Thursday, August 20, 2015

Harper Lee: Go Set a Watchman, Pt. 2

Harper Lee:  Go Set a Watchman

I have now finished approximately two-thirds of the book.  It covers the period of roughly twenty-four hours that began when Jean Louise first discovered that her father was reading racist material and that he and Henry belong to the Citizen's Council, of which her father was one of the directors.

The meeting is held in the courthouse, and Jean Louise climbs into the balcony where she remembers, long ago, watching her father defend a young black man from a false charge of rape. It is this reminiscence that is most likely the source for To Kill a Mockingbird.  In this version, though, Atticus Finch wins the case, setting the young black man free.

Now she hears a speaker spew forth the most vile racist nonsense and trash, not much different, unfortunately,  than what one can find on the Internet on many websites today.  She is shocked, both by what the man is saying and that her father is sitting up there, condoning what was being said.  And, Henry?, whom she was considering marrying, he is a staunch member of the council according to her aunt Alexandra.

Later, at home, she finds Alexandra in complete agreement about the ingratitude of the blacks, though she uses language that is far more gentle. The next day she visits Calpurnia, the black housekeeper who raised her and her brother Jem when her mother died.  There is a polite welcome only, for there is now a wall between blacks and whites.

The major "problem" is the NAACP which comes in, stirring up the blacks, making them dissatisfied and, worse, ungrateful for all the whites had done to help and protect blacks from themselves.  Blacks no longer know their place and are no longer happy with being second class citizens. 

At this point, Jean Louise has not yet confronted her father and Henry about their beliefs.  Part of this comes from her own confusion.  How could such a change take place in two people she thought she knew and loved?  Or was it that she had been blind all this time, and only now awakened to see the world of Maycomb as it really is?  She swears to herself that, in all the years she spent growing up, she had never heard anyone refer to blacks by the "N" word.  And now, she has heard it maybe a dozen times or more in the last 24 hours.  Everything she believed about her past life in Maycomb with her father and her friends and relatives has now been called into question in the past twenty-four hours. 

This is speculation, of course, but I expect that the last third of the novel will tell us about Jean Louise' confrontation with her father and with Henry. 

I am also beginning to get the feeling that I have been reading the novel with a preconceived idea of what the novel is about.  Again, I'm just guessing, of course, since I haven't finished the novel, and the last third may prove me wrong.  My initial focus has been on Atticus Finch, to try to understand what happened, to understand the disparity between the Atticus of  To Kill a Mockingbird and the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman. Perhaps I have missed the real core of the novel: it just may be that the novel is really about Jean Louise, and while what Atticus says and does is important, the novel is about her and her response to the destruction of her myth.  

While most, no doubt, have been aware of the  true focus of the novel, I'm a bit slow, but I occasionally get there, sometimes long after the train has pulled out. The real problem is that I have to read and evaluate Go Set a Watchman on its own terms and not try to fit it in with TKaMThis is not easy for the novel and the film version of  TKaM  came out first, and I have read the novel and watched the film a number of times, most recently being last year.

If there's any "fitting in" to be done, it must be the other way around.  To Kill a Mockingbird must be reconciled, if possible, with Go Set a Watchman.    I know that's obvious, but I'm a bit slow.

Time to settle down and finish Go Set a Watchman.


  1. I look forward to reading you final assessment when you have completed your reading. As for myself, I remain indifferent to reading Lee's book. That probably says more about me than about the book.

  2. R.T.,

    I finished _GSaW_ last night, so it will be a few days before I comment. Overall though, it's a good read, probably one of the best ones this year, for me anyway.

    1. If anything will persuade me to be sure and read this book, Fred, it is your comment that it's one of your best reads of the year. Thanks.

    2. madamevauquer,

      It's an interesting novel--I wonder if Maycoomb has changed any the past half century.