“Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee

As soon as the book starts it becomes very clear to the audience that there is a huge difference between Jean Louise’s life in New York City and her former life in Maycomb. Lee demonstrates this especially when describing the reasons why Jean Louise won’t marry Hank, it is because she doesn’t want to have the “white picket fence” life in Maycomb. Soon after Hank and Jean Louise make it back to the the Finch household, we start to see the difference between the “To Kill a Mockingbird” Atticus and the “Go Set a Watchman” Atticus. The novel is notorious for featuring a different, less likable side of Atticus. There are small examples of this in the first few chapters. For example, Aunt Alexandra tells Jean Louise about the very tragic loss of one of their relatives, but Atticus provides his own narrative. Atticus goes on to state that relative died from his own foolishness. This moment is the first of many where “Go Set a Watchman” Atticus defies his original character in “To Kill a Mockingbird. One thing that does remain constant in both books is Aunt Alexandra. No matter which book you pick up, it seems her not so charming personality is always present. Pheraps, Lee did this on purpose, to show that there no matter what, there will be a person whose need for family dignity shines through. 

Though Atticus seems to have taken a drastic change in his personality, some of his most common traits still appear throughout the first quarter of the novel. Much of the book is not only about Jean Louise coming home, but also her remembering various memories from her childhood. One of her first memories is when she is describing when Jem tried to “baptize” her in a local pond. Soon they are caught and sent home where they are faced by a preacher. Jean Louise feared that Atticus would be mad, but instead he was filled with laughter. Though Atticus seems like a rough character in the beginning, we soon see that he has more than that one dimension. It could be that as Atticus grew older he became more cynical and only sees the worse in people and their actions.

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9 responses to ““Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee

  1. jefferysun1234

    Before I begin I would just like to point out that Go Set a Watchman is Harper Lees early draft of TKAM.

    In response to Michael’s post about characters I also feel like that the characters in this story are extremely different. Excluding Aunt Alexandra. Jean Louise has transferred a nice transition between Scout and Jean Louise. Atticus is also extremely different. Atticus know has arthritis and his personality has changed. Instead of the loving father figure introduced in TKAM the reader is presented with a much different racist character. Theses changes seem realistic to me. In the instance of Scout to Jean Louise it is all from puberty and growing up. Atticus’s change is much less believable. It is true that a person’s ideals can change with age. But, I just don’t see how a person can go from a extreme high to an extreme low. Especially with the Atticus we know from TKAM.

    Atticus’s change is also seen in a discussion with Jean Louise about the Brown vs Board of Education ruling. He says that the newspapers “made hay” of the race issues seen. This means that he believes that the newspapers have exaggerated the race problem. This shows a new side to Atticus. A side where he believes the race problem is not really big.

    From what I have read so far Race will become a huge theme throughout this book and will be the center of many conflicts. First and foremost the racist change to Atticus but also with Hank. Hank is a character who Jean Louise has a complicated relationship with. They like each other but Jean Louise isn’t ready for a relationship. When telling her about a date later he says tells her to dress like a typical southern lady. I see this as a symbol of a man who loves the south and is fine with the way it is. He sees the racism and is fine with it.

    I really like where the plot is going. I think that the author has a lot to right about for the plot to develop. The author has lots of room to create conflict and I can’t wait to see whats next.

    • Michael Murray

      As the book continues on into chapter six, Lee goes into more detail about the social norms that exist in Maycomb during this time period. A prominent example of this is when Aunt Alexandra confronts Jean Louise about swimming with Hank the previous night. Atticus clarifies the situation by stating that they were both clothed, but Aunt Alexandra says that there is no difference to the people of Maycomb. This shows the different standards and beliefs that are held in Maycomb compared to other, more progressive, societies. This continues the tension between the New York Jean Louise and the Maycomb Jean Louise. Since the beginning of the book, the audience has seen these two societies that Jean Louise belongs to, fight one another with their conflicting ideals. Later on during a church service, the congregation is astounded when their slow hymns are substituted with a faster tempo. The music directors says that it was a man from New Jersey, this angers many people in the audience especially Uncle Jack. This is a broad metaphor about the northern and southern cultures clashing. The assumption could be made that Jean Louise will eventually have to make a decision on which community she wants to remain a part of.

