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Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (2015-07-14) Audio CD
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Top reviews from the United States
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Her father taught her that everybody should be treated equally under the law. Jean Louise grew up believing that prejudice was wrong, plain and simple. When she was ten, her father fiercely defended a black man accused of raping a white woman, in spite of being threatened by the local KKK. To her, Atticus Finch was the best man she ever knew....
And now she hears him talking about the NAACP coming down to Alabama to "stir up trouble". For example, the NAACP is actually demanding Negroes be included in juries when a Negro is on trial for committing a crime against a white person. This organization is stirring up unrest and resentment among the colored folks. One has to be very careful these days with what is said in front of one's maids and field hands...
When Jean Louise hears her father talking this way, she is devastated. This is not the Atticus Finch that Jean Louise grew up knowing. Nor is it the character that readers of TKAM knew. Turns out, this literary hero has feet of clay.
It felt uncomfortable reading this book in places. I didn't like my long held beliefs in Atticus Finch to be undermined. (I first read TKAM in high school, fifty years ago!). But upon reflection, I do realize he was very paternal in his treatment of blacks. And, in truth, "Go Set a Watchman" most likely reflected what was really going on in the south in the 1950s. And sometimes we need to be reminded of what was, without wearing rose-colored glasses.
In "To Kill a Mockingbird", the greatest thing Atticus Finch did was to defend an innocent black man. In "To Set a Watchman", the greatest thing he ever did was raise Jean Louise to be the woman she grew up to be.
After much contemplation, and taking into account the year this book was written, I'm giving it 5 stars.
Okay, now that we understand each other, how is 'Watchman'? It's...okay. There are critical differences that I won't go into in order not to spoil the plot. Here's what I can tell you (and I am assuming you are familiar with 'Mockingbird'): The time period is mid-50's. Scout is 26, lives in New York City, and returns to Maycomb for a two week visit. The book is told in a series of anecdotes in the present day and in flashbacks to Scout's childhood. Scout is called by her proper name, Jean Louise, for the majority of the book. Dill is overseas and is only seen in a few flashbacks. Jem is also not on the present scene, although he figures more significantly in flashbacks. Miss Maudie is mentioned but doesn't play a major role. There is no mention whatsoever of any of the Radleys. A principal "new" figure is Hank Clinton, an orphan of Jem's age that was taken under Atticus' wing, became a lawyer and Atticus' partner, and is determined to marry Jean Louise and have her return to Maycomb.
What's happening in Maycomb is that the NAACP is becoming prominent, and 'the Negroes' are demanding civil rights following the US Supreme Court's decision to integrate public schools. Jean Louise is disgusted to learn of Maycomb's opposition to these developments and is horrified by a town council meeting attended by Hank and Atticus where blatant racism, intolerance, stereotypes and segregation are advanced. She dismisses Hank as a would-be fiancé. Her image of Atticus, the hero of 'Mockingbird' and a universal symbol of justice, tolerance and equality, is shattered. Having based her own value system on Atticus, Jean Louise is infuriated and feels she is identity-less as a result of this surprising betrayal.
These developments would be startling and extremely disappointing if 'Watchman' was in fact a sequel to 'Mockingbird'. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief because Lee ultimately chose to portray Atticus in the manner that she did. Reading the earlier version is interesting to see how she came around to the end result. In this respect, 'Watchman' is important as a resource to show countervailing concerns at play when Lee was writing, and is good enough cause to read it. (As a side note, there are striking comparisons to some of the more moderate Maycomb council theories and those of modern-day Confederate flag supporters. Take note, English Lit teachers!)
Does the book stand on its own? In a word, no. It's boring. 'Mockingbird' is charming and funny, the characters are endearing, there's a fair amount of action, the dialogue is brilliant. Not the case in the earlier draft. There is relatively little action. For the most part, the "action" takes place in the flashbacks, none of which are even close to the stories in the eventual classic. The book is not funny. Jean Louise is appealing but she's by no means the adorable, irreverent Scout. Hank Clinton is a caricature that was wisely deleted. Atticus is an old, decrepit shadow of himself whose opinions will upset most readers. Dill is AWOL, the Radley angle is sorely missed. Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Jack are overly present but are supremely tedious. A major difference between this draft and the later one is that pages and pages are given over to speeches. Practically all the dialogue is delivered from a pulpit or a soap box. Lee had a lot to say, and eventually got it right, but in this version the overlong speeches get boring, quickly. There is some great writing, and many passages from the draft made it into the final cut. Lee obviously benefitted from some intelligent and caring editors as she finished the novel.
To Kill a Mockingbird is an all-time classic that everyone should read. Go Set A Watchman is an interesting tool that helps show how Lee developed the characters, setting, storyline and message of the novel. It is valuable in that respect, and is worth reading, but does not hold its own as an independent novel, because that's not what it is.
