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird, and was never actually meant to be seen. With that in mind, if you are a huge fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, then you should definitely read Go Set a Watchman. The best novels are the ones that make you question and think through your own beliefs and ideals. Go Set a Watchman is capable of doing just that.

harper lee

above: a recent photo of Harper Lee (found at http://pixel.nymag.com/imgs/daily/vulture/2015/02/03/03-harper-lee-2.w750.h560.2x.jpg)

Want to read more? Here are a couple other great blog posts by “friends of Bibliophilopolis” Dale and Melissa about Go Set a Watchman:

https://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/harper-lees-go-set-a-watchman/

http://avidreader25.blogspot.com/2015/07/go-set-watchman.html

10 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    October 12, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    Great review! In spite of some of the issues surrounding it’s publishing and having Atticus knocked off his pedestal, I found Go Set A Watchman well worth reading!
    -Dale

    Liked by 1 person

  2. October 13, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Thanks for the review. I already had made up my mind not to read it, not wanting to ruin my love of To Kill A Mockingbird, but you’ve changed my mind. Again, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • quallsimodo said,

      October 15, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      I’m glad I was able to change your mind. To Kill A Mockingbird is such a powerful novel; I don’t think it’s possible to completely ruin it! At the very least, Go Set a Watchman gives great insight into the creation of our favorite characters.

      Like

  3. Jason M. said,

    October 13, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    It’s a very divisive book and I can understand why Lee never wanted it to see the light of day.

    Not so much because of Atticus being shown as an old Citizens Council leader, but because of the ending, where Lee gives unfiltered airing to long-since-discredited societal views (i.e. “Yes, but would you want your daughter to marry one?”), not to mention the casual violence against women.

    I’m pretty sure that Lee stopped believing in the viewpoints endorsed in the final two chapters of this novel by the time even “Mockingbird” hit the bestseller list a few years later.

    I enjoyed the process of reading “Watchman” — until the final two chapters. The book is an interesting time capsule as to why the South defended its history of racism back in the 1950s. But it’s clearly an inferior product and is not going to join the canon of American literature the way “Mockingbird” has …

    Liked by 1 person

    • quallsimodo said,

      October 17, 2015 at 12:34 am

      I absolutely agree that “Watchman” will probably not enjoy the same level of reverence that “Mockingbird” has. Yet as a lover of literature, I found “Watchman” to be a fascinating glimpse into the writing process of an extremely talented writer.

      You’ve also made an excellent point about changing viewpoints. One of the things I liked about “Watchman” is that it offers an opportunity to dialogue about many topics that are still extremely relevant today. Sure, Harper Lee may have stopped believing in the viewpoints she shared in this novel, but there are people, even to this day, who still live according to those same viewpoints. Although “Watchman” isn’t on the same level as “Mockingbird”, it reiterates a lesson we, as a country, still haven’t mastered, and once again allows us the opportunity to look back at where we came from, to see the progress that we have made, and to remind us that we don’t want to revert back to making the same mistakes again.

      I also wanted to mention that I loved the phrase you used when you said that it’s “an interesting time capsule”. That’s a great description, and it’s one of the things I love about both of Lee’s books. She does an excellent job of transporting the reader into each setting, and it really does feel like the opening of a time capsule with each read.

      Thank you for sharing your point of view!

      Like

  4. Paula Cappa said,

    October 14, 2015 at 9:54 am

    I was disappointed in Watchman. Scout didn’t come of age so much as rebel and have fits of anger. For me, the characters and the story fell to pieces because of the many contradictions of what we all know of the Finch family. The story did inspire me to re-read Mockingbird, and I so enjoyed it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Alex said,

    October 15, 2015 at 10:00 am

    I’ve had it in the TBR since week 1, but because of the reviews I’ve also been afraid to pick it up. I liked reading yours very much and it gave me hope – I like the angle of the-reader-as-a-child🙂 But did you find that GO Set A Watchman was compatible with the story and characters of Mockingbird, or, because it was a “springboard” there are inconsistencies?

    Liked by 1 person

    • quallsimodo said,

      October 15, 2015 at 10:35 pm

      With the exception of seeing a different side of Atticus in this novel, I would say the characters are compatible. The things that happen to Scout as an adult fit well with what happened to her as a child in Mockingbird. Her aunt is also similar in both. There are some changes in Watchman, but those changes are due to life events that have occurred, not due to mistakes in character continuity. When you do finally read it, let me know what you think!🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. JaneGS said,

    October 17, 2015 at 10:18 am

    As a novel, I thought Watchman was very weak and really shouldn’t be marketed as a finished work. As a glimpse into the development of Lee as a writer, I thought it interesting and glad I read it, but I doubt I will ever reread it.

    Good, thoughtful, fair review–well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. hkatz said,

    October 19, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    “So although he had evolved enough to raise Scout to see and believe things very differently from how he was raised, it was also very hard for him to completely leave old, antiquated ways of life behind.”

    This reminds me of how in American history you can read about abolitionists who hated slavery with a passion, but still might not have wanted to live in the same neighborhood as black people or marry them.

    Thanks for this thoughtful review. I might give this book a chance.

    Liked by 2 people


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