Article, tweet and review after review have fixated on the literary world’s disenchantment with Atticus. That daydream of a lawyer. The ideal father. The man who fought for Tom Robinson when the rest of Maycomb would have liked to see him hanged. Along comes Go Set a Watchman, an unexpected sequel to our beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, to dash our perfect portrait of arguably the best character in literature.
And this is exactly what Lee’s “new” novel is about: disillusionment. Specifically, Scout’s disillusionment with Atticus; her epiphany that every person, regardless of their merits, is indeed human. Lee equated this realization with maturity. The following are a few ways to get the most out of Go Set a Watchman.
1. Don’t expect it to be To Kill a Mockingbird
If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, you’re in the majority. It’s nearly perfect, with great characters and a memorable story, packaged in quotable, superb writing. But this second novel is different.
To some, different is a dirty word. When a book becomes a classic, it is almost untouchable. I was both nervous and excited when I heard that we were going to get another book by Lee. I knew that it wouldn’t be To Kill a Mockingbird, and I had to decide whether or not I was ok with that. I almost cancelled my pre-order on Amazon, but they decided to ship it a day earlier than scheduled (smart move, Amazon). I’m glad they did.
While there are some delightful flashbacks to when Jean Louise was still referred to as “Scout” they do not dominate the novel. If you can look at it as a different story with a different purpose, perhaps to teach more than to entertain, you will no doubt find yourself appreciating Go Set a Watchman.
I remember a 9th grader standing up in my class one day and slamming down her copy of The Old Man and the Sea. She was furious with me. “Why in the world would you have us read this?” she shouted. “It’s so depressing!” I took the opportunity to talk with my students about the place less enjoyable stories have in literature. Not all books are about walking away satisfied. Some are about learning hard lessons, stepping into someone else’s world, and becoming uncomfortable for a purpose. To Kill a Mockingbird manages to do all these while remaining endearing and enjoyable. Though I didn’t find Go Set a Watchman as satisfying, I found it equally important.
Continue reading at Englewood Review of Books.