My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Go Set a Watchman: A Disturbing Tale

Before I begin, it would be wise of me to explain some of the background of the origins of Go Set a Watchman.  As I understand the facts, this novel is really a draft of Harper Lee's first novel.  After she submitted it, her publisher suggested that she start over and write a book about the main character's (Scout's) childhood.  That became the impetus for the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird, which has sold over 40 million copies worldwide since it's publication in 1960.

There are many questions as to why Harper Lee would choose to release Go Set A Watchman for publication.  Some are even suggesting that people behind the scenes are manipulating her.  I don't know, obviously, but it does seem strange that such a famously private person (who claimed she would never write another book) suddenly agrees to now release this previously unpublished work.

Here are two links to news articles regarding the controversy:

New Republic  The suspicious story behind Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman

The Guardian  Go Set a Watchman: Mystery of Harper Lee manuscript discovery deepens

I pre-ordered this book long before I knew these questions were raised.  It was too late to cancel and so I do own the book.  Yet it took me many weeks to begin reading it.  I finally did so with trepidation.

It is nearly impossible for me to review Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee,  without comparing it with  To Kill a Mockingbird.  But I will give it go.  Both novels share the same setting (Macon, Georgia) and characters but Go set a Watchman is set in the 1950's,  twenty years after the events in To Kill a Mocking Bird.  On it's surface, it is a tale of a young woman finally seeing her father as a whole human being, with many faults, and loving him in spite of it.  As I read it, I could not help but remember the tone of To Kill a Mockingbird.  There was a quality to Scout's childhood that seemed idyllic and innocent in the midst of the terrible events swirling around them.   But in Go Set a Watchman, Jean-Louise's sweet memories of her early life are shattered as she returns home for a visit at the height of the civil rights demonstrations of the late 1950s.

One of the problems with this book is the portrayal of her father, Atticus, as a benevolent racist.  I'm not even going to start comparing his character in both books.  In THIS book, it is problematic.  The main story line of this book is that Jean-Louise can't reconcile how color-blind she thought Atticus was in her youth to the racist he unabashedly is now.  The problem is that she doesn't really give us any strong examples of the kindness and even-handed way she says he treated African-Americans in the past.  There is one reference to the trial that becomes one of the main events in To Kill a Mockingbird.  But Atticus's willingness to defend a black man is dismissed as his interest in upholding the law, not in taking any stand on the injustice of the situation.  The book tries to resolve these conflicts, but is ineffective.

There are long discussions about race between Jean-Louise and her Uncle Jack, as he tries to explain why many in The South were still racist.  I felt extremely uncomfortable with the arguments presented (it's the Federal Government's fault?) and with the premise that if Jean-Louise was upset by the racism in her hometown, that made HER the bigot! What???

Go Set a Watchman wrongly proclaims that racist opinions are of no real consequence.  "Good Grief, baby, people don't agree with the Klan, but they certainly don't try to prevent them from puttin' on sheets and making fools of themselves in public."  her uncle says.

He seems to believe that, as long as no one is overtly beaten up, she should tolerate racism.  He clearly doesn't understand (or care) about the many ways racism can be oppressive to a people without throwing a punch.

The one thing I did enjoy about Go Set a Watchman was when Harper Lee wrote about Jean-Louise's childhood.  She writes in such a way that makes me remember how I role-played and used my own imagination during long summer days playing outside with my siblings.   I could see the seeds of To Kill a Mockingbird from those passages.

Where Go Set a Watchman is bleak regarding the future of The South, To Kill a Mockingbird is hopeful.   It foretold a future where there would be social progress.   Perhaps that was what Harper Lee saw as she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.   I always loved that Atticus was teaching his children respect for everyone, black or white, rich or poor.  By 1960, some progress was being made with peaceful protests and the removal of some Jim Crow laws.  It was this optimism for the future, with a strong message that there was much progress yet to be made, that caused To kill a Mockingbird to be important to me.  I feel it is a profound work of fiction that will still hold a special place in my heart.
Source: Purchased by me
Format:  Hardcover
Recommendation: If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, you may NOT want to read this book.

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  1. Hi Ardis! I just wanted to let you know that I've nominated you for a Sunshine Blogger Award! If you want to know more go here. Thanks for being a great blogger, who always is creative and inspiring!

  2. Sofia that is so kind of you. I will need to think about some of those questions!


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