Atticus: The Beta Version

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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  • Wow, a whole 15 minutes? Why don’t you sit on it for a while? Give it some thought, maybe?
    A rush to judgement/opinion is never good…
    Can never be a good critique…

  • So, it’s been almost two weeks; what do you think now?
    A lot of reviews; but I’m interested in what you think.
    I liked “To kill a Mockingbird” a lot; and the movie wasn’t too bad…

    • Sorry–I have been preoccupied by visiting relatives. I haven’t varied much from my initial impressions. There was a news story about a woman who demanded her money back from the bookstore where she purchased the book–claimed she was sold on false advertising. I didn’t have much sympathy for her because the publisher’s hype made it clear to me this was originally a ‘reject’. Anyway, I think the author did a masterful job of converting the raw ideas about Atticus, Maycomb, her family and her childhood when she re-wrote the story. I still think Go Set A Watchman is a decent book on its own and reading them as a series doesn’t detract from Mockingbird in my opinion. I think it layers on complexity and even reality, but it does it without the same grace. Perhaps that is to be expected since Mockingbird is a child’s-eye-memory where a goodly measure of innocence is expected, even appreciated. Anyhow, I gave the book to my 15 yr old son to compare to his recent reading of Mockingbird.

      • Well, the reviews haven’t been wonderful; and there have been requests for refunds (as you said).
        As in most things; your opinion is what should count.
        Living where I do; books by western authors (English language) are either not available or horribly expensive. My sister sent me Steppenwolf (Hesse) and Siddhartha (Hesse); not big paperbacks, plus two bags (200 gr. each) of sun dried tomatoes, and it cost $46 USD. Cost of contents; not $10 USD. My sister is very kind. 🙂
        So, I’ll likely never read it.
        The thrust of my reading today (and for the last 10 years) is history; not the “history” I was taught in public education in the U.S.; both New York (first 12 years) and Oregon; the next 6 years, not including horrible university experiences at 4 different universities and colleges.
        But I digress, sorry.
        Back on track (maybe), it’s good you enjoyed the read, and thanks for the reply.

        • I strongly prefer paper over ebooks (except for editing – somehow white on black is easier to catch typos in my publications). That said, it would seem worth your while to get an ereader. I have an tablet (HP 10, running Android) and I can read both epub and kindle on it. Also have software to convert doc/pdf/epub/kindle. I had downloaded all of Joe Bageant’s essays as pdf which I will convert to ebook format when I get a chance.

          • I agree; paper, in hand, rules. But here in LOS (land of smiles), it means going to Bangkok, which I abhor, and spending too much for a paperback; if it’s available; special orders are very expensive. So, I abide with what I can access.
            There are a wealth of free audio book sites (reading on a PC is just exhausting), Librivox and Unwelcome guests, to name a couple. Project Gutenberg is another free source of books; but must be read on computer or device.
            Most e-books are not free and I have to buy a device I know I’ll not use.
            When I lived in Portland, Powell’s was my hangout; cheap second hand books; but alas, that was well more than a decade ago.
            Thanks Ray, for the suggestion; by the way, I have a couple of Bageant’s books; very good reading…

            • Deer Hunting & Rainbow Pie should be required reading. Joe’s essays are available at His editor & webmaster Ken Smith maintains the site since Joe’s death. Essays also available as PDFs on ColdType. I downloaded them and will eventually create an ebook for my own use and free to whoever wants it.

  • I highly recommend Allen Tate’s The Fathers
    Fiction as memoir, an elderly man recalling the events of his youth in the ante bellum  South. Life presented through the eyes of a boy with limited understanding of people and the lead-up to war, but reflected upon with the mature understanding of his later years. A remarkable book altogether.

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