July ,19 2015
I am Scout: “Go Set a Watchman” Review

novelIt would be fair to say that I am an avid book reader and even more persistent book critique enthusiast. Years of english literature courses and my home grown love of writing have turned me effectively into that person who comments aloud while reading. Yes, I am one of those people. My book tastes vary, mostly shying away from teen novels and rom-coms in book form, and I can safely say my favourites are classics. And by this I mean, one of my favourites is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Not a surprise to those who have read my post about this book and its film adaptation. Lee is a personal idol of mine. From the second I closed the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird I knew the thought of shaking this woman and her incredible story was never a feasible option. Not only did her only book, yes, at the time the one and only, deliver strong opinions on the cultural ramifications of racial inequality in the South during the 1930s, this book made an impact. It’s characters, it’s writing, the whole shebang. For years, Lee swore the attention she received upon the book’s release was all she ever needed or wanted from the public. She had firmly said her piece. There was nothing more to say. In essence, Lee was happy to retire from fiction writing and to never present the die hard literature scholars, myself included, another story in Maycomb, Alabama. I won’t shy away from telling you, my 14 year old self thought this was a brilliant play. The most brilliant of brilliant ideas to ever exist! Jumping forward in time nearly 6 years, news of Go Set a Watchman and it’s pending release brought out an emotion in me I never imagined. Not excitement. Not distrust. Disillusionment. How could there possibly be another novel? How could I prepare myself for a journey back to Maycomb when the only things I was supposed to know, were said? These concerns are in fact the reason I was able to connect with this novel once the last word had been written. Let me explain. Not only did media attention cling to the idea of anything new from Lee, it was ready at any moment to rip apart the beloved characters and settings of her original work. Nothing would be more loveable to them than seeing a shining piece of literature torn to shreds. No doubt the target of their inevitable fire was Atticus Finch: claimed as the single greatest literary hero of all time. Reports of a bigoted, Southern, racist flew like rocks threw windows as the inevitable release approached. To be honest, it bothered me. It bothered me how easily people are willing to take the media to heart. It bothered me how quickly a beloved character can be smeared through the mud. Especially, when the novel was yet to be read by the public. All I could imagine was loveable, honour bound Atticus Finch being dragged through the streets of Maycomb, dust dirtying his glasses, smearing his vest, and his prized family pocket watch smashing into glass bits. Not that I have an overactive imagination or anything. Very easily we can become disconnected with ideas and concepts that were once acceptable in the past. Is that to say those concepts should be and are, still acceptable today? Absolutely not. However, to read any novel set in a time period different from our own 21st century world, one must consider the dangers of a modern mindset. Go Set a Watchman dates itself in the prime of the Civil Rights movement. The reminders of the Civil War linger in the south with many people having grandparents who fought and died for many factors including, freeing the slaves. For those who did not agree with the changing ways of the Constitution it was either adapt or eventually undergo forced change. The novel touches heavily on this issue and gives Maycomb County a Southern attitude which could be considered normal of this time: white supremacist and pro-segregation. While many people were striving for equality, others were still keeping with old ways and mentalities. I know people would argue with me than that if Atticus is portrayed as a defender of all people despite race in To Kill a Mockingbird, how could he ever indorse the idea of segregation or the Darwinian racial hierarchy in Go Set a Watchman? A good question, and one the book seeks to answer. changedEffectively, Atticus’ daughter, Jean-Louise (a.k.a. Scout), struggles with the same idea. Since her childhood, she believed her father the greatest source of knowledge on all things right and wrong. Her and her brother, Jem, looked up to him for his respect amongst their community members and his firm stance in equality while defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of attacking a white woman. Yet, when Scout returns to Maycomb and discovers her father in the midst of a meeting that discusses pro-segregation, her conception of him starts to crumble. It doesn’t matter that Atticus’ explanation of his behaviour reveals his truest beliefs are in the law. He takes equality and political responsibility with the highest forms of respect. Both of which he agrees should not be instantly available to everyone if they’re not responsible enough or knowledgeable enough to make the right decisions for the better of everyone. A dramatically different approach to his character’s original examination and one that definitely makes his motives in To Kill a Mockingbird more interestingly decoded. Overall, for a modern thinker, yes, it is bigoted, but from a man living in this time with the conditions I explained, not so much. However, inevitable, Atticus Finch is seen as a racist by today’s standards. For Scout in particular, his attitudes become a crucial turning point for her. Atticus essentially falls from the status of God to man. Having so long admired and strived to be like her father, the thought of seeing him anew strips him