I would have rated this zero stars as it only serves to sabotage TKaM, but that option isn't available.
Top reviews from other countries
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is nowhere near the excellence of her first book, To Kill a Mockingbird. But then, more than 60 years have passed between the first and the second novel. So, in a way, the Scout who is the protagonist of this book, like she was of the previous one, isn't just 20 years older. She's a lifetime older, which might explain why she feels so out of focus.
Or maybe the problem is with Mrs. Lee herself since she's obviously not an author in the traditional sense, having only one tale to tell and nothing else.
I also have an issue with the book's title, which is one of the worst I ever encountered.
Regardless of the book's shortcomings, however, there is a citation here that has made it worthwhile for me to read this book, and I'm going to share it for all:
"Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”
Novel by Harper Lee, July 2015.
With Harper Lee’s only other book an American classic, the publication of Go Set a Watchman was highly anticipated this summer. As you might expect, the novel has drawn a variety of reactions and responses.
Jean Louise “Scout” Finch is a young woman in her twenties who travels from her home in New York City to the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her elderly and arthritic father, and her family. Times have changed since her childhood recorded in Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), and she is not so sure that she likes what she sees and discovers.
Her visit is laced with tension because, as Thomas Wolfe has written, You Can’t Go Home Again. For Jean Louise, this is the time for the Scout portion in her to come of age. But the process is traumatic! Through a series of flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, the reader becomes re-acquainted with neighbour friend, Charles Baker “Dill” Harris (in Italy), and her older brother Jeremy “Jem” Finch, who has since died of a heart condition which also killed her mother.
Aunt Alexandra, and Uncle Jack Finch (a retired doctor) interact at length with Jean Louise in the plot, and play significant roles. While Atticus Finch, the revered father of Jean Louise, does not play a major role, his influence is considerable and pivotal. Childhood friend, Henry “Hank” Clinton who lived across the street, now works in the law office with Atticus, and appears as a potential suitor. The Finch Family maid, Calpurnia, (whom Jean Louise sees as a mother figure) is retired in this narrative, and has a minor---but poignant---role.
Picture the emotional struggle. When Jean Louise returns to the Maycomb that used to be familiar to her, the Scout part of her surfaces in her consciousness, along with her attitudes and remembrances. Things begin to crystallize for her one day, when she follows Atticus to a Citizens’ Council where her father introduces Mr. Grady O’Hanlan, who delivers an aggressively racist speech. Watching from the balcony where she sat, once upon a time, while Atticus defended one-armed Tom Robinson against a rape allegation, Jean Louise is totally devastated. Her world has crashed; her value system has crumbled; but most of all, her god appears to have feet of clay. Her moral compass no longer works.
Her Uncle Jack explains it like this. “You were born with your own conscience, but fastened it like a barnacle onto your father’s conscience. As you grew up, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart and a man’s failings (they may have been hard to see because he made so few mistakes)---but Atticus makes mistakes like all of us.”
When Jean Louise rants and rails, lunging verbally at her father, her hero, Atticus, remains quiet, controlled, and willingly absorbent of his daughter’s venom. And then he says to her, “I love you. As you please.” Later, after Jean Louise has become more her own person (as opposed to an extension of her father’s goodness), she approaches the old man with the words, “Atticus, I am sorry.” And true to the character we have loved and admired and respected in Atticus Finch, he replies, “You may be sorry, but I’m proud of you. I certainly hoped a daughter of mine would hold her ground for what she thinks is right---and stand up to me, first of all!”
The book’s title comes from Isaiah 21:6 “For thus the Lord said to me: ‘Go set a watchman, let him announce what he sees.’” Jean Louise “Scout” Finch sees her father as the watchman of his day. Yet, somehow, with her return visit to Maycomb, and its initiation of all of the personal growth provoked in Scout, I think Atticus is saying to her, “Now you, Jean Louise, you are a watchman in your day.”
But there’s another verse in Scripture that kept coming into my mind as I read this novel. It’s from Paul’s letter, 1 Corinthians 13: 11. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man (woman), I gave up childish ways.
I first came open Mockingbird as a young teenager and it became my most read book, shoot, I could probably recite most of it. Decades later I met someone who lived in the same town as Harper Lee and knew her, who told me stories of her childhood there .. all echoing the novel.
Now, years later, comes this book and so it not only closes the Finch circles, it closes, in a way, mine too.
And of course Atticus has done a complete turn around from his lofty idealism and downright belief that all men are created equal. So I, like many others, wish I didn't know this side of Mr. Finch and found it ruined To Kill a Mockingbird for me. What once was the gold standard in writing in American has now been tarnished.