Go Set a Watchman
By Harper Lee
Jean Louise Finch, “Scout”, returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil, her homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her.
Memories of her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, it captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition – a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.
The author captures the quintessential era of the Southern Belle with the portrayal of Aunt Alexander with her corsetted dresses and her continuing belief in tradition.
As for the daughter of Atticus Finch, Jean Louise, recently arrived from New York, she is not quite sure where she belongs and so the story begins. We meet Atticus, now an arthritic 70-year-old, Uncle Jack, Henry, Seth and last but certainly not least, Carpurnia. The first part of the book is beautifully written and totally engaged this reader. The latter part of the book became a ramble. The characters seemed to be submerged by the author’s need to push a solution to the racial problems in the Deep South.
Harper Lee’s interesting novel offers excellent insights into her family’s attitudes towards the black community in southern Alabama in the 1950s.
This novel is a good companion for her famous first novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Jean Louise Finch, the main character, now 26 and living in New York, sees herself as a modern independent woman in an age when Southern women were subservient homemakers. She comes home for a holiday and finally realises the disturbing truth that her father, her fiancee, her family and townfolk remain racist and segregationalist.
Watchman is the biblical term for your conscience (Isaiah 21:6) which she finally clears through conflict with her beloved father and family.
I can see why this novel wasn’t released when it was written because it was very critical of her father, her family, her home state and country. Not a very American thing to do in the 1950s!
This is a very enjoyable and well written novel 8/10
I have not read To Kill A Mockingbird so my thoughts are only about Go Set A Watchman. I found the story dull and meandering until Jean Louise discovers that her father is not the gentleman and advocate for equality and against racism that she had so proudly believed he was. Her reaction, or perhaps overreaction, to discovering that Atticus had failings and particularly his support for racial segregation and belief in the inferiority of African Americans breathed life into the book.
The story leaves no doubt that in the early to mid 1900s white communities in America’s South held racist views that are almost universally accepted as abhorrent today.
Might have been a better read 50 years ago when the theme was far more relevant.
I brought to this book my memories of other books and movies set in the southern states of the USA and the good credit that I had for Harper Lee. In fact, this credit took me through the first 80 pages when not a lot was happening. I enjoyed the fast dialogue and Scout’s fiery nature.
The characters are well-drawn and there are not too many of them. Scout comes into conflict with just about everyone as she struggles to find her way and assert her independence. Ultimately, a very good read. Stick with it.
I came to this novel with some hesitancy because I still hold To Kill a Mockingbird with such great affection. It was and is for me an “eye opening” book. Therefore, I questioned the relevancy and need, 40 years later, to publish Harper Lee’s original and initially rejected manuscript which covers the same ground.
What story could be told in Go Set A Watchman that hadn’t already been told in the award-winning classic?
So, did I enjoy this book? If the reader comes to it never having read Mockingbird , it may be an interesting pathway to life in the American South during the Depression era. However, if, like me, Lee’s characters and events are so firmly in place, any revisiting of the narrative may risk diminishing a cherished literary icon.
For me this was a slow, pondering and strangely compelling story. Although there were flashbacks (often humorous) which gave me insight into the childhood of the main character, Scout, I enjoyed approaching this novel as a work on its own.
For me it was a vivid and challenging portrayal of Scout’s challenges to make sense of the changes in herself and the changes she perceived in her beloved Atticus and others close to her. It was a painful coming of age for Scout, with a victorious realisation that she was finally her own person in possession of her own conscience or ‘watchman’.
I enjoyed this novel and have renewed admiration for Harper Lee who wrote with insight and authority.