8.17.2015

"ATTICUS? I THINK I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH."

*(For brevity's sake, I am going to assume you have either read Go Set a Watchman, or are at least familiar with the controversy surrounding it. I have neither time nor inclination to rehash all the details or plotline. Because I'm annoying like that. And I will deepen that annoyance by revealing there are spoilers ahead. Heh heh.)

I was ecstatic, marked my calendar. Then I heard the rumors, saw the shocking headlines. I was nervous, almost scared. To read or not to read was certainly the question of the day.

I chose read. And I am so happy I did.

I can see why some critics painted Harper Lee's second novel, Go Set a Watchman, as a near-failure. True, it was no where near as well-written and expertly developed as her first, To Kill a Mockingbird. Honestly, I can forgive that because after all, it was technically her first draft of Mockingbird (if you saw some of my first drafts... it's not pretty). But it was good. It was different, heartfelt, raw. Where Mockingbird was written through a child's eyes, Watchman gives us a take on life from the perspective of the now adult Jean Louise (Scout). All the illusions and blind spots of Jean Louise's childhood are gone; instead, she begins to discover the world, and the people in it, as it really is, with all its flaws and confusion and darkness.  

A flawed world which includes Atticus Finch.

Atticus Finch is one of literature's greatest triumphs. I certainly didn't want to believe the rumors of his supposed transformation into a raving, bloodthirsty racist. I'm glad I didn't, because it just wasn't true. In most ways, the Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman was the same Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird. This time, I was simply seeing him without the rose-colored glasses of a little girl who adores her father.

After being away from home, adult Jean Louise visits Atticus back in Maycomb and is shocked to unveil his opinions and actions toward segregation. Yes, I disagreed (sometimes strongly) with Atticus on some of his views. But he is simply a man who sees the world changing around him and tries to handle it in what he perceives as the most logical way. Like any human out there, he has flaws, his perceptions can be wrong, and he makes mistakes. He expressed condescending, segregated views, of which I did not approve and sided firmly with Jean Louise. But did I see a bloodthirsty, arrogant man full of hate? No. He is still the Atticus who defended Tom Robinson (and would readily do it again), a loving father who cares for his children, a strong man who believes in justice. Every man's island, Jean Louise, every man's watchman, is his conscience.


So did I love and adore Go Set a Watchman? Not exactly. I appreciated its heart, the characters, the emotional tension, and the conflict. My favourite bits were the often humorous flashbacks to Scout's childhood, particularly the scenes involving Dill (though was anyone else tremendously upset about Jem's death?). But I'm not going to say it was an easy read, that I enjoyed being on differing sides with my beloved Atticus Finch. Some of his opinions were disappointing. But unlike what reviews said, he wasn't cruel or violent or even shockingly changed. He was just flawed (like we all are), and Harper Lee finally let us see those flaws in all their true colors.

I don't know if any of this makes sense or if it just sounds contradictory. I know there are faithful fans who were heartbroken over this book, but I'm glad I read it. I wasn't crushed. I didn't hate Atticus for his way of thinking or feel betrayed by Harper Lee. Go Set a Watchman reminded me even the best of us have our downfalls and heroes aren't perfect. Like Scout realized when she stopped idolizing her father, we can't see people how we want them to be; we have to see them for who they really are, even when the truth is hard to face. People may disagree and have their differences, but that's okay. The Atticuses in our lives will fail us sometimes, but what matters is how we react, how we forgive, and how we love.

(And hate me if you will, but I'm still a big fan of Atticus Finch.)

Okay. I'm done now. It's your turn! What are you thoughts on Go Set a Watchman? Tell me all.

21 comments:

  1. I read it too & was also surprised that I didn't end it hating Atticus at all. There are so many Atticuses. I love that the book ends in hope, & even shifts the hero role onto Scout's shoulders. There's a sense that she might be more impactful than she realized, when she put all her eggs into his basket. :)

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    1. Yes! Atticus was the hero of TKAM, but this time it was Scout's turn to make the hard, heroic choices. I really liked that.

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  2. **This comment has major spoilers!!**

    I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who felt this way about the book! I too read it days after it came out, but in the few days that it took to get my copy, all of the horrible reviews made me almost afraid to read it. I am born and raised in Mississippi, and frankly, Go Set a Watchman had a more accurate depiction of the actual attitudes toward race in the South than To Kill a Mockingbird. Although I didn't agree with all of Atticus' opinions, I have seen the same opinions expressed by people that I know and love from that generation. It was real. The only things in the book that absolutely broke my heart were Jem's death and Calpurnia's horrible attitude. I almost cried!

    On another note, what did you think of Hank and his relationship with Jean Louise?

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    1. Exactly! I didn't get it until a week or so after it released, so by the time it got to my hands, I was nervous. That is such a neat insight, thank you for sharing that. Good to know it wasn't all fiction! Oh my goodness! Calpurnia! How could I have forgotten... That was really the only part where I literally wanted to cry. It's like I could physically feel all of Scout's raw, harsh anger and sadness. Man alive.

