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November 03, 2015

Go Set A Watchman

go set a watchmanGo Set A Watchman

By Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchmen, the recently discovered “first novel” by Harper Lee has come on the scene amidst great anticipation, mixed reviews, intellectual curiosity, raging controversy, and, for some, deep disappointment.   Lovers of Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, while eager for more of Scout, Atticus, Jem, Dill, and the other characters, may be filled with trepidation at the idea of anything tainting the perfection of this beloved novel.  And, to be sure, there are events and character development in Watchman that some will find challenging.

Go Set a Watchman is the story of Jean Louise Finch’s return visit to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama. She is now 26 years old and living in New York City. On the train ride home, she is filled with memories of southern small town life.  But, after her arrival, she looks at Maycomb with the eyes of a more learned and sophisticated young woman during a time when America and, especially the South, is on the cusp of seismic change. She is confronted with realities of home and family that surprise and disillusion her, and she struggles to reconcile her ideals with love and kinship.

Watchman was published in its unedited form, and it is does not always seem as polished at Mockingbird.  However, this is clearly the prose of Lee, with the tone of the “southern pastoral,” much like Mockingbird, and it is believable that the 6 year old Scout we know from Mockingbird has become the grownup Jean Louise presented in this novel. She is blunt, somewhat unfiltered, and funny.  Other characters from Mockingbird are shown in a different light, and some are only secondary. And the story line of the trial central to the plot of Mockingbird is only referenced in passing.

I recommend this novel, but with this caveat.  It may be best enjoyed by putting aside Mockingbird (as best you can) until you have finished it, and experiencing it on its own merit. It is well to recognize the social and political culture of the American south as Lee experienced it, as it informs her character development. In Watchman, Lee presents us with a Scout and an Atticus that are more complex than the ideal, and therein lies the challenge for some.

Review By: Donna LeFeber