Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch–“Scout”–returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchmanperfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past–a journey that can be guided only by one’s conscience.
I had to read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, and it was one of the few required-reads I actually enjoyed. I was thrilled to receive a copy of Go Set a Watchman in the mail from my #OTSPSecretSister and couldn’t wait to start it. After finishing Queen of Shadows, I just felt like I needed to read something completely different. Watchman wasn’t very long, and it was the book chosen for the library’s book club this month.
Now, we all know that, in this book, Atticus is a racist. I read this as a completely separate book from TKaM. The characters might share names, but their stories are so very different.
Jean Louise’s Character Development/Growth
Growing up is never easy. We lose innocence,and we start to see the world for what it really is. Many times we also begin to see our parents for whey they are: complex people rather than just parents. My mom and I had a very rough relationship through my pre teen/teen years because of how similar our personalities are. We are both stubborn and snarky and don’t like to back down from a fight. The biggest difference is that I am an extremely emotional person, and she is not. Where I cry whenever my adrenaline starts going, she turns into a pitbull. Her favorite phrase is, “Suck it up, buttercup!” I don’t fault her for anything because that’s just who she is as a person and how she deals with things. Where I over-analyze everything, she just does it – and screw anyone who has a problem with it.
When I was younger, I just thought she was a cold person who wasn’t affectionate. As I grew up and learned more about her as a person, I started to love my mom for who she was instead of disliking her for not being what I wanted her to be. She is extremely affectionate, but she isn’t going to hold your hand and tell you things you want to hear. Instead, she’ll tell you how it is and expect you to figure out your own way. She is my best friend, and we text each other every week. She’s the one person I can go to about anything and know she’ll always be there for me.
Jean Louise doesn’t learn this over a period of years. She has to learn it in the course of a week. She is completely heartbroken when she sees what Atticus is doing, and feels that everything he taught her was a lie. For the first time in her life, she sees her father as a man rather than the hero of her childhood. It isn’t until she has her large fight with Atticus that she realizes she can still love him even if she doesn’t agree with him. All families go through this. As the children grow, their ideals often change or conflict with that of their parents. This doesn’t mean they all hate each other, though I’m sure that does happen. We simply accept that they have different or problematic ideals and love them anyway.
Humans Don’t Really Change, Do They?
I took an Anthropology class last year and had a wonderful professor. One day, he brought in a letter written by a man and asked us to tell him which generation it was from. The professor did inform us that he modernized the language a bit, but kept it as true to the original as he could.
The letter was about the man’s son. In it, the man wrote about how lazy his son was. The son never took school seriously, he hadn’t yet gotten a job to help with the house and was constantly out partying with his friends. The man was worried about the future of the country, if this was how the next generation would be.
Each student took a guess. I think I guessed around the 1950s or 1960s, but we had a variance from 1890 to 1990. This letter, it turns out, was written in ancient Rome. The point of this, our professor said, was to show that human nature doesn’t really change. What people thought hundreds of years ago could still be seen in some ideals today.
Reading the way these racists spoke about black people just showed how true that is. I started keeping notes in a little journal of passages that stood out to me. When Jean Louise walks into the council meeting and hears Grady O’Hanlon speaking, he’s spewing hate. The part that stood out to me was when he says (referring to the Supreme Court/supporters of integration):
“…Take ’em out and shoot ’em for treason.”
How many times have you read that as a comment on Facebook? I see it so many times when people talk about the President or anyone who supports him. I also see it whenever a mass shooting happens and gun-enthusiasts feel threatened.
It also says:
“…His main interest today was to uphold the Southern Way of Life and no niggers and no Supreme Court was going to tell him or anybody else what to do.”
Does this sound familiar? To me, it sounds like something Kim Davis would say (and certainly believes in) – though I’m sure she’d say, “faggots” instead of, “nigger.” Hatred doesn’t change. In 1940 Germany, the target was Jews. In the 1950s/1960s U.S.A., it was black people. Today, it feels like everyone is a target. There’s still racism, but now we have homophobic and transphobic people as well. Americans want to uphold “Traditional America,” but what is that? Humans love to glorify the past, because we never lived there and think things were better in the past. They weren’t. 99.9% of the time they were much, much worse.
These are thoughts I had while reading and wrote down in my notebook. These may contain spoilers. I repeat: SPOILERS.
• I totally ship Dill/Jean Louise
• “Color Blind’ here is meant to be a good thing, to show a person doesn’t see the color of race, but it’s dangerous because it could lead to the erasure of non-white culture
• J.L. (Jean Louise) isn’t naive, but maybe she’s too trusting? She takes people’s word as is because she can’t fathom why they’d lie
• Pg. 150 – Second Paragraph
• Pg. 160 – Cal turns J.L. away: “She didn’t see me, she saw white folks.” Is it J.L.’s fault, what’s been happening in Maycomb? Not directly, no, but can you blame Cal? She’s been scorned and seen as a lesser person by white people all her life.
• Pg. 162 – “Eeny meeny, miney moe, catch a nigger by his toe.” This shows how deep our racism is etched into our history. How many children sing this song, now about a tiger, every day, and don’t even know the history of it?
• Pg. 196 – Did the South fight for its identity more than it did about racism? I never thought about that.
Pg. 197 – “History is repeating itself and…history of the last place he’ll (man) look for his lessons.”
• Pg. 198 – “Its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in.”
• Pg. 225 – Last Paragraph
• Pgs. 240-246 – J.L. is looking at this as a “Constitution-being-ignored” standpoint. Atticus is looking at it as a racist.
– What did he expect (in reference to Atticus saying how black people were uneducated and backwards compared to white people). Black people weren’t given the same opportunities then, and many times not even now. We kept them uneducated so they’d be complacent.
I also started writing down words I didn’t know the definition of. I’m pretty good at using context clues to assume what something is, but I want to learn words so I can use them in my day-to-day.
• Erudition (noun) – The quality of having/showing great knowledge or learning
• Malapropism (noun) – Mistaken use of a word in place of a similar sounding one (saying “flamingo” when you mean “flamenco”)
• Gulosity (noun) – Excessive appetite; greediness
• Effusion (noun) – An instance of gibing off something such as a liquid, light or smell
• Miasmal (noun) – Noxious exhalations from putrescent organic matter
• Furtively (adjective) – Taken, done, used, etc. by stealth
• Invective (noun) – Something that incites or tended to incite to action or greater effort, as a reward offered for increased productivity
That’s all I have for you, folks. Did you read Go Set a Watchman? Did you like it more or less than To Kill a Mockingbird? What did you think of Jean Louise and all the recurring characters? (I was also super upset that Jem had died. What the hell, man?!). Leave me a comment telling me what you thought!