SPOILER ALERT! THIS POST DISCUSSES THE WHOLE BOOK IN DETAIL. DON’T READ THIS UNTIL YOU’VE FINISHED THE BOOK IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED.
Another quick warning: This post is very stream-of-consciousness. Don’t look for a thesis, three points, and a conclusion.
Go Set a Watchman is Harper Lee’s… well, is it a sequel or a prequel? The setting is after To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was written first. It’s important to remember that this was Harper Lee’s first attempt at a novel, and she was advised to write a different one, about the childhood of Scout, instead. This was wise counsel, as TKAM is a much better book. GSAW is pretty clearly a first attempt. Better than anything I could write, for sure, but not as good as TKAM.
First, some random thoughts:
- Was Hank mentioned in TKAM? I don’t remember him, yet GSAW paints him as a significant part of Jem’s life.
- Jean Louise refers to obtaining a bachelor’s degree, but we are never told what her profession is. She has lived in New York for years, but we don’t know what she does. Writer, maybe? Are we not told for a reason?
- Aunt Alexandra is staunchly Proper, with a capital “P,” but she is not a completely unsympathetic character. She has an innocence that comes from never having really faced any real controversy. I think she truly loves/loved Atticus, Jack, Jem, and Scout.
- The scenes with Jack are full of obscure references that I had trouble following. Maybe that was the point. But I was fed up with the conversations with him long before Scout eventually was.
- Boo Radley was not mentioned. I’m curious about this because he was mentioned in the preview notes of the book. Was this a deleted scene or something?
I believe the point of the story was to push Atticus off of the pedestal Scout had him on. And her Uncle Jack, too. And perhaps Calpurnia. I will freely admit that the picture painted of Atticus in this book had me crying – no, sobbing – with the same disappointment and sense of betrayal that Jean Louise felt. (I’m really curious as to what Gregory Peck would have thought of this book.)
The TKAM fan in me was totally geeking out at the flashback scenes, with Jem and Dill and Calpurnia. They served as a bridge between Scout’s childhood and adulthood. There were some differences in the stories – for instance, she describes Tom Robinson’s trial differently, that Atticus actually obtained an acquittal for him, and that he was missing an arm, rather than it just being ruined.
Was Atticus really a racist? I think toward the end of the book it is shown that he more considers himself a realist. But I had the same problems with the whole scenario that Scout had, and I felt personally betrayed by Atticus. She more or less forgives him at the end… I’m not sure I do. Uncle Jack strikes her, twice, and I have a problem with that, too. I think in the end, Atticus is neither as saintly as he is painted in TKAM, nor as horrible as Scout sees him in GSAW.
How much of this is Harper Lee’s autobiography? I know that the character of Dill was based on Harper Lee’s friend Truman Capote. Was this a more realistic portrait of Atticus, seen through her adult eyes?
The ruin of the relationship between Scout and Calpurnia is also a source of grief, for Scout and for me. In their scenes, I was reminded a little bit of the book The Help. Calpurnia raised Scout, as surely as Constantine raised Skeeter. But in the end, Calpurnia was black and Scout was white, and there was no reconciling that, at least in Calpurnia’s mind.
Jem’s death also hit me hard, right off the bat.
These characters are so real to me that I’ve kind of been wandering the house, trying to figure them out. I think I must remember that TKAM was written from a child’s point of view, and GSAW from a young adult’s. Perhaps neither is completely realistic.
I think I will keep TKAM as my favorite book of all time. GSAW brings up some interesting controversies to consider, but I’d rather keep Atticus on the pedestal. He raised Scout to be color blind. That’s the way it should be.
I’m interested in other folks’ opinions, so feel free to comment, but let’s keep it civil, please.