Go Set A Watchman is the long awaited sequel to Harper Lee’s classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Most would agree that her first book impacted youth and adults alike. Though I may not have always enjoyed the books I read in high school, Harper Lee’s writing made me contemplate real issues in this world that I might have otherwise been unaware of.
It is a story that stays with you long after you’ve closed its pages. After her initial success, many were shocked that she never went on to write more novels. In fact, the writer that once showed so much promise seemed to disappear from the limelight completely. There were whispers that there was an unreleased sequel, but Harper Lee did not wish that anyone would ever read it.
To the surprise of the literary world, Harper Lee finally released Go Set A Watchman shortly before her passing. Rumors swirled that she was convinced to release it by greedy family members in her time of weakness, and we may never know if that has any validity. I personally held off on reading it last year because I wasn’t sure if I felt morally okay reading her later work. The curiosity eventually won me over, as I truly wanted to know what happened to our beloved characters.
I will start by giving my general review, and I will include a spoiler review at the bottom.
We start the story by following 26 year-old Scout as she makes her way back to her family in Maycomb. She is met with circumstances that she could have never foreseen and these events make her world turn upside down. Scout begins to question everything she once held dear and tries to find her place in this new world around her.
To say my review on Go Set A Watchman is mixed would be an understatement. The writing once again drew me into Maycomb and had me grappling with topics that deserve attention and care. While this book made me feel something in my soul, which you hope for any great book, I was left feeling like some of the plot was unbelievable. In many ways, it didn’t make sense that this was written in the same universe as To Kill A Mockingbird. There are moments that may infuriate you, and rightly so.
This story of Scout’s journey is something that you might want to skip if you don’t want to taint the beauty of the original novel. In the end, Harper Lee did create a story that moved me, but maybe not in the way I would have liked. Art is subjective and this book is a prime example of that truth.
Atticus has always been a man to be adored and he is the kind of person you aspire to be. My high school English teacher even named her baby Atticus because she had such a deep love for this father figure. So what are we supposed to do when we realize that Atticus is not only flawed, but has roots in racism?
The entire premise of the classic novel is that Atticus risks his reputation to defend an African American man in court who was falsely accused of raping a white woman. He taught our generation that it is important to stand up for what you believe in, no matter the costs. Every person deserves justice in this world, and as he taught his young children this, he also taught the world.
We learn through the novel that Atticus’ kindness did not come from the belief that we are all equal, but the belief that the law should be followed. Not only did he not believe in equality, he also supported the beliefs of many in the KKK. The disappointment my heart felt as I read this revelation can not be fully vocalized. Hearing a man as intelligent as Atticus defending racism was a shock compared to what we thought his character stood for.
Scout is disgusted by her father’s beliefs and she begins to see his pedestal shatter to the ground. This plot twist turns into a powerful revelation on what it means to become your own person and not idolize those who raised you. Scout begins to realize she can love her father despite his problematic beliefs, all while still standing up for what she believes in. The truth in this book hit like a hammer in my soul. Many of us have had those who we look up to disappoint us with their actions, and as we age we begin to learn that our heroes are flawed human beings like us.
Overall, Go Set A Watchman rings true and offers a raw look at what it means to separate from childhood innocence and find your own identity. My main critique is that it is vastly different from To Kill A Mockingbird, so much so that it doesn’t feel like they can coexist. Though one could argue that is the entire theme of this story. Things are not always as they seem, and it is up to us to decide how we will reconcile these painful realities.
You can get a copy of Go Set A Watchman here.