Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee – Book Review

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IMG_0342Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Published by William Heinnemann on 14th July 2015

Pages: 278

Format: Hardback

Set twenty years after the events of To Kill A Mockingbird, during the late 1950s, when tensions were rising in the South of America due to the Civil Rights Movement.Jean Louise (Scout) Finch returns to the town of Maycomb in Alabama to visit her family. Jean Louise is shocked to see that attitudes towards people of African-American origin have hardened in reaction to Supreme Court decisions which were dismantling the oppressive system of segregation.

At 26 Jean Louise Finch is no longer a small innocent girl, she has become more independent and open minded. The plot of this book is focused on Jean Louise returning to Maycomb for a short spell before returning to New York. Harper Lee uses Jean’s experience of living in the South and the North to show the divide in America in terms of attitudes towards racial inequality.

Despite now being an adult Jean Louise still prefers to do things her way and continues to have quarrels with her Aunt Alexandra. For example, Jean Louise made the decision to change into more casual clothes before arriving in Maycomb, which annoyed Aunt Alexandra. Aunt Alexandra is a woman who is a traditionalist, who believes women should act lady like to achieve a high social standing. Jean’s Aunt is not only racist but she also is very snobbish towards people she considers below her station. The clashes between Jean Louise and Aunt Alexandra illustrate the fact that the role of women was changing at this moment in time.

Go Set a Watchman is primarily about family and being human. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean essentially gives Atticus a godlike status because he was the lawyer who defended an African-American man accused of rape. In this book we learn that Atticus Finch is a believer in law and is no liberal who sympathizes with the Civil Rights cause. Atticus Finch holds views that his daughter disagrees with, but like every human being Atticus has his flaws. Without giving anything away, this novel tries to tell a story to show that humanity is not perfect but that a strong family unit is important.

I enjoyed reading this book quite a lot because the issues dealt with in this book are still with us today. Racial inequality is still a problem in the USA and Europe, but progress has been made. However, to fully comprehend the message of this book, you need to read To Kill a Mockingbird. To Kill a Mockingbird is also told from the point of view of Jean Louise Finch, but when she was a child. Knowledge about Jean’s childhood helps you to understand the conflicting thoughts she has as an adult. One could say that this book is a companion novel, even though it was written before To Kill a Mockingbird.

This novel is well written with a strong character based story, Harper Lee writes with good prose and style. My only issues with this book is that it is too short. Harper Lee was told by her publisher to write To Kill a Mockingbird and therefore shelved this book. If this novel was fully edited and expanded at the time it was written, it would have rivaled To Kill a Mockingbird. I enjoyed the flashbacks to moments of Jean Louise’s childhood, which feel like the author’s own memories of her childhood growing up in Alabama.

To summarise, this novel was written to challenge attitudes of those who supported Segregation in the Deep South and to make us think again about human values. Moreover, Jean Louise Finch has matured into a free thinking woman who challenges old stereotypes. I also found it thought provoking to find out more about Atticuss Finch as a person, even if his views are seen as backwards in the modern world. However, the real literary merit of this novel was the importance of family and accepting people as humans who can make mistakes.

Rating 4.5/5 Stars


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