A Review on a Review of “Go Set a Watchman” : To Read or Not to Read
I have been looking forward to reading this book of Harper Lee’s thinking of it as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. There were news reports that Harper Lee did not want this book published and that people pushed it into publication despite her wishes. I could not imagine what would be so problematic about this. Emily Dickinson left a note to burn her poems after her death. That would have been a great loss to society, so I was sure this was a similar case.
Then I read the New York Times Review by MICHIKO KAKUTANI. (New York Times Review). According to her review, Atticus is a racist in this book written before To Kill a Mockingbird. “Watchman” is about Jean Louise Finch returning to hometown Alabama, her father, and a long time boyfriend who have not changed or awakened as she has to a new view of civil and human rights.
The review recounts that Harper Lee, born and raised in Monroeville, Alabama submitted the book Go Set a Watchman to her publisher in 1957 and at the publisher’s request that she reframe it in the voice of young Jean Louise(Scout) coming of age. Two years later, she brought out “Mockingbird, but Atticus, who I will always see in the frame of Gregory Peck, was a different role model than in Watchman.
As a white person, born in the North, I am not outside of the racism of my culture, but my family background and sympathies were not part of the Confederate States. My own feelings of racism have evolved over time. I do NOT, however, in a very deep-seated emotional way, want to read a book in which Atticus, a white hero in the fight against the evil of racism, becomes the racist person that was probably more realistic for a white lawyer to be in a small Alabama town. Yet, I read in the review that in the trial of Tom in “Watchman,” Tom was acquitted, when he was found guilty in “Mockingbird.”
I hope you will read Ms. Kakutani’s review. So many subtleties concerning the connections of the two novels are covered. In particular, I was caught short when she noted that in both, we are asked to follow the “Mockingbird” Atticus’s advice to Scout “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” In “Mockingbird”, Ms. Kakutani notes, the figure is Boo Radley, and in “Watchman,” it is the bigoted Atticus.
Today, as my husband and I have toured Mark Twain’s Hannibal, we have been confronted with the many conflicts in Huckleberry Finn. In a film at the Mark Twain Home, Dr. Jocelyn Chadwick, an African American Twain scholar mentions the place in Huck Finn when Huck hears Jim crying night after night. He listens to Jim talk about wanting to buy his wife and children back, and to steal them if he must. She notes that Huck is feeling badly that he has broken the laws of the slave holding system and, in almost the same breath, declares that Jim must miss his family just as white people do. To Huck this is a revelation.
As a white person in a society still dealing with racism in our societal structures, I am called on to understand the dehumanization required to support the system of slavery and the depth of that viewpoint that has passed from generation to generation. I am forced to also come to terms with people who indeed have been taught to have sorrow for the death of a great grandfather lost in the civil war. The South suffered, families suffered and that sorrow must be understood as sorrow and acknowledged without lessening efforts to change the structures which are necessary to overcome the huge injustice to people of color that weakens our society which must somehow get over this war.
While I cannot bring myself to listen to the audio-book, I will read this book and share more in this place.