You know, I’ve always thought of books as my friends. Books and dogs. I mean, books can’t betray you. You read a book, and you love it, and you re-read it, and every time you know what to expect. And when you suddenly discover a new aspect, or a tiny detail you haven’t paid much attention to before, it’s even better.
Until the author – or the publisher – decides to do THIS.
To Kill a Mockingbird is not just a book. It’s a classic of American literature, it talks about one of the major cores that made America what it is, and it’s talked about in high schools and in American courses in Poland. Most importantly, though, it’s one of my beloved books. It was one of the three books upon which I based my MA thesis about innocence, and it has a special place in my heart. I have the same amount of emotional sentiment towards it as I have a true, professional respect.
Therefore, I don’t think I should treat its continuation the same way I would treat just a random book I picked from library shelf.
Which just means, this is going to be long 🙂
Go Set a Watchman was published over 50 years after To Kill a Mockingbird. The author, Harper Lee, was sick at the time of publication, and there have been rumors that she wasn’t “competent enough” to consent to this. I would prefer to refrain from commenting on this part. I can only tell that Go Set a Watchman is considered a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. When Harper Lee tried to publish Watchman, she was advised to focus more on the events that happened while the characters were little kids. She agreed and the Mockingbird emerged.
What can I say.
The publisher was right.
I didn’t rush to bookstores the minute the book was published. Instead, I focused on… reading spoilers. This way I knew already that Atticus Finch turned out to be a racist. After some months of initial denial (Atticus Finch a racist? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
I got it from my local library and started reading.
Initial thought that came to my mind when I started?
“This should never have been published.”
The last thought I had upon completion?”
“This should never have been published.”
But let’s start from the beginning, as they say. Jean Louise Finch, used to called “Scout” when she was little, is now an adult. She comes to Maybome, Alabama, to visit her father, from New York, where she lives. Here she observes her hometown and the changes that occurred since her last visit, and is confronted with a discovery that her father might not entirely be what she always thought of him.
Where to start? Let’s start with the plot. It’s non-existent. The book is a series of scenes, conversations, thoughts, memories, just placed there matter-of-handily, without much sense or continuity. The only subject seems to be that Atticus is a racist and that Jean Louise is so angry with him. To the point where she wants to just pack her bags and go back to New York, without a true attempt of conversation and some understanding of anything he says. Or about anything anybody else says.
Which draws me to the next problem. I loved Jean Louise as a child, she was a tomboy who spoke her mind, and who wouldn’t just submit to the pressure of “being like every other respectful white woman/girl from the South.” Now Jean Louise somehow seems obnoxious and selfish. The rest of the characters seem flat, any humor – or rather attempt of humor – seems forced. The stories about Scout’s and her brother’s childhood are so far in regards of humor or cuteness or even being interesting, from Mockingbird, that they must have been created on different continents entirely. And then there’s Atticus himself.
I have some mixed feelings about his character from this part. First thing is, he’s still the same patient and wise Atticus that I remember from the first part. His reason for “being racist” seem quite well, reasonable. Also, I don’t quite “buy” this whole “Atticus is a racist” attitude. He was a product of his time and of his hometown. Yes, I think he was wrong with not wanting the black people to be able to vote, but I could understand his reasons. And it’s not like he was a real member of Ku-Klux Klan. For most of the book, I couldn’t understand why Scout was so harsh on him. While reading spoilers I seriously thought he was going to be some sort of villain who would go out in the middle of the night to beat up black men only for being black.
That being said, I still think some sort of a “literary icon” was destroyed. Atticus Finch for me – and for many others, I gather – is a symbol of “one true warrior” of the racist South. A beacon of hope that even in the most unfavorable circumstance a man with true conscience and his own mind can be born and can stay truthful to his ideals. He was the embodiment of decency in the first book. Yes, I understand he’s presented more “human” here, and I guess that’s a good thing in theory, but I will still stick to my previous point – he’s an icon of decency, and a glimpse of hope, and now he was somehow destroyed.
Last, but not least, somehow I feel like the whole book and all of its white characters are in a way racists. Jean Louise, saying she wouldn’t marry a black man, and getting mad at her old maid for “not speaking white.” Jean Louise’s aunt, uncle Jack, Atticus. It feels somehow, that the book says that white people are better than black people, but that doesn’t mean we should treat the black people badly.
I’m afraid I would never be able to read To Kill a Mockingbird in the same way now. I mean, I would be looking for evidence that this conviction was presented in a subtle way in there, too. I would be looking for signs of Atticus “going racist.” I would be thinking of Calpurnia’s life and signs that one day she might learn to despise the family she works for. I might be checking if Scout is already showing the hypocrisy and stubbornness she was showing here.
But I hope not. I would like to just forget anything I read in Watchman. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Mockingbird was about growing up and learning, about innocence and destroying it, and protecting others against all odds; about respecting people and not judging them. About the necessity to get to know others, and understanding that being different doesn’t mean being worse. About fighting for what we believe in, regardless of consequences, because “it’s the right thing to do.”
I really hope I will just remember this if I ever go back to Mockingbird (and I should, after all I own this in Spanish and I haven’t read it yet).
But, coming back to the Watchman. Why I think it should never have been published? Let’s forget about Mockingbird, any sort of political context, or any connection to “destroying the image of Atticus Finch.” What is left? The plot that doesn’t exist. I mean, she comes, learns some truth, is angry, quarrels a lot, then makes up and they live happily ever after. Period. The second thing, characters, who are flat and not interesting. Like nobody is a full-fletched character that they used to be in Mockingbird. Not a single one. Also, the lack of continuity and sometimes sense. And lastly, it was boring. Seriously boring. I feel the only reason people read it is because of Mockingbird, and if Mockingbird never existed, this wouldn’t have been published. And if by some miracle it would, not too many people would bother to read. If any.
So there. I really hope I can just forget.