Published on August 17th, 2015 | by Michaela Buckley0
Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
It’s here, and rather than bore you to death by contextualising this event, I’d rather get down to brass tacks.
Is it any good? Yes, but you won’t like it.
Go Set a Watchman is a telling novel, it tells you of the reality of racism and the cracks in the foundation of American society. There are hard truths in the book, the biggest one of all being that Harper Lee herself isn’t perfect, she is an Atticus of another age,one that in today’s society would easily be branded a racist herself.
The novel begins when Scout, who now goes by her birth name, ‘Jean-Louise’, returns to Maycomb, Alabama to see her family. To note, the world in which this story takes place is not the same as To Kill A Mockingbird, it’s an alternate future where Tom Robinson was complicit in the sexual intercourse with Mayella Ewell and Atticus gets the charges thrown out. The result is the same, however, as Jean-Louise reveres him as much as before, but upon learning that her father harbours some unsavoury opinions about black people, she becomes despondent until she is later able to reconcile her feelings at the end of the book.
I struggle with the books themes in general, I think it’s a great idea to take the simple concepts of the first one and elevate them into a more mature setting with more complex conversations about the nature of racism. However it’s hard for me to come to terms with a number of things.
1. Atticus is racist.
2. Jean-Louise is quite racist.
3. Accepting people for who they despite being disgustingly racist.
Thanks to the internet, I knew that Atticus was going to be very different to the character that I remember and love, however there’s a difference between not wanting something to happen and the change just not making much sense.
Atticus believes black people shouldn’t be everywhere having loads of jobs. It’s hard for me to understand why he would be for one thing and against another, it doesn’t feel like it’s fully explained as he would rather bring up loads of legalese that as an Englishman, makes little sense to me.
Jean-Louise at one point mentions that she believes black people are like children and are stupid and says some as if that absolves it. She, like Atticus, wants to infantilise black people, although to a lesser extent. It’s hard for us to watch her go through the pain of Atticus’ betrayal, only for her to lay it on herself. At one point she agrees with Atticus that she can’t imagine the black citizens of Maycomb running for Mayor as she believes they aren’t intelligent enough.
Towards the end of the novel, she is smacked by her uncle who tells her that because she has a good moral compass she has to accept that Atticus isn’t perfect and she has to just deal with it, which she does.
There’s a lot to hate about the book, but Lee’s familiar and warm writing does a lot to stave off the horrors, it’s a novel that without its counterpart was probably doomed to obscurity, however we have it now and for better or worse, it has been an event that will change how people view the classics, as we never truly know what lurks beneath.