Book review: Go Set a Watchman

Armani Jackson, Managing Editor

When I saw the blue, yellow and white cover arrive in my mail Sunday evening, I was nothing less than skeptical. Preconceived judgements aside, Go Set a Watchman was a semi-delightful look into southern society during the 1950s.

The book had a slow start. It was hard to get into because it’s confusing and unrelated to the first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Go Set a Watchman is a follow-up set 20 years later. Jean Louise Finch, known as Scout, revisited her hometown of Maycomb, Ala., after spending time in New York. Atticus, Jean Louise’s father, is in his 70s with failing health. Her brother Jem is dead and close neighbor/friend Dill is stationed in Italy.

I had a rocky start getting into the plot because of the onslaught of information in the early chapters. I was trying to connect what I knew from TKAM in order to see character development and how Lee was going to end Scout’s story; I was unsuccessful.

Lee wrote this novel first and Lee’s publisher wanted to hold off on printing it, and thus, To Kill a Mockingbird was born. The plot of this so-called “follow up” was completely unchanged from the manuscript. This means that key descriptive details about Maycomb and additional characters are included. That being said, it forced me to work harder than I should have trying to blend the two novels into a harmonious extension. Ultimately, this book can and should be read as a stand alone rather than a sequel.

The plot was rather dull but contained parts of quality substance and humor. Since Maycomb is in Alabama, a part of the population is African American while the other part is Caucasian. In several parts of the book, it mentions how blacks are lower than whites on the social hierarchy and are uneducated. For instance, Calpurnia, the Finch’s cook, had to pretend to be illiterate around house guests when in actuality she had an education.

It was a nice change when something funny took place. This made the serious concept more palatable when hilarious anecdotes were included. The novel tends to provide flashbacks to Jean Louise’s childhood. This incident took place at her high school dance. Jem and his friend, Henry Clinton, who’s also in love with her, took Jean Louise to the dance. She picked a dress that didn’t flatter her like she imagined. To compensate for a pre-puberty body, she decided to use false breasts. During the dance, they didn’t stay in place so later she’s dancing with a false breast in the middle of her chest and another by her left armpit; leading to an awkward conversation with her date. It was relatable in the sense that people are just trying to fit in within the high school dynamic.

It’s hard to say what exactly this book was about. I picked up that Jean Louise learned more about the city she lived in. Now that she’s an adult, she could more fully understand social injustices. But on a deeper level, the novel touches on racial segregation/white supremacy, gender roles and moral standards.

In TKAM, Jean Louise challenged what it meant to be a lady. She would never wear dresses, play dolls or learn household tasks, opting to play in the woods with her brother Jem. This fact didn’t change in this novel. She moved out of Maycomb to New York without getting married. This act was unheard of because women during this time were expected to go to school and then stay latched onto a husband for the rest of eternity. As a result, when Jean Louise came back to visit, the townsfolk viewed her differently.

I was bored for most of the book, making it difficult for me to write an adequate review. However, the novel’s ending was no doubt the best part. Near the end, Atticus and Jean Louise get into a heated fight over moral differences. Atticus is a part of the town’s civilian council and is on a board trying to prevent blacks from voting. Saying this choice infuriated her is an understatement; she almost goes as far as wanting to kill. Her uncle was able to calm her down and help her realize something truly wonderful: she’s now her own person. Until this point, her conscience was blended with her father’s. She never truly thought for herself or made her own moral decisions.

This fight helped her realize that she’s an individual and helped me think about the impact I have on the world. Each person makes choices and never really thinks about them. What coffee will I buy at Starbucks this morning? What should I wear today? Yes, the choice is recognized, but I never really thought about the reasoning behind it. Do I buy a soy caramel latte because I actually want it? Or has someone else conditioned me into buying it subconsciously? The real challenge in this book isn’t the organizational discrepancies or poor character development, but rather it’s the reflection of an individual’s watchman. Ultimately, causing me to discover more about my own morals and level of ethics. The beginning was poorly written, however, the ending made the literary journey worth it.

I give it: 3/5

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Armani Jackson

Book review: Go Set a Watchman

by Armani Jackson time to read: 4 min