Title: Go Set A Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Pages: 278, audio 6.5 hours
My Rating: 3/5
Synopsis: When 26 year-old Jean Louise Finch returns home to Maycomb, Alabama on an annual visit from New York on the heels of the Brown vs. Board of Education, she is expecting the normal sluggish hot summer. She expects to argue with her old-fashioned aunt, to go on dates with her beau, and to help her aging father. The trip quickly dissolves into everything that she didn’t expect when she finds a racist pamphlet in her father’s house. She then sneaks into a Citizen’s Council meeting, where she is disgusted to see her father and her beau and even more disturbed to find that they, along with the rest of the men in town, hold the same views. As everything she has known to be true is thrown off-balance, she finds herself revisiting her childhood and the paths that lead her to where she, and everyone else in her life, is today.
Review: (SPOILERS) While I had conflicting views about reading the book and the controversy surrounding it, I still felt like I needed to read it because of how much I adore To Kill A Mockingbird (I recognize that some people love it and decide the opposite!). I had heard of the controversy and how people hated that Atticus was racist, and though I didn’t like having such a strong and positive literary figure pulled down like that, as a historian I’ve had that happen to way more founding fathers, among other historical figures, than I can count and have gotten better at recognizing that people who accomplish groundbreaking things can also be terrible people.In addition, knowing that he had lived in Alabama his entire life and this was a small town in the 1950s, his attitudes and that of the townspeople honestly wasn’t shocking. While their views on African Americans were horrible and their statements made caused my hair to stand on edge, it didn’t surprise me. I was disgusted and disappointed at the systematic racism and their utter disdain of the thought of a black man or woman should have the same opportunities as other people- my mind is boggled at how they truly thought that and then justified it with faith, of all things. It almost seemed like when Jean Louise was growing up she just didn’t realize the racial issues and problems were as deep seated as they were because she was young and naive, and that now she was old enough and removed enough to see what was really happening.
All that to say, the book was undeniably written in Lee’s voice and I loved the flashbacks that Scout had to her childhood–those were like getting extra little pages in Mockingbird and I listened with relish. Lee has such a way of expressing things and made me stop and really think a few times, which is why the quotes section is at the end, so many nuggets! In all, while the book was a source of inner conflict, I think it is a piece that is truly reflective of its time and one that explains that era and the people who began to think differently very well. I wish that it had been published under different circumstances, or not at all if that was what Lee wanted, but I am glad that I read it. I am interested to see whether or not the next generation will be made to read this along with Mockingbird in their high school classes!
“As sure as time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man, history is the last place he’ll look for his lessons.”
“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”
“I should like to take your head apart, put a fact in it, and watch it go its way through the runnels of your brain until it comes out of your mouth.”
“You’re color blind, Jean Louise,” he said. “You always have been, you always will be. The only differences you see between one human and another are differences in looks and intelligence and character and the like. You’ve never been prodded to look at people as a race, and now that race is the burning issue of the day, you’re still unable to think racially. You see only people.”
“Blind, that’s what I am. I never opened my eyes. I never thought to look into people’s hearts, I looked only in their faces.”
“I heard ‘Equal rights for all; special privileges for none,’ and to me it didn’t mean anything but what it said.”
“Why doesn’t their flesh creep? How can they devoutly believe everything they hear in church and then say the things they do and listen to the things they hear without throwing up?”
Have you read Go Set A Watchman? What did you think?