Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman

I am definitely still processing my reaction to Go Set A Watchman, the first published book by Harper Lee in 55 years. While I am not sure how I feel about this book yet, I will say that I barely put it down after unexpectedly buying it today while on an errand to buy some poster board and some really great pens.

In Go Set A Watchman, the reader returns to Maycomb, Alabama, some 20 years after the events of To Kill A Mockingbird. While some things, such as the small-town gossip, agrarian economics, and systematic overt racism are still the same, our cast of characters (Scout, Jem, Atticus, Calpurnia, Boo,) have changed to the eyes of readers through the eyes of Scout, who now goes by her given name of Jean Louise.

As Scout’s uncle phrases it late in the novel, this book seems to me to be about “smashing icons” and “coming into the world.” If To Kill A Mockingbird has become a sort of national icon ensconced in a glowing-book-halo, a story many of us read and love growing up, Go Set a Watchman seems intent on stripping, or at lease distressing, that easy glow so many associate with Mockingbird and its central white characters. Instead of hearing Gregory Peck’s stentorian calls for justice (earning Atticus Finch #1 on the American Film Institute’s list of all-time heroes) while reading tonight, I found myself picturing Go Set a Watchman’s Atticus as Lee J Cobb’s odious character in Twelve Angry Men. While one certainly feels for Scout as the protagonist, she is far from a saint we want to rally behind throughout the story.

From Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to Huckleberry Finn, to Cane, to The Invisible Man, and To Kill A Mockingbird (and many other amazing books), many of America’s most important and read works of fiction have placed racial injustice at the heart of the American story. I’m not sure I would place Go Set A Watchman in league with any of those texts independently, but it certainly must be read as a companion text to To Kill A Mockingbird and is worth your time and consideration. With over two million copies printed for its release, I imagine it shouldn’t be hard to find.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM (on order)
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book published in 2015

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