      Along with the choice about communities, the issue of race also plays a crucial part in the next few chapters of the novel. Jean Louise had always believed that her father was an ethical man who was perfect in every aspect. She was aware of the racism that existed across the country, especially in Maycomb. Jean Louise did not think this type of hate existed within her own father, but she is soon proven wrong. After finding a pamphlet promoting racial superiority, Jean Louise cannot believe that it belongs with her father. She is even more dumbfounded when she witnesses her father at a white supremacists meeting. Jean Louise is of course angry and distraught, but possibly for more reasons than suspected. She makes sure mention that her father is sitting with men he used to despise, but yet is now “best buddies” with. Perhaps what bothers Jean Louise is not only the deeply rooted racism, but also the idea that her father does not stick with his previously held beliefs and ideals. One of the many criticism of the first book, To Kill a Mockingbird, was that Atticus merely compromised with the racist thoughts of Maycomb. As the novel continues it could be possible that the audience sees more light put on Atticus’s conflicting ideals.

      • jefferysun1234

        As the book begins to progress and as we reach about the half-way mark I see a problem. This novel has no real plot as far as I can see. There are few conflicts here and their but none of these tie together to created one solid plot. I agree with what Michael has to say about the conflicts Jean Louise faces between the north and the south. The tensions between the north and the south were high and I think her being in Maycomb and being exposed to what people of the south believe could really influence her.
        This is the part of the book that starts to really clash with TKAM. It turns out that Atticus likes to go to these white supremacy meetings and has become best buds with the people there and also supports the ideas presented. When I look back to TKAM and see Atticus’s interactions about racism, it doesn’t shock me as much as it did in the beginning. In TKAM Atticus never actually specifically states he thinks racism is wrong. In TKAM he does all the things such as defending Tom Robinson because he is a nice person. He is still a nice person as shown when he helps Jean Louise out by showing Aunt Alexandra that their clothes were on during their swim.
        This section of the book really introduces the idea of change in Jean Louise’s life. This is the time when we learn that Atticus is part of a white supremacy group. A change from what she knows her dad as, a kind helpful man opposed to racism. She has to go through the descision whether she picks to stay in the south and accept their ideas or go to the north and take their ideals. A topic dropped in this part of the book and briefly mentioned is her relationship with Hank. Who is supposedly part of the same group that Atticus is in. This is a big change for her as a man she sorta loves is also not what she would accept. I would like to see how the Jean Louise resolves these conflicts with changing.

  2. Michael Murray

    Chapter eleven opens with a flashback to Jean Louise’s childhood. Another big difference between “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Go Set A Watchman” is Lee’s use of flashbacks rather than actually having the story take place years earlier. Lee uses the flashbacks almost as if they are mini lessons that help the reader to develop their understanding of the book’s plot. So far the book has spent a lot of the time describing Jean Louise coming to terms with her childhood and seeing it in the present rather than remembering it. In the flashback in Chapter eleven, Jean Louise remembers when a boy kissed her in sixth grade and she was convinced by other girls that kissing causes pregnancy. Jean Louise, believing she was pregnant, planned to kill herself the day she was to have the child. Hank of course stops her and Jean Louise is then given proper sex education from Calpurnia. This story demonstrates how rumors and misinformation can lead to very severe consequences. Not only that, the story also shows the audience the deep conservative roots that lie in Maycomb. Jean Louise was willing to kill herself because of the fact she was pregnant before being married. It goes to show that Maycomb has taught their children that women are pure and must remain that way.
    In the past chapters, Jean Louise had suspected her father’s racist thoughts, but yet was reluctant to believe was capable of such evil. Atticus’s racism is bluntly shown in Chapter 12. Of course Jean Louise begins to dislike her father and loses the respect she once had for him. What is most important in this chapter is Jean Louise’s interaction with Calpurnia. Jean Louise discovers that race has played a defining role in how she is perceived in the town. It’s not that race separates people, that’s been established, what’s important is that Jean Louise finally realizes that she herself has been defined by her race. She starts to notice that racism also affects the way she is treated, especially by Calpurnia.

