Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Unless you were living under a rock last year you will know that Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman was one of the biggest literary releases last year but along with the release came mixed reviews. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird and would easily say it’s in my top five favourite books of all time. So I had to read Lee’s new novel to make a judgement for myself.
The novel revolves around Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch, a now twenty-something year old, who is returning to Maycomb to visit her beloved father Atticus. She’s picked up from the station by her childhood sweetheart, Hank who now works for her father as a lawyer. Hank explains to Scout how the racial tensions in Maycomb have come to a head. In a town which Scout loved as a child, she now sees it backwardness towards black citizens and realised it hasn’t progressed for over twenty years.
The first big scandal in the book is Scout and Hank embarking on some skinny dipping which is soon the talk of the town. No one is more displeased than her Aunt Alexandra, who now runs the house since Calpurina retired and Atticus’s arthritis has deteriorated. I thought this was a rather trivial part of the plot in comparison with the moral actions in To Kill a Mockingbird.
While riffling through some of her father’s papers Scout finds a leaflet called ‘The Black Plague’ and then follows Atticus to a Citizens Council meeting where he introduces a man who delivers a racist speech. Sitting in the audience is also Hank. Distraught that Atticus, the man who she has always looked up to can be involved in something like this, she flees.
The next big event in the book is the death of a pedestrian caused by Calpurina’s grandson. Atticus offers his help.
We are introduced to Scout’s Uncle Jack who offers his reasons for Atticus’s actions at the council meeting. He explains that he isn’t a racist and then draws on the racial politics in the Deep South at that time. Although I am aware of the divide in the South at that time, a lot of his speech did go over my head and I don’t feel his point was put across as well as it could have been.
She confronts Hanks and tells him she cannot love or marry him due to his involvement at the meeting. She also asks Atticus of his involvement and he explains that blacks in the south aren’t ready for full civil rights. She tells him she never wants to see him again and runs home to pack her belongings only for her Uncle Jack to offer another speech. He explains that her conscience is attached to Atticus’s assuming that her answers would always be his. He tells her not to look up him as an idol so she can be her own person.
By the end of the novel she is speaking to Atticus and finally sees him as a man and not a god-like figure. He ends by saying how proud he is of her for being herself.
The novel wasn’t as bad as some people made out however I do think that because To Kill a Mockingbird had such a powerful message this book in contrast struggled to live up to its predecessor. To me the plot seemed trivial and completely unnecessary – it took the magic and the adoration between father and daughter away from me. I am glad I read it but it’s not a book I would return to anytime soon.