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.