I don’t often write book reviews, but I just finished reading Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, and I was so inspired to reflect upon it that I decided to devote a blog post to it.
If you have yet to read the novel, I would recommend it especially if you have read To Kill a Mockingbird. But since I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, you can click the button below to read my thoughts on the story.
Even though Scout is referred to as “Jean Louise” for the majority of the novel, she’ll always be Scout to me and I’m going to call her Scout for the purposes of my review. That being said, the story involves Scout returning to her childhood home, where most of the characters from Mockingbird still reside. She is residing in New York, as per Atticus’ advisement, and just visiting her home in the South since she knows she does not have a place there anymore.
The first blow was finding out that Jem, Scout’s older brother, had passed away. Okay, I can understand that. Their mother died young of the same heart condition, so perhaps that makes it an even more believable occurence. (If anything, it helps the storyline because Scout doesn’t have Jem to turn to when she is questioning the beliefs and motives of those around her.)
The greatest conflict that Scout is struck by in the novel is dealing with the fact that her father is not the man she grew up knowing. She finds out he is attending council meetings with a group of white men who are trying to hold back the black race. She ends up getting physically sick from seeing Atticus seated beside a man who Scout morally opposes. She speaks to some neighbors, a lifelong friend, and her uncle about all of the changes she has been witnessing in the town.
Finally, in a climactic rage, Scout explodes in a conversation with Atticus. She explains how she’s been feeling let down, how she strongly disagrees with him, and how she cannot comprehend who he has become or how he has tricked her into believing one thing and then doing another. Simply, she feels betrayed. She describes her own beliefs and her own understandings of the Constitution, the state of the country, and politics in general. She is obviously unhappy with the man she has discovered Atticus to be at this point in her life. She never wants to see him again, nor return home. And to all of this fury? Atticus tells her he loves her and seems calm! With that response, Scout flees her father’s office and goes to her childhood home to pack her things and head back to New York without another word.
There, however, she is faced with her uncle, who literally slaps some sense into her. She takes a shot and calms herself. It is then she realizes that she’s suddenly feeling like herself again. Not her childhood self, either, but her New York, adult-Scout self. A conversation with her uncle proves to bring about a realization that she has not killed her relationship with her father, but rather killed the link between their consciences. Prior to that moment, she had treated Atticus’ word as the absolute truth. He was on such a pedestal that she regarded him more god-like than as a fellow human. When she spoke her piece and defended her own opinion to her father, she was able to come to terms with the fact that they were different and that was okay.
At the close of the novel, she picks him up from his office and takes him home. She tells him she loves him and, while it seems like a very simple, everyday sentiment, it is a monumental moment for father and daughter. They argued, had a difference of opinion, Scout proved herself to have her own thoughts and strength of character, and they moved on. Sure, Atticus knew all along that he was human and he didn’t have all of the answers, but it was a new experience for Scout to humanize her father.
It is rare that we can truly understand a character’s inner turmoil in relationship to a fellow character’s words or actions. However, since I held Atticus in such high regard for this role in the classic tale many of us grew up reading, I was right there with Scout, wondering why Atticus was doing the things he was doing and why he had become the man he seemingly was. What happened to the man who had believed so wholeheartedly in justice and fairness? Did he believe the toxic words that were being spewed by others at the community meetings he attended? Did he no longer care for equal treatment of all men, regardless of race?
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what Atticus believed or didn’t believe at this point. In Scout’s life in the novel or in our lives right now. That is the point that really hits home for me. It’s not up to Atticus to live up to the man we all thought he was. It’s up to us now to be every bit as fair and moral as we believed Atticus to be. Just like Scout must understand that she can have her own opinions different than those of her father, we must realize that Atticus Finch has shortcomings just like anyone else and we may, too, disagree with his words and actions. Perhaps that requires a bit of disillusionment on our parts, but isn’t that part of becoming an adult? Facing disillusionment, but still believing…