So now we finally know what happened to Scout.
And quite a few simply did not like the result. At all.
My feelings fall right down the middle.
But only about the story.
For those not in the know, I am going on about Go Set A Watchman, the sequel to the book To Kill A Mockingbird.
Back in 1960, author Harper Lee published her first novel, a coming of age tale set in the 1930’s about a young girl called Scout. She lives a tomboy life with her widowed father, the saintly Atticus, and her older brother. As time goes by, Atticus gets involved as a lawyer for a local racially charged trial, one with far reaching consequences.
Legions of fans, including myself, fell in love with this amazing classic story about love, justice, society, parents, and learning what is right. We also all kinda realized Scout was Lee.
The award winning book spawned an award winning movie, released in 1962 and starring Gregory Peck. And Harper Lee just went back to living to her life, eventually shunning publicity, and not publishing anything at all for decades and decades.
Until her new lawyer found an old manuscript and the now over eighty year old Lee gave the go ahead to publish. Much controversy ensued as many thought the lawyer was controlling and using the elderly Lee to her advantage, all for profit. I fully believe Lee did want this book published, since everything I have heard about her is of a lady very much in charge of her faculties.
Now as for the controversy with the actual book, which also blew up social media.
It is very overblown to say the least.
And it is all about Atticus.
Go Set A Watchman takes place years after Mockingbird, with a now adult Scout heading back to town since she is now living in New York. Her fiancé and Atticus still reside in town and she mostly gets along quite well with both of them. Her aunt is constantly riding her about how to be proper and a lady, while her uncle is supportive and quirky.
Scout can tell she does not quite fit in with the town or people or family. So much has changed but also not changed, and it is obvious Scout is not a happy camper with it all.
But partway through Watchman, Scout finds out Atticus has joined a local Citizens Council, along with her fiancé, and this shatters her into a zillion pieces of emotions. These Councils were just fancy ways to disguise racist activities and discussions.
The life of Scout careens like a crazed ping pong ball as she tries to grapple with Atticus and his involvement with these people. Why? What does it mean? Was all of his teachings a flat out lie?
This revelation also rocked the real world, as breathless headlines, online and not, were flipping out about the sullying of the eternally beloved Atticus.
What these people fail to realize is that Atticus’s attitude is not a full and complete betrayal of what came before.
Our previous example of Atticus is, as Watchman points out, partly a construct of a child’s understanding of the world and the people in it. Atticus is still a good man in many many ways, who tries to move forward in his own way, but he simply cannot live up to what Scout thinks and feels and lives as to what he is.
Which is another issue the disgruntled and disillusioned fans cannot seem to grasp. This Atticus is a bit more realistic then the Mockingbird version. A man born in his time, raised where and when he was, would be probably be way more conservative, and never even take on the law case from the first book. His views here are still repugnant and repellant, but are positively progressive compared to the rest of Citizen’s Council. Atticus Finch may not be a Liberal God anymore, but this one seems more in tune with being a true flawed human being.
As for the writing of Go Set A Watchman, it is easy to see Lee being behind the typewriter. But the wonderful flow and rhythm from Mockingbird is not really evident at first here. It is not until the Atticus revelation that the true beauty of Lee’s writing takes hold and the slightly clunky beginning fades away.
All through Watchman Lee does flashbacks, sometime quite extensive, showing us snippets of Scout’s upbringing over the years. These are interesting and dire and really tells us so much more about Scout and the time she exists in.
One bit of past history that is mentioned a few times is the story of To Kill A Mockingbird, with one interesting twist here. Because Watchman was written before Mockingbird, in this version of reality Atticus won the case. This is a bit jarring and snapped me out of the story a few times.
Which is why in my personal headcannon, Go Set A Watchman can be a sequel to Mockingbird and I am fine with it. But also in my personal headcannon, Watchman can be an alternative Earth 2 version of what might have happened after To Kill A Mockingbird.
In my review long ago for To Kill A Mockingbird, I envisioned Scout marrying Dill and she becomes a lawyer. And they would have a son named Atticus.
I still believe Scout will name her child Atticus.
…is currently reading Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman.
P.S. Harper Lee passed away at age 89, on Friday February 19 2016. Thank you Harper Lee for all your excellent writings.