Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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1984 by George Orwell

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1984 by George Orwell

 

I have read the first of the books I received for Christmas. I started reading it on Boxing Day and although not a remotely festive read or comforting I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I didn’t think I would. I read Brave New World at uni and while I enjoyed it I felt as though it was a bit of chore to get through. I did think 1984 would be tough going but I was pleasantly surprised.

Winston Smith lives in the nation of Oceania, a state comprising of the former North America and the United Kingdom. He works as a low ranking employee for the Ministry of Truth ruled by the ever watching Big Brother. His role is altering historical records to fit with the ruling party’s ideals, Winston struggles to recall the difference between fact and fiction. Everything is controlled by the ruler of the party Big Brother, from actions to thoughts, language and history.

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Winston is frustrated with the society he lives in and illegally purchases a diary to write his thoughts in, a risky move as the Thought Police are likely to find out. Even risker is the illegal and budding romance with his co-worker Julia. One day she slips a note to him saying ‘I love you’. They rent a room above a second hand book shop to continue their illicit affair. Winston already filled with guilt about purchasing the diary knows they will be caught. His romance with Julia causes him to hate the party even more. Julia and Winston manage to get their hands on an illegal book – Emmanuel Goldstein’s manifesto of the Brotherhood. In the rather wordy tome it explains how Big Brother is conning society into believing they are at war against nations and how it is generally manipulating individuals. As Winston reads the social theory to Julia, soldiers burst in and take them to the Ministry of Love.

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O’Brien, a co-worker who Winston looked up to is actually working for Big Brother and interrogates Winston first physically and then mentally. O’Brien spends months brainwashing Winston who struggles to resist. If people rebel against Big Brother they are often vaporised, vanished and never to be seen again. Scared this will happen to him, Winston asks O’Brien what will happen. O’Brien explains that Winston must be ‘pure’ and converted even before he is vaporised. Eventually Winston is sent to Room 101, the final destination for those opposing the party. He is faced with his worst fear, rats. He begs for Julia to receive this fate rather than him. This is exactly the remark that party wanted so the two former lovers are turning on each other.

The final chapter shows Winston and Julia meeting by chance, they no longer have feelings for each other. The party has won and Winston has learned to love Big Brother.

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As I read more of the book it’s scary to think how some things in the Big Brother society are very similar to ours:

  • Big Brother tells us, all children are nasty. In our society the media tells us how each generation is becoming more rude and lacking in manners
  • In the Big Brother society children are forced to watch beheadings. This is an event which is prevalent in the Middle east at the moment.
  • Big Brother tells us people aren’t meant to have feelings . Now we are taught especially in the business world to trample on anyone to get to the top.
  • Big Brother has set texts all inhabitants must read. This can be related to our education system.
  • The Ministry of Truth ironically invents people in newspapers. While people in western media aren’t really invented by newspapers, stories about famous figures are – hello gossip magazines, which leads me onto reality. How do we know what is reality, is the media telling us only what they want us to know and how will we ever know if this is the case?

I could go on. 1984 really is food for thought.