Everything’s Not Black or White in Go Set A Watchman

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience.”

I finished reading Harper Lee’s new book which is actually her first book and was not released until now. This book is about a grown up Scout and a more grown up take on life in Maycomb. When I first saw spoilers about the character Atticus, I worried I would be upset and not like what I was going to read about him. But after reading the book, I like what Lee has done with this character.

In this book, Atticus becomes a human being. He is a human being with faults. This is appropriate for a grown up story. Although I have always loved the story of To Kill A Mockingbird and I still do, I realize it was about an idealized version of a father. Harper Lee shows us this in her new book. Like for any child growing up,  Scout’s father had to be the perfect hero. She did not see that he had any failings. In Go Set A Watchman we see he has failings. It makes his character much more complex. At first this realization about Atticus almost destroys Scout and she wants to run as far as she can away from it. Then, with the help of her uncle, she comes to see that this experience has been necessary for her to see herself as a grown person and separate individual from her father. It is about Scout making this transition to adulthood.

I, like Scout, never thought I would want to know this new Atticus. But now I see he is a more complex character and he is not all bad either. He is a Southern man of that era, when the South was transitioning with the Civil Rights movement and desegregation. I think this is more realistic depiction of what he would be. We like to be able to put people in one category or another. Good or bad. See things as black or white. This book asks us not to do that but asks us to grow up and see people as they are and not  run away, but try to find a meeting place.

|Around the World Reading Challenge, 2015|

36 thoughts on “Everything’s Not Black or White in Go Set A Watchman

  1. Silver Threading

    I had never read To Kill a Mockingbird so when my lovely husband appeared with both books as a gift for me the other day I was elated! I have just started Mockingbird (in between all the books I have to read for reviews) and I realized that the location is just down the road from us. Just from what I had read and heard, I think you are spot on in your discussion of the new book and Atticus’ character.

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      Thanks Anna ❤ I think I did not want to grow up either and meet the new Atticus. It got me thinking about how we all like to see things in our own way many times. 🙂

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      Thank you. I felt some apprehension too. It is a different perspective from To Kill A Mockingbird. There are some good flash backs to Scout’s childhood and adolescence though. I did not read the reviews before I read Watchman because I did not want to know too much. I read some reviews last night. Some of them were more thoughtful and I wanted to see if any were similar to mine. I think some of them were similar in saying this book is asking us to grow up. Others said we can read To Kill A Mockingbird after Watchman and we may get a different perspective. I would like to read Mockingbird again now. This will be good for a book group discussion as well.

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  2. Prajakta

    I am still waiting for my copy but I like your perspective. I almost thought of not reading this because of the mixed reactions Atticus was receiving. But now I am waiting to start, more than ever!

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      I think the expectations have been so high for this book and this book was her first one before Mockingbird. I read it hadn’t been edited either. I hope you find it worthwhile.

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      Thanks JoAnne. There are some big changes in it but it was meant to be her first book. It makes me wonder if she had decided to publish it earlier, she may have changed it to fit as a sequel but we will probably never know.

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      I guess we may never know about this first book. I had heard it was not edited but refused by her publisher and she was sent back to write another book which became Mockingbird. I thought Watchman would have been a great sequel but would have had to be edited again to conform better with her second first book. I will check out your review by Mark Twain. 🙂

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      1. rxena77

        Sadly, Harper Lee is 89, a frail, hearing- and sight-impaired stroke victim living in a nursing home. Perhaps just as important, her sister Alice, Lee’s longtime protector, passed away last November. Her new protector, Tonja Carter, who had worked in Alice Lee’s law office, is the one who brought the “new novel” to HarperCollins’s attention, claiming, conveniently, to have found it shortly before Alice died.

        She actually discovered it in 2011 and brought it to a Southeby’s specialist. It was the original manuscript that Lee turned in to Tay Hohoff, her editor. Hohoff, who appears to have been a very fine editor indeed, encouraged her to take a different tack. After much rewriting, Lee emerged with her classic novel of race relations in a small Southern town. Thus, The Times’s account suggests an alternate scenario: that Carter had been sitting on the discovery of the manuscript since 2011, waiting for the moment when she, not Alice, would be in charge of Harper Lee’s affairs.

        Lee took a character who was a racist in the first draft and turned him into the saintly lawyer Atticus Finch who stands up to his town’s bigotry in defending a black man. He becomes the hero of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

        Which is also why it’s a mistake to view the Atticus Finch of “Go Set a Watchman” as the same person as the Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as many commentators have done. Atticus is a fictional character, not a real person. Lee decided to make Atticus Finch into another person for her edited novel. I find it sad that Carter took advantage of a woman who could no longer fight for herself.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/25/opinion/joe-nocera-the-watchman-fraud.html

        As Mark Twain wrote each person is entitled to their own opinions — it is what makes horse races! 🙂

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      2. Deborah Drucker Post author

        It is possible Harper Lee was taken advantage of. I also think it is possible that Watchman would be considered very inflammatory for the times in which it was written as is it now. I feel Mockingbird was almost like a children’s book because it was written through the eyes of a child. I like to think that there were Southern men who would behave like Mockingbird’s Atticus and don’t forget Boo Radley. I loved that character. And I love Jem. I hate that he died. But I read that Harper Lee’s brother died young and she may have based the Jem character on her brother. I think the second Atticus was probably more realistic for the times in which the story was written. And I stick with that he was not totally bad. He was a man of his times and place. I will not tear apart Watchman and critique all the writing because I don’t like the change in character of the characters. There were parts of it I did like. I think she was telling it like it was even if we don’t like it now.

