Go set a watchman by Harper Lee


“The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, ‘He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,’ had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.”

Oh, this book!
I’m sure that in eventually, when I’ve had more time to reflect and hear more opinions on it and I’m not just reacting to my knee jerk offended response that I might feel differently about it. But right now I’m just so disappointed.

The story is set 20 something years after the first, Scout is all grown up and returning to her childhood home as she does once a year to visit her now elderly father. And that’s about it, plot-wise, but there will be spoilers from here, so consider yourself warned.

I’ll just start by establishing that I really didn’t enjoy reading this book, however much I tried to. To kill a Mockingbird is such an important book for me,  but everything I loved about it was ruined by Go Set a Watchman and I wish I hadn’t read it. I can overlook how poorly it’s written, that there isn’t much plot, and the story doesn’t develop at all. I’m aware that this story was never meant to be published and so can forgive all of that, but what I can’t forgive is how offensive it is.

There’s been a lot of talk about Atticus’ change in character, going from an ahead of his time, freedom fighting lawyer, to not much more than a paranoid, racist old man with a really mixed up view of racial equality. But through Scout, the author addresses this, calls him on it and the point of this change in character seems to be to show us that you can do a good job, even if it conflicts with your personal opinions and everybody can change.

Nobody is perfect.

Not even Atticus Finch.

So yeah, I get that, even if it’s an unnecessary point to make, since I feel that at least in To Kill a Mockingbird we were given hope for a better future where people are all given equal chance if people can only change their rigid mindsets, but Watchman only teaches us that some people are racists, and if you can’t just learn to live with that then you’re the bigot.

There were many quotes in this book that made me do angry faces, but the one that really hit it home for me was when scout is talking to her uncle jack (who I loved until this point) about how unfair her father had been to raise her ‘colourblind’ and all the while believe that Negros shouldn’t have the same rights or opportunities as white people. Up until the end I rooted for Scout in her rebellion against her father’s beliefs and had hope that where Atticus’ morals failed, hers would push through, until they dropped this bomb of a conversation:

“…I’ll risk a small pronouncement. There’s nothing under the sun that says because you go to school with one Negro, or to school with them in droves, you’ll want to marry one. That’s one of the tom-toms the white supremacists beat. How many mixed marriages have you seen in New York?”

“Come to think of it, darn few. Relatively, that is.”

“There’s your answer. The white supremacists are really pretty smart. If they can’t scare us with the essential inferiority line, they’ll wrap it in a miasma of sex, because that’s the one thing they know is feared in our fundamentalist hearts down here. They try to strike terror into Southern mothers, lest their children grow up to fall in love with Negroes. If they didn’t make an issue of it then the issue would rarely arise. If the issue arose, it would be met on private ground.”

I mean, what are we meant to take from that besides the basic belief that runs like a fat, angry forehead vein throughout the entire book,  in every character that white people are better than black (non)people? That the moral of the story is not to concern yourself with silly racists, because nobody would ever really be trashy enough to breed with a Negro anyway, and those who do will just be marginalized to the point that they have no power anyway, so we don’t have to worry about it?

I spent most of the book overlooking what I was reading in the hope that it all lead to some great revelation in the end. Which, I suppose, it did, just not the kind I wanted. Not the kind that describes my very existence as an ‘issue’, not one that dismisses my relationship, my child and implies that one half of my family are racists and the other half ‘backwards’. It’s inexcusable and no amount of objective reading can change that.
For me low ratings are awarded to poorly written books, but the one thing worse than bad writing for me, is a bad message, and this was the worst.

1/5 (for the first time ever.)

But please, if you took a different interpretation from the book, I’d love to hear it. I’m still clinging to the hope that I just misread the whole thing. My heart is broken.


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