I just finished ‘Go Set A Watchman’ by Harper Lee and although I can’t compare it to ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ just yet, I ended this book wishing for something…well, more or maybe different.
26 year old Jean Louise Finch returns to Alabama to visit her father. Once there, she is immediately at odds with everybody: her boyfriend, Henry, her Aunt Alexandra and her Father, Atticus. During the course of her visit she discovers a pamphlet in her Father’s books titled “The Black Plague”. She is confused and bewildered that this kind of material would be in his things because this is something her father would fight, not support, so she goes to the courthouse to hear what they are talking about. When she arrives, she hears some pretty ugly and hateful comments from those in attendance and the worst part is that those who showed up, her father and boyfriend included, were gathering in the name of “the preservation of segregation”.
There are flashbacks to her childhood and adolescence throughout the story and an eventual confrontation with her Father. The book ends with a disturbing and confusing interaction between Jean Louise and her Uncle Jack where he explains things to help her realize she needs to be her own person with her own conscience and to see her Father as a man and not a hero.
I didn’t think the book was all that great. There were moments, especially the courthouse scene, where it was disturbing and difficult to read and if there were some lesson to be learned from this it may have served a point. We are told that Atticus Finch was a man who “lived by New Testament ethics” and she goes on to say that she didn’t realize she worshipped him until he betrayed her “publically” and “shamelessly”. Everything he stood for and taught her was good and this sudden change of opinion is a betrayal. After she confronts her Father, her Uncle Jack comes to talk to her and she realizes that she has worshipped Atticus for far too long and now she must see and accept him as a real man, a human being. It’s not that coming to realize and accept that our heroes are flawed, ordinary people isn’t without value, but it’s the way the author chose to do so, by making Atticus into a bigot and a racist that is so difficult. She painted a picture of a hypocrite. Interestingly enough, when she is yelling at Henry about being a hypocrite, Atticus suddenly shows up behind her leading to the confrontation scene.
Although this book was recently released as a novel of its own, this manuscript/version was never intended for publication. This is a first draft, a starting place. I think she wanted to write something that exposed the racism that she saw in the south and that also dealt with father/daughter relationships. Is there something to learn from this book after all? I think there is something we can learn about the importance of becoming our own person and to accept that our heroes are flawed without accepting or conforming to attitudes we know are wrong. Also, if your uncle slaps you around to bring you to your senses, push through the shock and confusion and quickly drive away.
What do you think? Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it?