Friday, July 17, 2015


So many things in recent years have increased people's disillusionment.  Taxes - terrorist activity - voter apathy - mandatory health insurance - gridlock in Congress - shootings - the list goes on and on.

And now Atticus is knocked off of his pedestal.

I see now why Harper Lee never published Go Set a Watchman.  She knew it was nowhere near as good as To Kill a Mockingbird.   I now believe, from my own reading of the book, the stories that suggest that new lawyers tricked an elderly lady into publishing this book that she never had any intentions of the public ever seeing.  It will never be Pulitzer Prize material like its predecessor, and it was not worth the $14 I spent to be part of the first wave of readers of this highly-hyped book.

Herman Melville says that to write a mighty book, you have to have a mighty theme.  To Kill a Mockingbird has a mighty theme.  It has many of them - Righting injustice, the evil in the world, the loss of innocence.  And they are carried out in such a masterful way that the reader is left amazed at the lessons he has just learned from a great work of fiction.

It appears the themes in Go Set a Watchman are Jean Louise's righteous anger about treatment of the black people in the south in the 50s, and her discovery and wrestling of what she terms her father's hypocrisy, as well as her discovery that she must stay true to her own conscience.  But in my opinion these are not executed nearly as well as the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird.

First of all, To Kill a Mockingbird pulls in the reader from the very first page.  Go Set a Watchman - I had to make myself finish it.  Even the start of the book shows the harshness of the "new" character of Jean Louise.  And from the beginning, it's difficult to follow.  Jean Louise in one breath acts like she can't stand her beau Henry - then she is calling him pet sweetheart names.  And this continues.  It is confusing.  The endearing nature of Scout - or Jean Louise - is completely gone.  She comes across as angry and difficult.

There are also passages that strike me as gratuitous.  The long passages about the first date to the dance with Henry, and the resulting actions of the principal; the long passage about Jean Louise's coming of age and naivety about her body and her concerns - those do not come across with the natural humor of the "hot steams" and other humorous parts of To Kill a Mockingbird.  They come across as attempts to insert humor that have nothing to do with the actual story.

Furthermore, a great novel does not tell the reader what to think.  It shows him, through the action.  Go Set a Watchman is filled with long passages of Jean Louise arguing: arguing with Henry, arguing with her uncle, Dr. Finch; arguing with Atticus.  And in most of the arguments, she is showing off her extensive vocabulary of unflattering swear words.  The men try to convince her of their position; she refuses to listen but just swears back at them.  This is not a book where the reader follows action by the characters, and then on his own comes to the moral conclusion the author is trying to make.

The greatness of Atticus as portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird does not come through at all.  Jean Louise thinks he is a hypocrite; that is all we see.

This book reads like a first novel that an author writes, reads, decides it's not very good, puts it away, and writes an improved version for her second book.  I suspect that is what happened and why Harper Lee never intended to publish it.  And why her lawyer-sister, while she was living, helped her keep it from the world.  I think that this book diminishes, rather than enhances, the greatness of To Kill a Mockingbird.

1 comment:

Barbara H. said...

That's disappointing. :-( I agree it was probably encouraged by people trying to capitalize on the hype it would get because of who the author is and the fact that she had only published one book til now.