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  3. donnainthesouth

    I’ve never heard anything about the Lee sisters having a brother, never mind him dying young; I’d wondered why she’d done that to Jem, so that makes sense –
    being from Alabama our state media group did an online reading club on the book if anybody’s interested I could link to it

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      1. donnainthesouth

        yea, I’m still wondering about all that, especially the most recent quote about why would she have written it if she never intended it to be published after all the years of it being said that she didn’t want it published – either something’s not quite right now or….and I’ve not heard this mentioned anywhere, just was a thought I had that if everything’s on the up and up as if officially being stated by the state investigators – you do know about that, don’t you? – maybe it was just her sister who didn’t want it published, not her?…but I didn’t actually say it was upsetting, just that I didn’t know that was something that had actually happened as well – but found it – died at 31 from a cerebral hemorrhage – which I’m thinking would have put it just having happened around the time of this novel, wouldn’t it? wasn’t he about that much older than her – at least in the books, didn’t really check real life

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      2. Deborah Drucker Post author

        I am not an expert on Harper Lee and her family, age of her brother and all that. I had read about his death when I was reading other reviews and I don’t remember where I read it now. I really liked the character Jem and was not happy to read he died so young, in Watchman. Well I don’t want to get into the controversy about her book. I just know she wrote Watchman first and was then told to go back and write about Scout as a child. So Mockingbird was written and the rest is history. I think she would have edited Watchman if she thought it would be published after Mockingbird.

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      3. donnainthesouth

        yea, don’t want to get into it either but I agree but I think at this point not sure really matters; we all understand what it is and I actually think it’s kinda neat to see somebody’s actual unedited first draft – at least of a book that we know how it, in that sense, ended up – don’t often get a chance to do that – anyway, didn’t find about her brother on a review of the book, just googled about her brother and what came up with, so – and maybe here we go; I know they say she says she didn’t model any of the characters of anybody real but everybody says she did and would seem to fit that she did Jem after her brother, especially with her having him die young in the book with her real brother dying that way, so I’ll just look at it that way, that that’s what really happened, though I do hate it did, but won’t just put it on her that she just did it

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      It is interesting to see how teachers are discussing Watchman in Alabama. I think it would be good for other readers to check out this link because it shows how people in your state are concerned about racism.

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      1. Deborah Drucker Post author

        No I was letting any of my readers know what is on the link. I like the posts on the Alabama media website from the teachers that were talking about how they might integrate the new book Watchman into their classrooms and I liked the post by the professor discussing it as well. But if you want to put it on your blog go ahead. 🙂

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      2. donnainthesouth

        no, that’s fine; just wasn’t sure if that’s what you were saying – seems like you probably have more readers specifically interested in it than I would – glad you’re liking it, in that sense; it’s been interesting being here – they had all kinds of public events here about it

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      3. Deborah Drucker Post author

        Yes. I did not think about you down there being a Yankee and all 🙂 It is nice to hear from you and get the southern perspective. Do you think Harper Lee accurately describes life in Alabama, at least in the old days?

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      4. donnainthesouth

        pretty much, but we actually are in a more Yankee area of Alabama, being right up at the most northern part – actually been reading about Harriet Beecher Stowe and ran across a reference to a man in our “big” city here who freed his slaves; actually I’m not actually from here but from more up north but actually in one of the border states; well, one that went mostly north except I was in the part that wanted to actually go south and was southern sympathizing, so even though they – the ones on this side of the river – call me a Yankee, I’m actual probably from about as Southern an area as they are, but I’ll take the Yankee name as far as all this stuff – although the more I’ve learned not so sure it was all that abolitionist and nonracist up north as they all like to claim

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      5. Deborah Drucker Post author

        I agree with you about Northerners or Yankees. People in the North have their prejudices as well. So we all shouldn’t be so highfalutin about it. Not that everyone here is prejudice either. But there was discrimination in the past and black people were separated from white people in where they lived and schools even in the North.

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      6. donnainthesouth

        now that’s something I’d wondered about; I did get the idea the Jim Crow laws were only in the south but maybe they only had to be codified there because of the Reconstruction while it was just that way anyway up north – think that was a lot of why they didn’t like, which way was it, the “carpetbaggers/Yankees” coming down south telling them what to do if they weren’t really any better?

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      7. Deborah Drucker Post author

        There was and is prejudice all over the country. I think we are going a bit far afield. The history of the civil war and it’s aftermath is a much larger subject. I don’t feel qualified to debate it. I don’t think everyone was a hypocrite and it is complicated for sure. I like to think that there were people in the South who thought racial prejudice and oppression was wrong just like there were people in the North who did as well. Harper Lee was saying it is wrong but I think she knew all the local people where she grew up and wanted to write about them the good parts and the bad.

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      8. Deborah Drucker Post author

        I have read that Atticus is like her father, Jem is like her brother, and their was a neighbor like Boo. I think writers often do base characters on people they have met. But the characters can be a composite of several people.

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      9. donnainthesouth

        right, that’s what I’d always heard as well, so my point with her brother dying young, that that’s maybe why she had Jem do the same, to keep it that way – or really, rather, in this case, let’s always not forget, this book was actually written first, just that we didn’t know that – maybe if we’d studied this first, we’d have expected it but like I said, I didn’t realize she’d lost one – and, duh, even though I knew this, had forgotten she’d really had one, since nothing had been said about him, guess not, since he’d died so long ago

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  4. Deborah Drucker Post author

    Yes other reviewers have brought up the point that Jem was very likely based on Harper Lee’s brother. I do think she might have changed it in Watchman if she knew it was being published after Mockingbird. Maybe at this stage in her life she didn’t care about changing anything. It was a shock to me to read Jem died young because I really loved the character and wasn’t prepared for that. But life happens like that with people in our real lives like Harper Lee’s brother. Some people die young.

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