      Well, Hank had his humorous parts, but I was never endeared to him. So I really couldn't be bothered whether he and Jean Louise ended up together or not. Besides, she never seemed *really* in love with him anyway, so I'm not sure how well they would have worked out... What did you think?

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    2. I felt exactly the same about Hank... I couldn't put my finger on what I didn't like, but I just never fell in love with him! He just seemed rather bland after being used to Lee's other vividly alive characters.

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  3. I enjoyed reading this review a lot. It's very gentle and insightful. Like many others the harsh (sensationalist?) media reviews scared me off reading it. But you've got a different take on it to any other reviews I've read, which I appreciate. I'm keen to give it a go now :-) It makes sense that as Scout grows up, the rose coloured lenses she viewed her father with would fall away, and it would be interesting to see that play out. I love your conclusion here: "The Atticuses in our lives will fail us sometimes, but what matters is how we react, how we forgive, and how we love." So very true! Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts :-)

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    1. Thank you, Annelise! It really surprised me, after all the reviews I read. But I enjoyed reading it, and it's great to see Harper Lee back in action after all these years. :) You should definitely give it a try!

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  4. I am glad to find someone who sees it this way. I had a very similar experience to you in that I am a HUGE TKAM fan and preordered Watchman months ago. I heard the negative reviews and was scared to get started, but eventually I plunged in and I am so glad I did. Watchman was a difficult read. I was right alongside Jean Louise as she began to comprehend the devastating reality that nobody, not even our most treasured role models, are perfect. Ultimately, we must live by our own conscience.

    I wrote a review about my thoughts, which have quite a few parallels to yours, on my blog: http://miss-adventure.com/2015/08/05/go-set-a-watchman-review/

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    1. Yes, yes, and yes. Perfectly said. Harper Lee carried us through that book right beside Scout. She wanted us to feel what Scout felt, and I'd say she succeeded!

      Also, I read your review, and it was brilliant. Well done!

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  5. Yes!! I agree with you so much. I had the exact same thoughts about how this book takes away the rosy childhood lens through which TKAM was written and shows more of the harsh reality of the time period. Scout is grown up and she needed to realize that no one, not even her beloved father, is perfect.

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  6. I desperately wanted to read this post (because whyyy not you're a good writer and book reviews are DA best) buuut! I haven't read 'Go Set a Watchmen'... I've ordered it at my library and it's taking forever to come. Can't wait to read it and come back to your post. xx

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    1. Haha I understand completely! Looking forward to hearing what you think of the book!!

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  7. Thank you for this post! I am so glad that some people still love Atticus.

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  8. Thank you sooo much for this...I loved Articus so much in TKAM...now I think I'm going to love him even more in Lee's new book.

    Enjoy reading your blog!

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    1. I think you will, too. He takes a little getting used to in GSAW, but it's worth it. :)

      thank you so much for reading!!

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  9. I pre-ordered this book with no holds barred. I picked it up without knowing of any controversy. I even read the whole thing & made it until just last week before I heard any negative comments on it (the perks of living under a rock). So, needless to say, my feelings about this book are completely my own.
    I loved it. I would read it again. It was so hard to read, but it was so worth it. Atticus, her idol. Man, was that hard to digest. I had been convicted that week of idolizing my own friend & mentor ... it was breaking my heart. I couldn't figure out how to love her & not worship her ... I had just been so wrong for so long. Jesus used GSAW to completely wreck me with conviction. I finished the book at 2am & spent the rest of my night on my knees, weeping. To me, her journey was the most incredible thing. How well-written. & what connotations it holds for us, as believers. How devastating it is when our idols fall. We die. That part of us is killed.

    & free to be reborn. Remade.

    I'm still trying to figure out what it looks like to not be relying on another human to remind me who I am & what Jesus looks like. I need to learn the art of looking to Him alone.
    & Jean Louise Finch taught me so much.

    I still might name a future baby after Atticus. & one after my own Atticus. Because their lessons have not been tainted, nor revoked. No, they have only grown.
    Now those names will always remind me of the One who never stumbles, never fails, never contradicts Himself ... May I always see Him for who He is. Only when our perspective of Him or ourselves is wrong do we assume that He has failed. New lenses, new lenses.

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    1. Wow, this was so good. It's hard to know what to reply to your comment, because... it's just SO GOOD. "I need to learn the art of looking to Him alone." YES. Not to other people, not to idols, not to pleasures, but just to Him. And yes, I would still love to name one of my kids after Atticus (even though I have a nephew named Atticus, and an adopted nephew with Atticus as his middle name :P ) or maybe even Scout. :) Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, I loved it.

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  10. I needed this post! So many people are hating on this book, but I agree with all of the points you made. True, I didn't think GSAW was as good as TKAM, but it was still fabulous. (Fabulous blog, btw, I'm following now.) (-:

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    1. I think people expected GSAW (and Atticus himself) to be as perfect as TKAM. And since it wasn't, they were too disappointed to see and value this book as it is. It really is a treasure.

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