Why You Shouldn’t Be Reading Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a WatchmanA few weeks ago, I found myself in the bookstore (no surprise there) looking at To Set a Watchman in the window display. The new or old novel, depending on who you ask, had so much hype around it that I couldn’t help but notice the bright orange cover. I had to remind myself that I was in the bookstore to buy ONLY books that are on the Rory Gilmore Reading list (as you know the list is quite extensive and it’s getting a bit expensive).

I had found a “few” books when To Set A Watchman caught my eye again. Should I or shouldn’t I? I loved To Kill a Mockingbird , so I can’t miss out on another Harper Lee, right? I was sure that To Set a Watchman would have made it onto the Rory Gilmore Reading List if the series was still running. The poor clerk behind the desk just smiled and waited as I took the book, put it back and finally bought it (with my credit card). I was super excited to see what all the hype was about.

If you haven’t read it, here’s a short synopsis:

Go Set a Watchman is set two decades after To Kill a Mockingbird. The now 26-year-old Jean Louise (Scout) Finch returns to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City to visit her father, Atticus. Scout, however, now realises that a lot has changed and that maybe her father isn’t the man she thought he was. The novel is set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South in the 1950s.

That’s basically what the novel is about. I felt like To Set a Watchman was a political essay. I couldn’t connect with the older Scout or as she now prefers to be called Jean Louise. She seemed so focused on being right that nothing else seemed to matter. The novel focussed on how things or rather people have changed since she last visited her hometown. The title Go Set a Watchman is a reference to a Biblical verse about the moral compass which most of Jean Louise’s family seem to have mislaid.

The much-loved father figure in To Kill a Mockingbird returns in To Set a Watchman but he isn’t the man we remember. Atticus no longer defends innocent young black men but rather has racist views on how black people should be treated and what rights they should be allowed to have. Jean Louise has to deal with the question of whether her family had always been racist or if they had changed over the years?

Jean Louise’s return to Maycomb sees her clashing not only with her father and snobbish Aunt Alexandra but also with her uncle Dr. Finch. Their quarrel towards the end of the novel made me really uncomfortable. The way Dr. Finch spoke to Jean Louise and lashed out at her was quite unsettling.

The only thing that made the novel almost worth the read was flashbacks to Scout’s childhood. These memories are so much like scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird that it’s a shame they couldn’t be included in the original novel.

Go Set a Watchman reminded me that sometimes some things are better left unsaid or in this case unread. Rather reread To Kill a Mockingbird.