Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!

I don’t think I’ve ever wrestled with a book in my mind more than Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman.  With all of the controversy surrounding it’s publication and the novel’s subsequent revelations, I finally came to the conclusion that I’m glad it was published.

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During the first 100 pages, I couldn’t help but wonder what all of the fuss was about.  It’s as well-written as Lee’s first novel, To Kill A Mockingbird and it contains the return of Jean Louise (Scout) as an adult to Maycomb, Alabama and a lot of wonderful musings and flashbacks that don’t really have a plot.

The reader discovers the intelligent, independent and quirky woman Scout has become “…living in sin in New York City” as she puts it.  One minute she gives a quaint picture of her home town:

…Maycomb’s proportion of professional people ran high: one went to Maycomb to have his teeth pulled, his wagon fixed, his heart listened to, his money deposited, his mules vetted, his soul saved, his mortgage extended.

The next minute she gives the reader both cynical and sentimental all blended together when she describes her visit to church:

There’s nothing like a blood-curdling hymn to make you feel at home, thought Jean Louise.  Any sense of isolation she may have had withered and died in the presence of some two hundred sinners earnestly requesting to be plunged beneath a red, redeeming flood. While offering to the Lord the results of Mr. Cowpers’s hallucination, or declaring that it was Love that lifted her, Jean Louise shared the warmness that prevails among diverse individuals who find themselves in the same boat for one hour each week.

But getting to see Jean Louise all grown up comes at the cost of tarnishing the sterling reputation of one of American Literatures greatest father figures, Atticus Finch.  Believe it or not, I seriously considered Atticus as the name for one of my kids (it didn’t happen). My instinct tells me that Harper Lee always intended for Scout to be the heroine of this story. As much of a let-down it may be for readers to discover that Atticus has views that could be less than noble, for me it was worth the read to discover that Jean Louise is just as disappointed.

For all that it’s worth, I think that I can still consider To Kill A Mockingbird as a work that stands alone and consider Go Set A Watchman as simply a work that this literature and history buff finds intriguing.

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4 responses to “Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman

  1. I am so torn over whether to read this or not. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that while I certainly admire and enjoy TKAM, I don’t *love* it, so I will probably be okay reading this… but I don’t have a huge desire to read it either, so it’s one I’ll likely just pick up on a whim at the library some day, a few years after everyone else has lost interest.

    • I don’t think I explained it really well in my post, but after the first 100 pages, I thought the writing became clunkier. Like she really hadn’t finished that part. Your decision to just read it sometime is not a bad one. I had reserved it at my library before it actually came out and almost forgot about it until it came in. I thought “I might as well read it”.

      • Gotcha. I think that since I’m a writer myself, I’m going to find it fascinating, to sort of peek under the layers and see how she was setting things up. I know my first drafts are often wildly different from final drafts, and initial versions of characters often bear little resemblance to their final incarnations, so I suspect I’m not going to be all that bothered by The Atticus Problem, just because I know this was not a finished product.

      • Yes, I don’think the Atticus in TKAM and the Atticus in this book are necessarily conflicting. It may seem that way because we’ve had 50 + years of Atticus from TKAM and now there’s this. I think Scout was the character Lee intended to be heroic.

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