Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee, author, Reese Witherspoon, narrator

watchmanAtticus Finch, Jean Louise who was better known as Scout, and Henry (Hank), return in “Go Set A Watchman”. Although promoted as a sequel, it was actually written prior to “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Still, the story does begin several years in the future when Jean Louise, now an adult, returns home for her two week vacation. At 26, she now lives and works in New York City. Her old childhood friend and possibly even her sweetheart, Hank, now 30, is waiting to pick her up. Atticus, her father, has arthritis. He was not up to meeting her at the station as he usually did. In the years that have passed, Hank has gone to law school and entered the law practice of her father who has embraced him as a son.
For the first part of the book, there is really little new to learn, about the goings on in Maycomb, apart from the passing of some family members and the presence, in her old home, of her spinster aunt Alexandra, who now lives with her father to help him manage. Just about half way through the book, however, when Jean Louise happens upon a meeting of the Citizen’s Council of Maycomb, the worm turns, and the story takes flight. Witnessing her father and her friend Hank participating in a meeting with the desire to restrict the rights of Negroes, she finds that she is horrified. What she later learns about her father’s participation in certain organizations completely unnerves her. Jean Louise had been completely devoted to her “perfect” dad and this news destroys her, inspiring a temper tantrum resembling that of a child. Jean Louise has never truly grown up or looked at the real world through her own eyes, but rather she identified completely with her father’s interpretation in all things, and now to discover that he was blind and indifferent to the very ideas that troubled her the most, she is ashamed beyond belief.
Atticus is not only on the Council, but he is a board member. She also discovers he once even joined the Ku Klux Klan. He tells her that he joined to find out who lived behind the sheets so he would know who he was dealing with all the time. She did not believe that his reason was valid or truthful. She loses her temper with both her father and Hank and tries to distance herself from them. When Calpurnia’s nephew was arrested for the murder of a white man who wandered in front of his car completely inebriated, Hank does not want to defend him. Atticus insists that they defend him, but for all the wrong reasons, as far as Jean Louise is concerned. Calpurnia has worked for and been devoted to them for so many years, she believes that her father should give her nephew the best defense possible and not just defend him to prevent the NAACP from coming down and creating a scandal. If it wasn’t his fault, he should not be convicted, even if the town demands it because of the current environment. She decides that when he had defended Tom Robinson, many years before, he only did it because he believed in the letter of the law, not his right to equal justice under the law. Jean Louise understands the issues the community is facing but doesn’t look at them realistically, rather she is thinking idealistically, about solutions and not consequences. Still, she adamantly disagrees with her father, although she does agree with him that there are also white people who need as much help as the Negroes, and they should not be neglected in the effort to foster equality for all.
The white community believes they have treated the Negroes fairly, maybe even better than fairly. They are angry and resentful because of what they believe are arrogant demands to have equal access to voting booths and driver’s licenses. Negative stereotypes and prejudices rise to the surface and shock Jean Louise, especially when these negative views are voiced by those she loves. Her aunt is a believer in class and does not even approve of Henry, who was not of a background she deemed respectable. At this point, one has to pause and wonder if Jean Louise was living under a rock some place, to be so unaware of the racial divide that existed in the country. Even in the northeast, there were racial problems. On the opposite pole, the Negroes and their organizations, of course, believed that it was the white people that were behaving arrogantly, and if the scales were viewed honestly, one would have to say that they were probably right. The scales of justice were most definitely weighted heavily in the favor of the white society because generation after generation, hate had continued to be inbred. Although things appeared much better between the races on the surface, underneath prejudice seethed. Perhaps it is much the same today.
I believe that the author was either incredibly prescient or the book was updated and edited before publication, because, currently, even under the administration of the first black president, it seems the effort to get out the vote to make sure one or another political party wins, seems paramount, regardless of whether or not they can even legally vote or are actual citizens of this country. The legal qualifications of the voter no longer seem to matter, simply winning and pushing an agenda takes precedence. I thought this appeared to be the issue that motivated Atticus Finch against the equal rights movement, not racism. He believed the right to vote should not be taken lightly. He believed the voter should understand what, in fact, he was voting for or against. As we read the novel, we learn that “go set a watchman” possibly means to some, find your conscience and then act accordingly. Each person must do just that, when reading this book. Decide if Atticus was racist or a realist. Of course, if the issue is whether or not a black person can vote, then there can be only one conclusion. Every legal citizen of the country has and should have always had the right to vote, regardless of color or creed. If, however, it is based on whether or not you believe a voter should be aware of what he/she is voting for, you may come to an altogether different conclusion, but it should not be based on race. Keep an open mind while reading and determine if Finch is a racist or a realist. He lived in a different time and in a different place than we are now, but his thoughts may have foreshadowed future problems.
The book has caused quite a stir in the publishing world, which is largely progressive and/or liberal in their beliefs, and therefore tends to respond in the manner of the “politically correct”. Almost in a knee jerk reaction, many reviewers have decided that Atticus Finch, the hero of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, has clay feet and they are outraged. The former perfect human being is actually just a human being with personal opinions and feelings. However he had behaved before, regarding matters of race, has been erased, and he is now painted with the broad brush of his daughter, Jean Louise, who is furious with him. Although he claims to be doing what he has to do to survive in Maycomb, and he believes that he is trying to also discover who is the enemy and who is not, since he believes he needs to figure out who will work with him within the system to bring about change that is doable, rather than idealistic, headed for success rather than doomed to failure, he is just being judged on the basis of this one moment in time and on his feelings about the letter of the law and the right of anyone to vote who is neither educated nor prepared for what he considers a great privilege.
I wondered if perhaps there was another side to Atticus that we had not met, the Atticus that wanted to make sure that the Negroes would be provided with a better education to prepare them for the vote. Perhaps he didn’t, but that idea would have to be better developed in another book, because I don’t think they were developed well enough in this one. The main issue appeared to be Jean Louise’s decidedly immature reaction to his being on the board of what she considered to be a racist council, committed to limiting the rights of the Negroes in Maycomb. I thought the issue would come down to the problem of discrimination, but that issue seemed to drift to the background, for me, as her fury took the center stage.
The writing style of the book is pretty much the same as in “To Kill A Mockingbird”. It is straight forward and easy to read. There are, therefore, no mysteries to decipher in the narrative.


About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
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