I first read To Kill a Mockingbird in eleventh grade; it was one of the few books I did read for class that year, to be honest, and it’s one of the few school books I’ve read repeatedly since then. I fell in love with the characters–children and adults alike–and the story of a childhood I could relate to, if only vaguely. So you can imagine the excitement mingled with skepticism and fear that washed over me when I first began to hear that a sequel was being released.
I had to wonder, Will it be any good? Why is it being published now? What are the motives? How will this change things? If the reviews were to be believed, it would change things a lot, but I don’t think my reaction was as strong as a lot of the reviewers’ I read beforehand. In fact, I straight up enjoyed the hell out of this book.
A summary, in case you don’t already know the premise: Go Set a Watchman follows Jean Louise (Scout) Finch about twenty years after the events of TKAM. She’s returned to Maycomb for her yearly two week visit with her family, and while she’s there this time around, the changes start becoming more pronounced, and she starts to feel like her world as she knew it all those years before is crashing down around her.
From here on out, there might be spoilers, so proceed with caution if that’s not your kind of thing.
The biggest beef the reviews I read had with the book were the way the Atticus Finch we all know and adore is racist. And he is. But he’s no different from the Atticus we knew and loved before; it’s only that now we know him even more thoroughly. He was not as fully rounded a character as we have now with both novels. He is still just as staunchly committed to justice and fairness as the law sees it, but now we learn that that’s just it. His justice is squarely within the law as it is. He does believe that African-Americans surrounding him in the south are infantile and unprepared to live the lifestyle of the white Americans. It’s heartbreaking, but I also found it fascinating.
It was striking how, despite having been written first, this novel felt like a response to TKAM and the adoration that was heaped upon Atticus. It felt very much like Harper Lee trying to show people that Atticus, while a great man, was still not a perfect man. And I think when Jean Louise’s world finally explodes, when she finally learns this secret about Atticus and confronts him, it greatly encapsulates the reactions that so many readers would have upon this same realization.
Part of me almost (almost) hates to say it, but I really did like this book. Do I love it as much as To Kill a Mockingbird? No, because I do still want to cling to that perfect image of Atticus. But do I appreciate this more nuanced look to his character and being able to experience it through (with) Jean Louise? Yes. So much. And I am so glad that I took the step to read it, despite my misgivings.
Have you read GSAW? Are you avoiding it?
Share your thoughts either way, please!