I have been on the waiting list for this book for months. MONTHS! I feel like I have to start this post by admitting that I do not have the passionate love for To Kill A Mockingbird that so many people have. I get the passion, but this is not the book I feel it for. I understand why people were upset with this book, I just didn’t have that same anger.
What is the anger about? Go Set a Watchman was promoted as a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, but it was shaped into one to make it easier to digest. Reading Go Set A Watchman is akin, for many, to the moment you realize the people you idolize are jackasses. Not only that, be they are racist jackasses who don’t realize they are racist. Even worse, it’s your father. Basically, the reader is Scout.
Let’s deal with the racism first. Atticus Finch is a benevolent racist. He has negative and positive views of African Americans, but he doesn’t believe they deserve equality. Let’s keep in mind the book is set in the 1950s and Finch grew up in the South post-Civil War. It doesn’t justify his racism, but puts it in context. Was he always a racist? Probably, at least according to this novel. The struggle is seeing Finch through the eyes of Scout only gives us a child’s adoring perspective of her only parent. What bothered me more than Finch’s racism was that Scout, who is in her mid-20s still sees her father as morally perfect.
My actual problem with the book was how disjointed it was. The other controversy with this book was if it was actually a cohesive novel. The story of Scout’s disillusionment would not have filled up an entire novel as it is written. What fills it up are the disconnected flashbacks. While it was nice to read episodes about Scout growing up, they have little to do the greater story. Some of the most compelling parts of the story are left to the side and never mentioned. Then there was the long winded philosophizing about racism.
I get what happened. I get it as a writer. I have lots of story to tell about my characters. I have lived with some of them for years. I want to share ALL those stories with readers. There is one short story between two characters where they simply lay in bed, reading Harry Potter, and discuss sorting their family and friends into Hogwarts houses. It devolves into a story about how they see each other in the moment, how they want the other to see them, and who they really are. The story has a purpose, but not to the bigger story. It wouldn’t fit in the series. If I added it to the novel, an editor would have probably say it’s nice, but needs to come out. This is why a story editor is so critical. Lee had one and it was probably Truman Capote.
Readers and authors forget one thing: publishers are out to make money. They publish what they think they can sell. Should this book have been published? Does it matter? Plenty of things get published that should not be and plenty of books that don’t get published should have been. Would it have been better if the publishers had marketed this as a draft or early version? Maybe! Many younger readers are comfortable with the idea of reading fan fiction and rougher version when they know that’s what it is.
This book prompted one other issue for me: why don’t I love To Kill A Mockingbird? I can’t remember how old I was when I first read it, but I know I only read it once. I want to think I saw past the filter of Scout’s adoration for her father. I recognized that Finch was a product of his time. It may not have been consciously recognized, but my lack of surprise that Finch was racist may be because of that. This was the South in the 1950s. Racism was a fabric of the society. Maybe it is merely my ability to see this rationally. That being said, it’s not like I can approach all books rationally. I am still avoiding Harry Potter and the Cursed Child because I have heard enough about what happens with Cedric Diggory.
Tell me what you think in the comments? Did you read it? Would knowing it’s proper context have changed how you felt about the book? Are you still stuck on Finch being racist?