Today, I’ve asked Katie to share her thoughts on Harper Lee’s newest book, “Go Set a Watchman” and explain why she’s defending this controversial follow-up to a classic. Enjoy!
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
I will never forget the first time I read “To Kill A Mockingbird.” I was in the 4th grade, which was, looking back, the most formative year of my reading career. I read books that to this day remain some of my favorites – “The Giver”, “Walk Two Moons”, and “The Shadow Spinner.” But most importantly, I was first introduced to my spirit animal – Scout Finch. At the time, I had this quirky habit that ultimately led to me becoming an actress. I would pretend with every molecule of myself that I was the protagonist of whatever story I was in the middle of (even if the character was a boy). So for about a month when I was nine, I lived in Maycomb County, I had a brother named Jem, my father was a lawyer, and I signed every journal entry as “Scout”.
This particular book left a lasting impact on me, more so than any other story I had read as a young girl. I remained Scout in my head long after I finished the final page. Harper Lee’s novel became my favorite book, and has remained as such. I have reread it countless times, I have performed in the stage play (as Mayella Ewell), I have traveled to Monroeville, and it was even the subject my BFA senior project in college. So, as you can imagine, when the news of “Go Set a Watchman” hit the mainstream media, I was more than a little excited. I couldn’t wait to read the rest of the story. In this installment, Scout was 26 (and being a 24 year old, this absolutely thrilled me). Before I could even get a copy though, I was inundated with negative opinions (“What is this!! Atticus is a racist!! MY WHOLE LIFE IS A LIE!!!”). Now, having read it, I can honestly say that I believe it is an incredibly important part of the story.
In defense of “Go Set a Watchman”:
Jean Louise is the protagonist of this story. Before we start getting our collective panties in a wad about Atticus losing his integrity, let us not forget who the hero of the story is and always has been. Scout. This is her story. This is her coming of age. This is her loss of innocence. This is HER moment. Throughout the entire narrative she has maintained her truth and defended what is important to her. That is an amazing thing!! One of the reasons I loved TKAM so much as a nine year old is because I could relate so much to Scout’s journey when she also was a nine year old. But now I’m 24. The world is completely different. The same things that I stressed and worried about as a child are not the same as the things that keep me up at night now, but it is so comforting to read this book from a strong woman’s point of view. She is still a major role model to me without having to look up to a nine year old.
It teaches a lesson we all must learn in our twenties. Which is that coming home after being away for a while is hard. Whatever you consider “home” is not a golden, safe haven where your problems disappear. Your parents don’t always have the answers. Your responsibilities are still there, waiting for you to attend to them. I believe that everyone has that moment where they realize that their childhood home and the people that shaped them are not actually as idealized as we make them out to be in our heads. It’s what we do with this new information that makes us who we are.
Atticus has always been a little bit racist. Maybe I have a skewed perception due to that time I delved so deeply into the psyche of Mayella Ewell that I will always hate Atticus just a little bit (I got something to say and then I AIN’T GONNA SAY NO MORE). Of course, he’s very polite about it in TKAM, but it’s there. He even jokes about relating intensely to a white supremacist senator who was involved with the klan. It is Scout, not Atticus, who ever pushes against racial or class distinctions. Is Atticus a villain? Absolutely not! He’s a product of his time and place. We as readers viewed him through the rose-tinted glasses that Scout herself was wearing, and as she matured, so did we. His flaws were brought to light, and yet Scout was able to transcend that.
While “To Kill a Mockingbird” will remain my favorite book, my favorite college experience, and the subject of the best paper I have ever written, I truly believe that this book is an incredibly important part of Scout’s story. She is the hero, which makes me even more proud to have named the protagonist of MY story Harper Jean, a direct allusion to TKAM. While I understand that sometimes it hurts deeply to see someone we have idealized for decades become someone we can no longer trust, let us not forget that the protagonist’s integrity and kindness has remained 100% intact. I will be forever indebted to Scout Finch for teaching me the wisest lesson of them all…
“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”