Book Title: Go Set a Watchman
Writer: Harper Lee
Release Date: July 14, 2015
Scout Finch has returned to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama after years in New York City. Home isn’t what it used to be, and Scout is finding out that the people she thought she knew aren’t who she thought they were. The South is changing, and Scout is finding with horror that Maycomb may not be ready for it. Scout realizes that the town’s only hope could be her father Atticus…but even Atticus could let her down.
Written by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman takes its title from the biblical passage Isaiah 21:6 “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth”. The novel is the follow-up to the 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Controversy surrounded the release of the novel with questions about Lee’s authorship and mental health. The book was released to record breaking presales and mediocre reviews.
I was pretty excited when Go Set a Watchman was announced, but I was set to be disappointed. I knew that it would be impossible to match the success and skill of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I still couldn’t wait to read it. Though it does raise interesting questions about society and growing up, the novel is a bit of a mess.
The problem with Go Set a Watchman is primarily the voice of the narrator. With To Kill a Mockingbird, you had the impression that a much older Scout was looking back on her life. She was able to see the things she didn’t see as a child, but also was able to see them with the eyes of a child (allowing for more social commentary). Harper Lee has stated that Go Set a Watchman was actually a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird which ended up focusing on Scout’s childhood.
Here, Scout is in her twenties and the narrator which allows you to assume that the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird was also in her twenties though she feels much older. The Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird was observant and intelligent, and it doesn’t feel like Scout of Go Set a Watchman is as smart as the Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird. She comes off as whiny and a bit annoying…her attitude is no longer cute like when she was a child.
The big elephant in the room is the race issue. In the novel, Scout finds that Atticus is fighting against the NAACP’s push for integration and equal rights. This obviously doesn’t seem to match the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird. The argument put up is that there is a difference between a segregationist and a racist. It is an interesting discussion, but how Atticus teaches Scout feels like a put down to both characters.
Go Set a Watchman has problems, and it is a bit of a sad “whatever happened to” follow-up To Kill a Mockingbird. I was happy to revisit Scout and Atticus (RIP Jem), but it isn’t a very compelling story. To Kill a Mockingbird was such an important story that Go Set a Watchman cannot be judged without considering the original work. Wandering and littered with sometimes random flashbacks, Go Set a Watchman just feels a little under-baked and lacking the voice we came to expect in To Kill a Mockingbird…read it out of curiosity, but don’t go in expecting much.
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