Sunday, August 16, 2015

Harper Lee: Go Set a Watchman, Pt. 1

Harper Lee:  Go Set a Watchman

I am now a bit over 1/3 of the way through the novel.  It is, as purported, an account of  Jean Louise' trip home.  I keep wanting to call her Scout.  Her father, Atticus Finch, is suffering from arthritis, and she wants to see for herself just how bad it is.

We meet her Aunt Alexandra; Henry, the man in love with her and who has asked her to marry him; Atticus, her father; and various other inhabitants of  Maycomb.  There are, as should be expected, many "remember when" and "that was the time" reminiscences, and much catching up on what has happened since her last visit.  We also learn about her relationship with Henry and about Dill, who is based on Harper Lee's friend, Truman Capote, and, of course, a bit of the history of Maycomb itself.

I am now at the point when Jean Louise discovers that Atticus reads derogatory material about blacks and that he and Henry are on their way to attend a Citizen's Council meeting (see note below).  Atticus is on the board of directors, and Henry is one of its "staunchest members," according to Alexandra.  "Not that we really need one.  Nothing's happened here in Maycomb yet, but it's always wise to be prepared," Alexandra reassures Jean Louise.  Jean Louise is shocked to hear this and is now on her way to the Citizen's Council meeting to see for herself what is going on.
I have read several derogatory reviews and heard about others, including one that called the novel "a mess."  I don't see it, at least so far.  Perhaps the "mess" comes later.  On the other hand, it just may be that I'm insensitive to those flaws in the novel which are obvious to more astute readers who are trained to analyze and dissect literary works.

Well, there's still almost 2/3 of the novel to go.

From the Wikipedia article

"The Citizens' Councils (also referred to as White Citizens' Councils) were an associated network of  white supremacist organizations in the United States, concentrated in the South. The first was formed on July 11, 1954.   After 1956, it was known as the Citizens' Councils of America. With about 60,000 members across the United States, mostly in the South, the groups were founded primarily to oppose racial integration of schools, but they also supported segregation of public facilities during the 1950s and 1960s. Members used severe intimidation tactics including economic boycotts, firing people from jobs, propaganda, and occasionally violence against civil-rights activists.
By the 1970s, following passage of federal civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s and enforcement of constitutional rights by the federal government, the influence of the Councils had waned considerably. The successor organization to the White Citizens' Councils is the  Council of Conservative Citizens, founded in 1985.'_Councils


  1. Most of what I've read from people I "know" is to read it for what it is and not as a sequel and to remember that it is unedited.

    1. madamevauquer,

      I suspect that's very astute advice. If it isn't edited,then it's a very good draft. I wish my final versions were at this level. I think someone has been at this a bit, cleaning it up.

  2. When you've finished the book, there's a thoughtful piece about it by Ursula K. LeGuin, worth a look if you haven't seen it already:

    I haven't read Go Set a Watchman myself yet, but between you and Ms. LeGuin I'm persuaded that I really want to, though I originally planned to avoid it.

    P.S.: Though I don't comment here often, I'm a faithful reader and always enjoy seeing a new post from you!

    1. Richard, I would like to add my thanks to Fred's for the link to Ursula K. LeGuin's article.

  3. Richard

    Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you decided to leave a comment now.

    I've heard that LeGuin had published a good commentary on it, but I hadn't had the time to search it out. Thanks for the link.

  4. I am still reluctant to read the book; I am influenced by the suggestions that Harper Lee was not competent to agree to the publication, but perhaps I am wrong to be influenced by such suggestions, and I might be avoiding the book for the wrong reasons. I will nevertheless remain open to arguments from LeGuin, you, and others. But the jury remains out.

  5. R.T.,

    The issue of Lee's competence did go to court, and from what I read, she and the judge discussed the publication for some time. At the end, the judge ruled she was competent to make the decision, which is why the book was published.

    So far, after having read approximately 1/3 of the book, I see no problems at this point. I suspect the real reason for the fuss is the very different portrait of Atticus Finch..

    1. That's pretty much the same that I have heard, Fred, that they don't like the fact that Atticus is no longer up on a pedestal. I read Mockingbird so long ago and was still in school. Truly I don't recall being all that fond of him. I was not focused so much on the social aspect.

    2. madamevauquer,

      I'm afraid my portrait of Atticus is biased by the film in which Gregory Peck played him. I have seen the film several times, and now, in _Go Set a Watchman_, I can't help but see Peck as Atticus. It is hard to reconcile the two, which is very wrong, as I have discovered in the novel.

      I'm now 2/3 through and will be putting up my second posting within a day or so.

  6. I am kind of holding of reading this, in part waiting for a sale on the end book. I think many feel a sense of ownership of the characters and dislike anything that changes their ideas. I will look forward to your further observations knowing one day I will feel a need to read the novel.

  7. mel u,

    Yes, that sense of ownership has influenced me also and that's what is causing some delay in getting out the second commentary on it. I've had to revise my thinking about the book and also about _To Kill a Mockingbird_.

    I have a library copy, so it's due back shortly. There's such a long waiting list that it will be weeks if not months before I get it back again. And, this is one of those books that require rereading, and based on some ideas that have come up from this novel, I also need to reread TKaM again.

    I think I will just wait a bit and hit the used book stores for a used copy in good shape. I may also hit abebooks to see what it has available.