August 19, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

A few weeks back Go Set A Watchman was all over my FB newsfeed. Review after review talked about the fall of Atticus Finch. People ranted about the shocking discovery that Atticus was a closet racist, Jean Louise (nee Scout) was almost engaged to a member of the KKK, and everything in Maycomb, GA was coming crashing down.

I immediately locked down and said no way, no how am I reading this sacrilege. Atticus Finchis still atop the pedestal he's lived on since I was in 8th grade and I'm not going to do anything that might topple him. Scout, Jem, and Dill live on in my mind in those endless Georgian summers playing in the road, spying on Boo Radley, and reading to Mrs.Dubose as she battles morphine withdrawal. I have no desire to change any of that.

But then QM went and did the unthinkable. She bought the book.

My resolve crumbled like my Grandpa's sugar cookies.

The week before school started, I went back to Maycomb.

I've been digesting Go Set a Watchman for about 2 weeks now and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it. Points in the book seemed like an unnecessary sequel to Mockingbird. But since it was actually written first, I know that's not the case. Quite a few flashbacks to Scout's and Jem's childhood were scattered through the book making the original publisher's idea behind Mockingbird seem like the perfect choice. As a stand alone, I don't think I would have been impressed with the latest book.

Without giving too much away, Jean Louise comes home for 10 days in the summer and has her childhood ideals come crashing down around her. The point is that she needs to separate her personal identity from the identity she's created for herself in Atticus's shadow. She needs to find her own moral foundation and stop living on her father's. For that to happen Atticus cannot continue to live on the pedestal Scout has placed him on her entire life. She has to grow up and therefore grow apart.

The book touches on many of the ideas behind states rights that were still very prevalent in the south; the thought process behind segregation, the notion that equality was a pipe dream, and the divide between urban ideals and rural values. Because the book was originally written during the civil rights movement, I think it gives a perspective on segregation we often miss out on in public school history class. I think I better understand why segregationists fought to keep the status quo and why otherwise compassionate and intelligent Southerner clung so tightly to the idea. That's not to say I agree with their reasoning, it's just to say I understand it a little better.

A friend (who happens to be a retired English teacher/writer born and raised in Harper Lee's South)  stated she was unsure the book should have been published at all. After reading it, and somewhat enjoying it  for the nostalgia it produced, I'm inclined to agree with her. The book is a disjointed attempt at reconciling Harper Lee's Southern upbringing with her later life in New York. It's a book that, without the surety of making a lot of money on Ms. Lee's name alone, probably wouldn't have made it past the Free Kindle Book list.

All that said, I do not regret reading it and I did enjoy the book (even though my review seems to state otherwise). But if you're looking for the importance of To Kill a Mockingbird, I fear you'll be disappointed.

As for me, I choose Atticus Finch to remain a paragon of virtue in my imagination, regardless of his literary evolution.

No comments: