Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is a very controversial novel. From the fact that Lee is now elderly and in a nursing home, to the rumor that she did not want it published, and mostly the possibility that everyone’s favorite lawyer in the book was shown as a racist, this novel has once again created a hailstorm of conversation. As a piece of literature, it is as beautifully written as the first. It is not the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird published in 1960 and set in the south in the 1950s, but the original before it was edited. She re-wrote it to conform to the time and I think her editor was brilliant. The world wasn’t ready for Scout all grown up as Jean Louise Finch the way it was originally written in 1960.
The little town of Maycomb, Georgia where Scout grew up in To Kill a Mockingbird, reminds me of the town I grew up in. Clarkton, Missouri is in the boot heel of Missouri. Not really in the south like Georgia but it had its share of racism like the rest of the country at the time. I had two sisters instead of one brother and my father was an aircraft mechanic, not an attorney. But Scout reminded me of me. No we didn’t have a maid, of any color; my mother took care of all those duties. But I was born in the time that Scout lived. I played with neighborhood kids and had the freedom to run the small town with my sisters. I was born in the early ‘50s, the time frame of Scout’s childhood, and I lived through the turbulent 60’s in the United States. I have not seen racism as up close and personal as the Deep South, but it was still there and I remember the race riots well.
All the hoopla about this book seems to be that people are crying racism about their favorite attorney, Atticus Finch. Was Atticus really a racist or was he a product of his time as most of us are? I thought of Atticus as a peace keeper. Jean Louise was surprised to find out her father took on black clients only because it was keeping the town from exploding white against black. He also attended white only meetings held in the courthouse meant to rally the whites against the blacks. But again, he was the cool head in a hot situation.
In To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus was ordered by the Court to defend a black man who was accused of raping a white girl in the south prior to the Civil Rights Amendment of 1965. He defended him even with the possible danger to himself and his family. Atticus was Scout’s father but also her hero. Atticus a racist? He didn’t rally one side against another, he defended a man not because of color but because it was the right thing to do.
In Go Set a Watchman, at the age of twenty-six Jean Louise came home from New York to an aging father and a home town in turmoil. She was still beginning to realizing that there were shades of gray to everything in life. Jean Louise grew up living by her conscience, but with her heart out on her sleeve. Sometimes you have to make the best of a situation in order to eventually make it better. Change does not come quickly. I think Atticus was a level headed man who cared about everyone, black and white, and mostly the society he lived in. He was honest and he cared about his family. He was a product of his time.
What are your thoughts on Go Set a Watchman and Atticus Finch? Have you read it or just formed your opinion?