Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee


Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

The Decision:

To Kill A Mockingbird has been my favorite book since the moment I finished it when I was 15 years old. Its one of the few books that I have read that touched me to my very core. I learn something each and every time I read the book. Harper Lee is a wise woman who sees more than the average person in the human spirit. She sees a hero in the shut-in neighbor.  She sees courage in the cranky old lady down the street. In a world where we all judge based on the least amount of information given, Lee sees the other side. Its a lesson I need to hear over and over again, and no one reminds me better than Harper Lee.

When I heard about Go Set A Watchman, I had many mixed emotions: Excitement, nervousness, and disgust. I was so excited at the prospect of reading another Harper Lee book, since To Kill A Mockingbird was the only one. I was nervous that the book might not be very good or might change how I felt about certain characters. And I was disgusted at the alleged way in which the book was likely published without Lee's approval.

From what I have read, Lee never wanted the book published. In fact, her lawyer sister (whom she always referred to as her Atticus), protected her from greedy literary agents. But her sister passed away.  Suddenly the book was being released. Did someone take advantage of an elderly woman who was not fully aware of what she was doing? The answer is purely speculation. And without someone there to protect the book for the rest of eternity, the book was eventually going to get published. Was it not Sylvia Plath who hid her writing all throughout her home and it was published after her death? But does this excuse someone from taking advantage of this woman?  Absolutely not. I do believe, that if it is true, that agent will get their comeuppances. Here's the whole story, if you are interested.

In the end, I decided to read it. I was going to hear about the book no matter what. So, instead of hearing what someone else thought, I decided I wanted to form my own opinion. I was going to read that book, and I was going to read it as soon as I could, before I could hear anything about it. But of course, I didn't get to read it before I heard the worst news ever: Atticus Finch was a racist.

I can't lie, I was devastated.  Atticus? Atticus Finch, the perfect picture of integrity, racist? Could I possibly read this book and destroy my view of the character I hold so dear to my heart?  If I read it, I may never enjoy To Kill A Mockingbird ever again.  But if I don't, wouldn't that thought always be in the back of my mind? Wouldn't I always wonder how he was racist?  Yeah, I would, so again, I decided to read it.

The Plot:

In the book, Scout (now going by Jean Louise) is the all grown up and living on her own in New York.  She is still the wild spirit we all know and love. She is coming home to Maycomb because Atticus is getting older and can no longer function on his own. Jean Louise knows its only a matter of time before she'll have to return for good to care for him.

However, Maycomb is not the place she remembers. The Supreme Court has recently ruled on Brown vs. The Board of Education and the town has turned into Whites vs Blacks. Tensions are at an all time high, something she has not really witnessed living in New York. But when Jean Louise learns that her father is going to meetings known for trying to keep the Blacks from voting, her world is torn apart. The man she idolizes is a cold racist. Jean Louise, who always thinks "What would Atticus do?" when faced with a tough decision, is devastated. Everything she has ever known is lie and she is torn to pieces.

At this point in the book, I was torn about continuing. Much like Jean Louise, I wanted to run away a pretend it never happened. I wanted to pretend I never valued Atticus. Clearly he was not the man I had grown to love. But like Jean Louise, Atticus once again, taught me a lesson.

I will warn you now, beyond this point is significant amount of spoilers. PLEASE STOP READING IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS!!! (The next section is spoiler free.)

Jean Louise goes about getting upset and rants and raves (much like she does as a child), but fails to go to the source of the issue to get answers. After talking with several members of Maycomb who are full blown racists, Jean Louise throws Atticus into the group. If he's not with her, he's with them. He's a racist who doesn't value Calpurnia and thinks himself better than anyone of color. She is going to write him off as nothing more than a bigot and head back to New York, when she finally is confronted by Atticus.

After a long discussion, Atticus explains his point of view. He is not racist and does support ending segregation. But he's been around long enough that if you take two groups that have been separated, toss them together and tell them they have to get along, you are simply pitting them against each other. By forcing segregation to end in the South, Atticus truly believes they have actually made things worse for both sides. Atticus' answer is that things should happen slower. Blacks will get full educations and become part of a community. Whites will get accustom to Blacks being around and see them for more than their color. Then the Supreme Court can slowly start giving them more and more rights until they are equal.

Jean Louise disagrees completely. She believes that the Blacks should have full rights now and that anyone that believes otherwise is a racist.

After storming off and getting ready to leave town forever, Jean Louise is visited by her uncle Jack. He explains something to her: Atticus let her believe he was racist and did not defend himself so she would learn to think for herself. He didn't want her to think "What would Atticus do?" anymore.  He wanted her to think "What would I do?". And guess what?  She did. She formed her own opinion and stuck to it, even though it was different than her daddy's. She didn't need to look to Atticus anymore for guidance. He knew he was going to die soon and he really needed Scout to stand on her own. And she loved him all the more for it. She still disagreed, but she finally saw the good in the disagreement.

My Opinion:

Now, part of the reason that To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books is because I adore Atticus. I adore him because he reminds me so much of my own father. My dad is my Atticus. He's the hero who always stands for what is right. He's the one who leads me to be my own person. Much like Atticus, I know my dad is proud of me for having my own opinions, even when they are different than his own.

There comes a time in every child's life, when they stop seeing their parent as perfect super hero, and start seeing them as a person. I remember that day vividly in my mind. I must have been 15 or 16 when I learned information about my dad that no longer made him perfect. But this only made me love my dad even more. It's like my whole debate about Superman vs. Batman. Superman has super strength, x-ray vision, and the ability to fly. With all those abilities, anyone could be a hero. Batman is just a guy who wants to do good. He's flawed, broken, and real. But the biggest difference: Superman isn't human. Batman is human.

Superman is the view I had of my dad as a kid. Batman is the guy I see now. Both are heroes, but one is human. I believe the same is true of Scout. To Kill A Mockingbird is how Scout saw her dad as a kid. Go Set A Watchman is how she sees her dad as an adult. At the end of both, he's a hero.

While not nearly as good as To Kill A Mockingbird, I really enjoyed Go Set A Watchman. Filled with flashbacks that stayed true to the original and left me thinking "I love Atticus!", this book was above par and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a friend.  

Goodreads rating: 4/5

Rating: PG-13 (excessive amounts of the "n" word)

Recommended for those who enjoy: coming of age stories, difficult parenting decisions, and moral dilemmas.

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