I finally bought a copy of Go Set A Watchman and finished reading it only about fifteen minutes ago. Here is my reaction.
First, I found most of it entertaining if only because I love Southern language and Harper Lee renders it really, really well. It is her authentic language and in many ways she delivers it in Watchman better than Mockingbird.
Lee uses her gift of language to draw colorful characters all of whom I can recognize from my own upbringing. Lee has a well-developed eye and ear. The book resonates for me in that way.
If I were asked to characterize the book, I would answer: It’s actually a coming-of-age story that spends most of its time disguised as a fish-out-of-water story. In terms of simplified, ancient television models, it is like John-Boy returning to Walton’s Mountain after living for years as a transplant in some faraway city and then suffering through an excruciating high school class reunion populated by people he thinks he has grown beyond. The self-aware protagonist spends a lot of time wondering (as a coming-of-age teenager might) am I the one who’s different? did I change or did they? How can you tell?
Jean Louise’s relationships to her home and family crystallize in her final disillusionment with Atticus. The stuff about race relations is powerful, but only momentarily poignant. It is the device Lee uses to move Scout’s transformation forward. It has an arbitrary feel about it. It read like a transparent literary contrivance, and ultimately the excuse for a rant delivered by Jean Louise in the closing chapters. Interestingly, Scout declares during her rant she probably agrees with practical difficulties of having Black people participate fully in Maycomb governance and civic life. She too dances on the head of a pin. The worst offense of the book lies in the end–and this is where it reminded me of the Waltons. At least some of her anguish seems to have been anticipated, even encouraged by Atticus and his brother to help Scout “grow up”—at least that is how it reads to me. It isn’t that anyone changes their opinions on race, religion or politics. It is more like Scout becomes Jean Louise when she discovers she cannot borrow anybody else’s conscience, anybody else’s “watchman”. She has to get comfortable with her own and know everyone else has their own. Sigh!
I am not too good at finely tuned literary analysis and probably do not do this book justice. However I can say that it was worth my time and I did enjoy the book. I think Harper Lee’s original editor was absolutely right in recommending she re-cast the story to remove a lot of the self-conscious , self-aware reporting by Scout in this book. She turned in a superior book on the second try. Seems to me that Mockingbird is needed if only to explain the true depth of young Scout’s perception of Atticus and her hometown. You can better understand how Watchman works (or is intended to work) if you have read Mockingbird first. Without that foreknowledge, Watchman would seem even more superficial, more contrived.
As I have said, the people in this book are people I grew up with. They are still around me…and you.
Do I think Atticus 1.0 and 2.0 are the same people? Yes, I do.
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