Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel


From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchmanperfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience. 

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic. 


I only read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time about a year ago. It was a book club choice one month and I really loved the story. Atticus is portrayed as this perfect person, this guy who does no wrong. Scout really idolizes him and she learns a lot from that time spent with him growing up. I remember the negative reaction to Go Set A Watchman when it came out a few months ago. We had already decided to read it for this month for book club, so I was curious to see how I would find the book since so many people were so upset with it. Atticus is a racist in this one, something people had a very hard time with. I'm glad I read To Kill A Mockingbird before this book came out and was around for all the outrage. It is fascinating to me. 

Go Set A Watchman starts off when Scout is older and coming home for a visit. She comes home every year from New York, but this year really shakes things up for her. She finds out that Henry and Atticus are not really who she thought. She really finds that the town is not what she thought anymore. She has a hard time with all the racist issues that she sees everywhere in her town now. She is such a great character. She wants to run away from it all, leave it all behind as she is disgusted by it, but while she is there she doesn't always just let it go. There were some hilarious moments when I just thought you go Scout. 

"'That's odd. A hundred years ago gentleman had colored women, now the trash have them.'
'That was when they owned 'em, silly.'"

When she finds that Atticus and Henry as just like the rest of the town, they participate in the council where the super racists guys spew their garbage, she is physically ill. Her whole world comes crashing down on her. She doesn't understand how Atticus could be there, be part of all of this. 

"The one human being she has 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."

It was really interesting to me as people reading the book also had a very strong reaction to it. It seems like those who hate this story because of Atticus and the way he is now are just like Scout/Jean Louise. They held Atticus up to this incredible standard, they saw him as perfect, and when they see that as an old man he is not, his thinking is not as perfect as it was once thought, their world crashes down. It made people angry, just as it made Jean Louise angry. I found that to be so interesting. How people reading this book and their reactions mirror Jean Louise so much. How people are so upset by what happens just as she is. I loved it. 

Really I thought this book works well with To Kill A Mockingbird as a companion novel. It is probably not very good as a standalone novel, but together I think it is a great story. You have the story told from Scout's point of view, but an older perspective. Of course she idolized her father so he is seen as near perfect in To Kill A Mockingbird (though I never thought he was as his views on some things, namely women, were not very good). Now, all grown up, she is realizing that that lens she used to view him through is not wholly accurate. You still get that calm, respectable guy, and he doesn't think he is that bad, but he is not perfect. He thinks he is helping those black people, as they are just in their infancy and they can't really be ready to have full civil rights, after all

"They've made terrific progress in adapting themselves to white ways, but they're far from it yet." 

For as much as some of the discussions angered me, as much as the way people thought was terrible, it felt true to the time. It felt like this could have been how it was. Jean Louise was wonderful. Even though she now sees that her father isn't perfect, she got enough goodness from him raising her that she can go on to be the warrior he is not. She can go on to be the leader, to try and change the way things are, to try and change people's opinions if she wants to. Because she saw so much good in Atticus as a child she was able to really grow up and view people as people. They all look different for different reasons, but race had nothing to do with it. Because she grew up to just view people as people she has a particularly hard time now that race is supposed to be an issue.

I really enjoyed this book. I think it makes Atticus more human and it is a great partner to the first book. It really shows the differences between how you see things as a kid and when you learn as an adult that not everything you thought as a child was as true and right. I remember having those moments with my own family and so this story really resonated with me. Yes, it is maddening, a lot of the characters made me angry with their views, but I still see it as a hopeful story. As a story that things can change, this will change slowly, and maybe Jean Louise can help. I see it as a story of the time. 

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★1/2

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