Go Set a Watchman

Book Review


Kamille Ritchie, Cactus Staff Writer

Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has stirred up quite the controversy amongst the general public. Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the classic, read in every freshman English class has been down cycled into a different commentary on race. Published July 24, 2015, the reader learns Scout is 20 years older and is having doubts about her father. Atticus Finch, the righteous man we are all familiar with, is apparently a rather unsavory character. It’s almost mind boggling to think, Atticus Finch, the very moral fiber that stitched this classic together allegedly attended KKK rallies and advocated for segregation.

Go Set a Watchman starts off slow, informing the reader what’s been going on in our beloved characters’ lives since we last left them. Jean Louise is arriving home to Maycomb from New York City for her annual two week visit. We learn that she has since dropped her beloved nickname, Scout, but still denounces many feminine ways although the reader learns that Jean Louise is in a long term relationship. Atticus is now pushing 73 and afflicted with severe arthritis. Although Aunt Alexandra still badgers Jean Louise about her “unorthodox” choices, such as acting ladylike or swimming in clothes with boys, Atticus remains indifferent. Of course, everyone is older and Maycomb is growing so it’s understandable you and Jean Louise notice a few differences in town; just enough change where you are not alarmed. Things don’t really kick off until you’re a third of a way into the book. Have you ever been startled by a car alarm? That is probably the best way to describe the sudden change that occurs in the book. Lee takes a left from “nostalgia” avenue and speeds down “what is going on” boulevard. Everything is fine until breadcrumbs of racially incriminating evidence start to appear. Jean Louise finds something of her father’s that takes her on a journey of self-discovery and unexpected betrayal. Don’t take my word for it, though, you’ll have to check it out yourself.

As I read through the book, several issues bothered me. The first issue I had with Go Set a Watchman was trying to figure out whether this is Lee’s first or second book. According to several different book reviews, Go Set a Watchman is apparently Lee’s first rejected draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. Maybe it has been too long since I read To Kill a Mockingbird but it’s hard to understand how that is true. If you were to read Go Set a Watchman prior to reading To Kill a Mockingbird, you wouldn’t go through the emotional turmoil necessary to understand the message it portrays. The title itself comes from the bible; Isaiah 21:6, “For this hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth”. Jean Louise and the reader need to see Maycomb and its people for what they are. How would the reader understand the clouded perspective Jean Louise has, if they do not know the events or the characters’ development that took place in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Another issue I have with “Watchman” is it has changed some facts in To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, Tom Robinson who was found guilty in the first book was apparently acquitted in the “Watchman”. Yes, it’s a small difference to take note of but at the same time, it would have drastically changed the outcome of the “Mockingbird” if it were true.

One of the things that disappoints me about Go Set a Watchman is Lee does not address what happened to some of the characters from the first novel. Boo Radley is not mentioned at all in “Watchman” and I can’t help but think, what happened to him? Radley was a major aspect of “Mockingbird”. Please, tell me what happened to him.

The biggest disappointment, of course, was Atticus’s swan dive from grace. “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none.” These inspiring words that once passed the lips of Atticus Finch are now replaced with disturbing questions like, “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?” or off putting statements like, “The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” Atticus, how can you say that no one gets special privileges yet advocate to obstruct blacks’ privileges to vote? It’s like nails on a chalkboard to hear stuff like this come out of Atticus’s mouth but it’s necessary. Lee allows Jean Louise as well as the reader to get angry towards Atticus because this mindset allows you to understand the ending.

Overall, when I finished reading Go Set a Watchman, I had to catch my breath; really, I did. I felt nauseous, yet at the same time I felt a sense of peace. My life had fallen apart yet rebuilt itself on a realistic foundation. Some people say reading the Bible shows you who you really are and I personally feel “Watchman” is one of those kinds of books. Like Jean Louise, I put Atticus on a high pedestal and could not face it when I found out he makes mistakes too. It’s a sad reality check but it makes you think of your own light and realize it may not be what it seems, I know I felt that about my own childhood. To Kill a Mockingbird seems to be written for the child inside the reader, to instill the idea of equality, serving justice when it is due, and to see the world as Scout did, color blind. Go Set a Watchman is for the grown up version of the reader to let them know that the world is not always as it seems. “Watchman” also shows the importance of being your own person, to have your own thoughts and ideas, but do not be blinded by them. I genuinely feel I have grown from reading the novel but also feel it allows you to appreciate the innocent glory that is To Kill a Mockingbird. I recommend rereading “Mockingbird” before picking up Go Set a Watchman just to make sure that everything is fresh in your mind. I’d like to leave you with this: Go Set a Watchman will make you long for a time of blissful ignorance about the world but will also leave an overwhelming sadness because this is something you’ll never get back.


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