Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is the much anticipated “sequel” from the To Kill A Mockingbird author so widely read in American literature classes in high school. When it was released last year, I was excited to see where the characters that were so beloved in To Kill A Mockingbird would go. Since I am always a little late to the game (and I also have a Goodreads TBR of over 300 books), I didn’t get a chance to read it until this year.
If you don’t know about this novel, it was the “first draft” of To Kill A Mockingbird. Supposedly, when Harper Lee turned it into the publisher it was rejected and the current TKAM was created. TKAM focuses on race relations in Alabama during the height of the Jim Crow era. For many, this book has provided hope for race relations in the US and is a classic example of socially conscious literature. Go Set A Watchman has a different message, and it’s not presented in a nice, neat package.
Before I get too far into my analysis of the book, I have to start off by saying that I LOVE this book. Part of why I love it stems from it’s release several decades after TKAM. It’s essentially the continuation of a conversation on race relations and morality. Go Set a Watchman is the story of a twenty-something Jean Louise “Scout” Finch who is returning to Alabama for a mini-vacation from her New York reporter life. She’s returning home to an aging Atticus and a childhood love interest.
The main conflict in this novel is that Atticus, Scout’s beloved moral father, is involved with a suspect group of prominent white men who want to restrict the opportunities of Blacks in the county. When this is revealed Scout calls into question her entire childhood and moral upbringing, and she is forced to reconcile what happens when someone you love holds different beliefs than you share. She goes and visits her Black caregiver, Calpurnia, in attempts to gain some perspective about her childhood, but is only turned away with more questions than answers.
Before I read this book, I kept seeing negative reviews from TKAM fans. I think that the reason so many people dislike this book is because there is no clear resolution. We don’t ever get insight on Atticus’s motives. There’s no resolution with Calpurnia that is either positive or negative. We don’t know what happens with Scout and her potential love interest. It’s a little too much like real life. What makes this book special to me is knowing that it painted a more realistic picture of racism. A lot of times prejudice is placed in a vacuum. People are all good or people are all evil. I think this theme is more evident in Go Set a Watchman than it was in To Kill A Mockingbird. As I followed Scout’s narrative and emotional reactions to what she was witnessing and feeling, I could completely understand the frustration and hurt that one feels when they think they are being betrayed by a loved one. I don’t think there are enough books that touch on the delicacy of these emotions, especially within a political context (HELLO, STATE’S RIGHTS).
I think this message is important, and it is necessary in today’s racial/political climate. It’s possible to raise children to be more morally sound than we are, and it’s also important to understand that most people’s beliefs cannot easily be summarized. This book is short; so if you’re a fan of TKAM or interested in socially conscious literature, I’d check out this book.