By Sibylle Sehl
The 14th of July saw the publication of the long-awaited “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee; the critically acclaimed predecessor To Kill a Mockingbird, a well-known classic read by school kids and bookworms alike. However, parts of Go Set a Watchman were written by Lee before To Kill a Mockingbird. Before her publisher told her to focus on young Atticus Finch and his children Scout and Jem. She created a story that was as captivating as well as it was liberating. Atticus was defending a young black boy who was accused of rape (which he didn’t commit) and won his freedom, which was a revolution at the time.
Go Set a Watchman is set several years in the future when Scout, now preferring to go by her full name of Jean Louise is visiting her hometown Maycomb. Atticus has grown old and frail, needing help to tie his shoelaces and planning on giving Henry Clinton (Hank), Jean Louise’s childhood friend and lover his law practice. Jean Louise, still the tomboy of her childhood, initially enjoys her time back in Maycomb but soon gets catapulted back into reality. Upon visiting the town hall, she has to witness that her much beloved dad and soon to be husband have developed racist tendencies. Indeed the reader has difficulties coming to terms with the racist remarks brought up by speakers in the town hall but more so by Atticus which one believed to be the saviour and gentleman every man would aspire to be.
But if one overcomes this initial shock, it is a wonderful story of a young independent woman that challenges the views of this American Southern town and finally comes to terms that her dad is by no means ideal and perfect. One gets an idea of why some parts of America still seem to struggle with promoting equality and treating each other equally as recent cases in Ferguson and Baltimore have shown. Personally, I found it empowering to see that as a young woman, Jean Louise is defending her view and love of the people so strongly which also enables her to see her dad as the person he is, merely a father and not the perfect man everyone aspires to be.
Go Set a Watchman is certainly not the literary masterpiece that To Kill the Mockingbird is. Critics have seemed to be disappointed as well as surprised by this sequel. However, it is an interesting account of the current social and economic situation in the US and a beautiful story of a young woman that is finding herself and her ideals. It teaches us that we need to understand racism at the root to be able to effectively combat it and meet people’s fear early to educate and integrate. Hopefully, Lee’s readership will understand Go Set a Watchman as such and not hinder us from losing ourselves in the beautiful book that is To Kill a Mockingbird.