Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee… Where do I begin? It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me confused, and it made me question a lot of things.
First of all, this book is incredibly different from To Kill A Mockingbird. If you’re picking this book up expecting it to be a long awaited sequel, then take a minute to wipe those expectations from your mind. This is not a sequel. Though it has many of the same characters, it is actually an early draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. So, though there are some similarities (ex: some characters, entire paragraphs, the topic of race) there are also a number of things that vary in this novel that make it a very separate and distinct thing from To Kill A Mockingbird. I highly suggest going into this novel with an open-mind about this being its own piece of work and not getting hung up on how different it is from To Kill A Mockingbird.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. It had a number of components that I really appreciated. For one, it perfectly portrayed the transition from childhood to adulthood. I just turned twenty a few weeks ago, and though I am in no means an actual adult (How exactly does one do their taxes? Can I bring my mommy to jury duty with me? What do you mean I have to make my own doctor’s appointments?), there has been a lot of transition in the past few years that I allowed me to recognize and empathize with some of the things Scout goes through in this novel.
Returning to Maycomb with Scout (now Jean Louise) and seeing all that had changed since her childhood, since even her last visit home, running into people not seen in years, reminiscing about how things used to seem so much simpler, it is something everyone who grows up and leaves home feels at a certain point. Things change slowly when you’re home, but when you leave and come back after an extended amount of time, things seem to shift out of nowhere and it can leave you, much like Scout does, feeling sick. This was something I definitely related to and absolutely loved about the book.
Just as Jean Louise thinks she is at the end of this transition period, she is thrown a curveball when she learns about Atticus’s involvement in the County’s Citizen’s Council, a breeding ground for prejudice and racism hiding (poorly) behind a number of political stances.
This makes Jean Louise realize that the man she has looked up to and idolized as the only true compass of right and wrong throughout her entire life is not, in fact, perfect. In all honesty, the chapter in which this is realized was probably my favorite chapter of the entire book. The entire plot line of Jean Louise coming to realize that she, not her father, is her own compass, gave me chills. I think this is also something, not always at this extreme of a level, that happens when transitioning to adulthood. I know in the past few years there have been things that I have come to be very passionate about and think are right (Whether from naivety or actual correctness is yet to be determined. Check back in ten years.) that my parents don’t always agree with or are not as passionate about as I am. It is a part of growing up, and I think this change was portrayed so well by Lee.
This also leads me to the way Jean Louise handles things. The novel builds up to one explosive argument with Atticus in which Jean Louise must make a choice of whether to stick around Maycomb with people she highly disagrees with or to get as far away as she possibly can. The way she comes to her conclusion, with some help from Uncle Jack, held a very important lesson that I think many have problems with when beginning to set their own watchman (or moral compass), and that is to remember that though one disagrees with someone else’s belief, it doesn’t mean the relationship has to be over. However, it also doesn’t mean that you can’t be vocal about your own beliefs.
Though there was much done well in this novel, I can also see why this was an original draft and not the draft that first made it to publication. At time, there were random tangents and references that made little to no sense. They added very little to the novel and were something I imagine many skimming over. It was, however, very interesting to see how Lee got To Kill A Mockingbird from this novel. How I would love to see the edits and brainstorming that went into changing this into that. I mean, talk about some amazing editing and revising.
There are also aspects of this novel I have mixed feelings about, such as Henry. I liked his character at first, but as the novel went on, I just couldn’t stand him, though not for the reasons Jean Louise’s family doesn’t like him. Some of his comments in his and Jean Louise’s fight made me angry, and I don’t think I can simply go back to liking him after that.
I also have a lot of mixed feelings about the topics of race and politics that came up in this novel. There was a lot to take in, and a lot of it I didn’t agree with. I did love the fact that Jean Louise stood so strongly for her beliefs that racism and segregation were horribly wrong. I will also say that I think this novel showed, in a very intriguing way, the intricacies and complexities that played out in people’s everyday lives during this time of change in America.
Again, I did highly enjoy this novel, perhaps not as much as To Kill A Mockingbird, but it made its own distinct impression on me. I would recommend this book for those who have read To Kill A Mockingbird, those who are looking to read about tough subjects, and those who want an excellent, thought-provoking read.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Cups of Tea
Your Pemberley Reader,