‘Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience.’ Page 265
TITLE: GO SET A WATCHMAN
AUTHOR: HARPER LEE
GENRE: YA FICTION
PUBLISHED: JULY 2015
With To Kill A Mockingbird being a much loved classic all over the world, the announcement of the publication of Harper Lee’s prequel – come – sequel Go Set A Watchman came as an unexpected literary delight. Gaining an extension into the lives of our favourite fictional characters, whose stories we thought had come to an end, is a rare guilty pleasure for the avid reader. It is with the excitement of catching up with a long lost friend that I eagerly settled back into the world of Maycomb.
The reader returns to find a grown up Jean Louise Finch (or ‘Scout’ as she is more endearingly known) returning to Maycomb from New York to visit her now ageing father, Atticus. However, with civil rights tensions and political turmoil rife in the South, the visit home uncovers some ugly truths about Jean Louise’s beloved hometown – and of the attitudes of the people closest to her.
Go Set A Watchman fully removes the veil of innocence that To Kill A Mockingbird so charmingly provides.
It is a tremendous blow to both Jean Louise and the faithful reader of To Kill A Mockingbird as the just and honourable Atticus Finch, in the harsh light of the more adult sequel, is revealed to be a bigot and a racist. Go Set A Watchman fully removes the veil of innocence that To Kill A Mockingbird so charmingly provides, as Atticus is removed from the pedestal that the former novel places him upon. The result of this, the reader and Jean Louise are forced to reconsider Atticus as a human being with flaws; as opposed to the epitome of all that is good and righteous. And this is, admittedly, a crushing experience.
While many readers have been outraged by the destruction of the Atticus of their childhoods, this seems to me, however, a continuation of the theme that Lee perpetuates throughout both To Kill A Mockingbird and her new novel, the theme of growing up. Like all of us at some point in our lives, Jean Louise realises that her idolised father is not perfect. With her childhood idol torn down, she is forced to find her own morals and judgements, and also find it within herself to accept Atticus as he really is, even if their views are no longer aligned. This acceptance could be considered problematic, but at the end of the day who doesn’t have an older relative with different views to their own which they have not accepted?
It is certainly not as polished or well-crafted as To Kill A Mockingbird.
The character of Jean Louise, thankfully, still retains the refreshing spunk and zest she yields in To Kill A Mockingbird. Although she has grown up significantly and ditched the overalls, she is still recognisable as the Scout of old; defying Southern expectations of femininity and remaining resolutely colour-blind in regards to race. It is this characterisation, in my opinion, that holds the novel together.
As expected, the book is not without its flaws. It is certainly not as polished or well-crafted as To Kill A Mockingbird, and suffers from some clunky passages throughout, especially those concerning American history. However, considering that this book was written before To Kill A Mockingbird, plus the fact that it was not originally intended for publication, I feel that this is more excusable than it would be in your standard summer read.
Still recognisable as the Scout of old; defying Southern expectations.
While it is not a literary masterpiece, Go Set A Watchman is still a great read. In a book that throws up complex moral dilemmas and emotional turmoil, the characters are honest, relatable, and real and compel you to follow Jean Louise’s story until its very end. I believe it also offers a greater depth to the world of Maycomb for the fan of To Kill A Mockingbird, despite the novel’s shocking revelations. All in all, a must read for this summer.