In the High Peaks

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Classics Club: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

While reflecting on my experience reading Go Set a Watchman, I decided that I want to steer clear of the controversial arguments that cropped up before and after its publication. How I could jump in! But I've realized during the week that's followed my finishing the novel, that I don't want to remember or focus on all of that noise.

I'm so glad that Go Set a Watchman was published. I'm so grateful. For me, whenever I've had a beloved author, one who stirred me to the marrow, one who provoked me to think and want to shout back, I've always wanted to read more of that writer's work. And as a reader of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, I thought for so many decades that I would never see another word from her.

Nonetheless, despite the publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee remains to a large extent inscrutable, and that's fine with me. I'll take the glimpses that her first-written novel gave me and be content with that.

So what did I gain by reading this "long-hidden" novel? Most of all, I appreciated the insight she gave into what it was like for an intellectual woman to try to break free of the society she grew up in (which most of the world did not accept), the family she grew up in (that she felt smothered her true nature), and her youthful expectations for herself. What a vise to deal with. Recent biographies of Harper Lee have hinted at this multi-faceted struggle, but I thought this novel portrayed it so starkly that it is indelibly imprinted in my mind.

I really loved the Dr. Finch character and all of his ideologies--yes, even the parts we've learned we should look down on. I thought the character of Atticus became more remote, more idealized, and more inscrutable--an  enigma, which Lee tries to explain in this novel. I get what she's explaining, but I still don't understand the complexities of the Atticus she presented.

Anyway, I feel I can lay Harper Lee to rest in my mind. There is much that I still don't understand, but I see so much more than I did. And I can rest with that.


  1. I'd previously decided to give Watchman a pass, but may have to rethink... Very nice post, Judith.

    1. Hi JoAnn,
      I definitely recommend it. There's so much there to reflect on and to puzzle over. I think you'll enjoy that.

  2. I really enjoyed the book, it wasn't at all as I had imagined, after reading what others said of it. I think it was more about the difference in the attitudes of the different generations and I could see that Atticus just didn't want his world to change too much while he was still alive.

    1. Yes, I see your point. I think that Harper Lee was portraying how difficult it was for the rest of the world to dictate the way people in the South were supposed to live, how they were supposed to organize their society. I think that's something that most Americans refuse to appreciate. Yes, it was wrong to demean and degrade African Americans, that's true no matter what. But the people who wag their fingers and denigrate white Southerners never lived there and had no clue about their history. I'm not an apologist for white Southerners by any means, but I think as Atticus pointed out in To Kill a Mockingbird, you don't understand a man until you've walked in his shoes, and I think this is partly what Harper Lee was referring too.