of his ethereal godliness and brings out the mindset of any ordinary human. A person with flaws, joys, and rages that come and go as frequently as anyone. Scout learns her conscience is solely a collection of idealizations she once believed to be true of Atticus. However, no person can base their conscience on the thoughts of another. Your conscience is created uniquely to you. Hence, the world, and the childhood, she once was so sure of morphs from innocence to adulthood. I have forever argued, much as the new novel states, the eventual need to leave innocence in childhood would always be something Scout would struggle to overcome. While her brother quickly trades adolescence for adulthood, quite a boy-to-man transformation, throughout the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout’s character grows to better understand the need for kindness and compassion towards all people. A very different type of growth in comparison to Jem. One character now seeing the world for how it is truly unfolding and the other still experiencing an idealized world of no grey areas and sound justice. Nonetheless, the change is crucial to having Scout fully understand and accept the world she lives in. No longer are the happy days of childhood so crisp in her mind. Instead, they have her wondering how Maycomb County is seen through the eyes of others. This is much in comparison to how we, as readers, see the novel and the characters. As I mentioned above, the disillusionment I found with this book mirrored Scout’s own. I believed, and did until the first pages of Go Set a Watchman, there was a certain je ne sais quois about Harper Lee’s work that held me transfixed. Another book would mean the glory and praise I rained down on the book could be crumbled. What if the media was right and everything I once held dear about the novel was changed? The book I loved, the world I loved to see unfold, could be crushed like autumn leaves underfoot. It seems silly to think of now. Disillusionment. A pretty heavy emotion, really. With such a large vision of what Lee’s book needed to be, what I was owed for it to be, how could any words live up to the greatness I placed on this one piece of literature? One piece of literature! So I sat down and read. I read each chapter, slowly. Pulling images of the once imagined Maycomb County out from the recesses of my mind and letting the curtain rise again. When the last sentence reached my eyes, I knew it. I was a fool. Harper Lee didn’t need to prove anything to me. I praised To Kill a Mockingbird as a great masterpiece. A literary journey which enriched my life and changed the way I thought about anything and everything to do with being a writer and being a reader.  My expectations were simply too high. My expectations were simply too unfair. passageAm I saying that my belief that Lee is an amazing writer is gone? No. Am I saying that I know longer love To Kill a Mockingbird? No. Am I admitting my perspective on literary success and literary greatness has changed? I am. Harper Lee and the mystery and intrigue behind her one hit wonder best seller novel was in itself a story. A story I invested in heavily. A story, if I could emulate it, I would gladly desire to do so. But it is a story, okay, it’s a great story. Wrapped so deeply in this idea placed, what I feel like are, blinders in front of my eyes. How could a second book even exist? There is no place in this universe for a second book that would ever dare try and mimic that masterpiece. Well, you know what Emily, there is a place. There was never any rule stating Harper Lee could never write again. There was never any act of God that was going to make it otherwise. The only one standing in the way of that realization was you. To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel. Harper Lee is an author. To Kill a Mockingbird is a fictional story. The epic pedestal of unreachable, incomparable glory in creating one work that says it all, is a story, a legend, an illusion, you created about Harper Lee. Go Set a Watchman is a novel I enjoyed. It is a novel I think you should read. There is still something deeply enchanting about Lee’s works, yes, I mean the two of them now, and they are worthy of remembrance and discussion. Like Scout never views Atticus with the same innocent manner as before, will I be able to come to terms with my idolized fantasy, eventually. All I can say is Harper Lee is an author that changed me. With her first book, she took me away to a realm that I don’t think any other literary novel has ever done before. Her second, brought me back. xo Novellette

4 thoughts on “I am Scout: “Go Set a Watchman” Review

  1. I didn’t even realize until it popped up on Goodreads that this was a sequel! It feels so surreal that all these years later it is finally published! I have it on my list, but I feel a bit apprehensive to read it! Almost like how I felt reading Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (The Shining sequel)

  2. I wrote my university dissertation on TKAM and I’m having exactly the same emotion: disillusionment! In all honesty I’m reluctant to read Go Set A Watchman in case it ruins the images I have created for myself of the characters. I will read it, and I know I will love it because Harper Lee is an incredibly talented writer… but this new novel, I’m sure, will change everything. Great post!

    1. It was the only word I could think of that really captured what I was feeling. My love for this book is so great I didn’t want to run the risk of all that being ruined. It took me a long time to convince myself to even read it, but I am so glad that I did because I was able to come to terms with all my emotions toward TKAM and Lee. A dissertation on TKAM must have been really interesting, especially for such an iconic book! xo

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