There are spoilers ahead so please read with caution.
I went into this worried. I think most people will.
Before the book even came out the media were all over it and pointing the finger at Atticus. The man held so high, the man who inspired lawyers and had children named after him, the man who gave a cause even more traction was being brought low. His legacy was being threatened.
It is important to remembers that Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel. Yes, scout is 26, Atticus is older too and events have transpired as the characters move on with their lives. It was written before To Kill a Mockingbird but it’s not a prequel either. What is it?
It’s a first draft.
It’s the foundation on which To Kill a Mockingbird was made, the inkling from which the courageous and iconic Atticus sprung. Evidence of this is clear, some facts of the notorious Tom Robinson case differ and paragraphs from Go Set were obviously lifted and put in Mockingbird. So, fair warning to you, do not open this book and take everything at face value. It hasn’t been edited and it’s still as it was when it was written all those years ago. It wasn’t even supposed to be published. But it means, whatever you think of it, you should not let it influence your feelings for Lee’s first published.
Scout, brilliant lovable Scout, has grown up. She’s 26, has a partner and lives in New York. She’s as fiery as ever and that’s something age will never dampen. Visiting Maycomb for a few days she finds that everything is changing and she’s not sure she likes it.
The writing is as good as before reaching a depth of insight that’s surprising, but probably shouldn’t be because it’s the same person who wrote Mockingbird. Her power of description is amazing and her story-telling awe-inspiring. It was a pleasure to be fixed firmly in Jean Louise’s mind again and be a party to her thoughts. Other things may have changed, but she has not and I can only see this as a good thing.
I’m going to tackle the issue of Atticus now because it’s a difficult one. By the end of Mockingbird he was a literary icon, he stood for a lot of good things. He was Atticus Finch. Now we feel we don’t really know him, just like Jean Louise. We feel betrayed and cheated by his being part of the Citizens’ Council and ownership of certain literature. This is not the man we know, but as he once said we cannot know a man without standing in his skin.
He’s old now, 72 to be exact. The book is set during a fractious time and, as was proven in Mockingbird, Maycomb is backward on their thinking of racial diversity. I don’t want to say too much about him for those who have yet to read it, I don’t want people to be put off because it’s a book to be read. But I will say I believe the media have sensationalised the storyline, as they so often do. No, I don’t agree with some of what Atticus says and I have a tough time reconciling some of it with the man I knew from the previous book. This is why it’s good to remember it’s a first draft.
One media outlet said that this book was about the tearing down of idols, but I believe it’s given us a new one. With Go Set a Watchman we’ve witnessed the birth of a new idol. Jean Louise Finch has always relied on her father, looked up to him and worshipped him. His answers have been her answers and she has never questioned his wisdom. Now, for the first time she does and she becomes her own person. In the space of a few days she grows up and it’s obvious she will be a force to be reckoned with.
She witnesses her father and her partner on the council and she rages, she is sick to the stomach at their betrayal and in typical Jean Louise style she sees a red mist descending over her vision. She stands up for herself and she stands up for what is right and I applaud her. Her uncle Jack says she is ‘colorblind’, she sees people as people and doesn’t see race and that is how she always has been. And that is how it should be.
She goes into her father’s office and shouts at him, tells him what she thinks. She turns against the man she trusted above anyone, the man she followed and adored. She takes a step away from him and when out of his shadow she sees light. And that is what the book is about.
At the end of it I think for the most part Atticus is still a fair man but with some views I simply cannot and will not agree with. But Scout, as she will always be known, is the source of this story. She grows so much over the course of a few days and she is the heart of this lesson. If Maycomb is ever going to change its ways then it needs more people like her because she is the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Whichever of Lee’s books you’re reading there is always a Finch to admire.