Go Set a Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Date Read: August 26th 2017
“Go Set a Watchman is set during the mid-1950s and features many of the characters from “To Kill a Mockingbird” some twenty years later. Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father Atticus. She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand both her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.”
After I read To Kill a Mockingbird for my GCSE’s, it very quickly became one of my favourite books, at the time I couldn’t really explain why. Looking back I can safely say that the ease in which Harper Lee writes from the mind of a young girl in the South, experiencing the segregation between whites and blacks and coming to terms with the world around her, is definitely one of those reasons. Therefore, once it was revealed that a sequel to this book was going to be released, capturing Scout’s life 20 years after To Kill A Mockingbird, I was instantly drawn to this book.
After the book had been officially released, I read numerous reviews and saw that many people I knew had read it. One factor which linked all of these experiences together was the revelation that this book illustrates Atticus as a racist. I was shocked. The open-minded father in To Kill a Mockingbird. The same man who persistently defended the black man, Tom Robinson, despite it being against the views of everyone in Maycomb County. It couldn’t be true, could it? I didn’t want to read the book and have my perception of Atticus tarnished, it would ruin it for me. So I put off reading the book. Until this year. I spoke to someone who had read the book and I told them about my worries about Atticus being presented as a racist which is the reason for me not reading it. They then told me a theory that changed my perspective entirely and encouraged me to actually start the book. The theory being that the revelation that Atticus is racist is such an integral part of the book because we as the reader are in the same position as Scout in being confronted by her father’s unexpected views. This seems like such a strange notion that I was intrigued and began reading straight away.
Despite my hesitation at the start, I’m glad that I read this book. It was a lot different to To Kill a Mockingbird in that it focuses more on a moral and conscious journey instead of a physical journey/event. I quite liked that it was about Scout discovering the attitudes of the people from her home town and her inability to come to terms with it or understand it. This way it was so interesting to see Scout grow from the 6 year old boisterous girl to a 26 year old with adult responsibilities. Although I was told that I would identify with Scout in her confusion with Atticus and Henry’s attitudes, I certainly didn’t like her character that much in this book at all. I found her extremely petulant and this I think ruined her ability to compromise in a mature manner.
I was definitely shocked to discover that Scout’s brother Jem, who played no part in the story, is in fact dead. It’s revealed in such an offhand way and all the reader really knows about it was that there was a funeral and he had died years before. Yet no description is given to how Scout felt about his death, there was no emotion connected to the passing of her brother which I found extremely odd and something that was possibly missing from the book. I would’ve thought that the relationship between these two siblings which was so important in To Kill a Mockingbird would therefore also have been prevalent in this book too and I was disappointed that it wasn’t. The book itself was very focused on Scout’s emotional journey so I still can’t fathom why her feelings on Jem’s death aren’t revealed However I’m trying to understand whether this was written purposely to convey to the reader the kind of woman Scout has become, one who does not involve herself in emotional situations easily or too deeply. Maybe these traits have been brought on by her brother’s death and she acts in this way as a way of handling her grief? (Now this is just me finding excuses for why Jem wasn’t mentioned that much!)
I think that obviously this book couldn’t have existed without To Kill a Mockingbird, it can only really be read alongside it’s predecessor. It was interesting to read but for some readers the concept and revelations, regarding racism and adult maturity, contained in the book may be hard for some readers to grasp as they seem either reversed from To Kill a Mockingbird or are entirely unexpected.