Book Club Reflection: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

7 Sep

My book club’s latest pick was one I read about a year ago, so I didn’t reread it. I did, however, attend the discussion of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee to see what other people thought.

I listened to the audiobook so I was not aware that there were points in the manuscript where there were ellipses. Some in my book club thought it indicated a place Lee intended to add later but never got around to adding. I think this would have detracted from how I felt about the book even more. I’ll get to that later. We all seemed to agree this was nothing like TKAM but some people said it grew on them, especially the ending where they liked Uncle Jack a lot more.

The title is a Biblical quote from Isiah. The Watchman mentioned is a man’s conscious so it’s telling us to make sure our conscious is vigilant and evaluating what’s going on around us.

As Northerners, we have a very different view of race relations than those in the South would. The Civil Rights movement created tensions that were not there before. During segregation, there was a balance even though it was unfair and unequal. There was a status quo. When previously withheld rights started being granted to blacks, whites didn’t know how to react. What Scout and the reader see as racism probably seems like a poor adjustment to the Southerners who are having to re-evaluate their situation in life.

All of this makes Scout think negatively of Maycomb and where she grew up. Her ‘people,’ the ones that raised her, aren’t what she remembers. Many of them want her to come home, to meld back into the family and friendships she left, but she views things so differently that she can’t do it anymore.

The biggest problem Scout has is with her father. She had a child’s hero worship of her father and how he acts changes that. She thought he wanted her to move away but now she feels like he wants her back and Scout has trouble reconciling that. She doesn’t think having her back in town would give the town a new opinion like he seems to. She feels too removed from everyone and unable to connect with those she grew up with.

The big question of this book seems to be if Atticus is a racist. It seemed clear to us that he was. He stated that every black man was incapable of acting in a government job and that criminal politicians would be better than a newly elected black man. It’s hard to see that as any other way than racist.

The Finch family has an elevated place in Maycomb that allowed Scout to speak out. Her family was the spunky, gutsy ones in town. Scout could walk around in shorts and it was OK for her. Even so, she didn’t feel her opinions would let her remain uncontested.

A lot of us liked Henry Clinton and almost wished Scout could stay in Maycomb for him. Even though their backgrounds didn’t match, even Atticus could see they would be good together. Henry had a chip on his shoulder because he came from ‘trash,’ but he could have been good for Scout.

The scene where Scout visits Calpurnia was heartbreaking. Cal was under a lot of emotional stress from the arrest of her grandson. Her family was demeaned by being connected to an accused murderer and Cal was embarrassed. She also didn’t feel the need to act the same way she would have at the Finch house. Cal was with her family in her neighborhood. Scout was an uninvited guest and Cal didn’t want to even have the appearance of being spoken down to in her home.

To me, the biggest question about this book is if Lee ever wanted it published. The more I read the story around its publication, the more I think she was taken advantage of. This book is not how I think Lee would want herself remembered so I try to forget about it and remember TKAM.

We’ve got ourselves a mystery to read next, about as far from this as possible. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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