  3. jefferysun1234

    First off I would like to say I’m sorry that this is late. I didn’t post this response before the winter vacation where I was unable to use wifi so as I have just gotten back home I am posting this.

    There has always been this discussion about how To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus was just so perfect. But in chapter 11 we see an event that Atticus is no help in and is very imperfect. When Jean Louise starts to have menstrual cramps it is one of the first times where Atticus’s ability as a father is insufficient and he sends her to Calpurnia. We can also see how puberty had changed her relationship with Calpurnia. She needed Calpurnia to give her advice on the change that she was experiencing.

    I would also like to address how Harper Lee’s writers craft. I found a quote that has a really good use of language. “On any other day she would have stood barefoot on the wet grass listening to the mockingbirds’ early service; she would have pondered over the meaningless of silent, austere beauty renewing itself with every sunrise and going unfazed at by half the world. She would have walked beneath yellow-ringed pines rising to a brilliant eastern sky, and her senses would have succumbed to the joy of the morning.” (Lee 142). I think we can both agree that the tone and writing style Harper Lee wrote this book in is pretty different from that of TKAM. But, in this quote we can see flashes of her writing from TKAM.

    Harper Lee’s use of sentence fragments is also very intriguing to me. In pages 168 and 169 Lee puts together many different fragments to complete one idea. Here is one example, “John Says…Calvin says it’s the… kidneys, but Allen took me off fried things..when I caught in the zipper I like to have never… wonder what on earth makes her think she can get away with it…poor thing, if I were in her place I’d take…shook treatment, that’s what she had.” (Lee 169). I wasn’t able to understand really what she was trying to say her. All I got was a women with kidney problems who didn’t eat fried things. Obviously there could have been many other ways Harper Lee could convey this message to the reader and I find it interesting that she uses the method of putting together sentence fragments.

    • Michael Murray

      The deep rooted racism in Maycomb becomes evidently clear as Chapter 13 starts. The Chapter starts with Jean Louise be scolded for visiting Calpurnia, a black woman. Alexandra goes on to discuss how the NAACP has hurt the “civilizing” of African American. This is completely and utterly disgusting. These outright racist beliefs force Jean Louise to truly ponder how she never noticed the racism before. Chapter 13 in my opinion is the climax because the racism becomes clear to Jean Louise. The entire book has covered Jean Louise returning home and noticing the difference between the truth and her memory. At this point in Chapter 13, she is finally understanding that her father, Henry, Alexandra, and Maycomb used to be pieces of her that she cherished, but no she’s them for who they truly are.
      Harper Lee shows that in our childhood we often only remember the events and the people of our childhood that were positive. Jean Louise acts as if the entire town all of the sudden became racist, but rather they have been, but she never noticed. Harper Lee also speaks to the idea that environments play a decisive role in our ideals and beliefs. Jean Louise was able to see racism only after returning from New York. Her Northern views from New York clash with her Southern views from Maycomb. Lee uses Uncle Jack’s conversation with her in Chapter 14 to provide more context. Jack’s references to the Civil War relate to the own war that Jean Louise is having over whether or not she is Northern or Southern, New York or Maycomb.
      The ugly truth of Maycomb is constantly throughout the book juxtaposed with Jean Louise’s fond memories of life when she was young. Lee’s use of having the racism of Maycomb in one chapter and then the good memories of Maycomb in the next, creates a type of tug a war situation. It makes the reader feel as conflicted as Jean Louise does. The constant reminder of the racism, and then the subtle reminder of the beauty in Maycomb too.

  4. jefferysun1234

    The ending of the book is very powerful and the message that Harper Lee conveys at the end is also very powerful. At the very end of the novel, as Michael stated, the Maycomb that she remembers is gone. Something that really heightens that belief is Jean Louise’s flashback to her very first dance. The dance is a moment that she shared with some of the most important people in her life. Calpurnia helps her prepare, Uncle Jack teacher her how to dance, Atticus helps her stay out of trouble, Hank saves her from embarrassment and Jem makes sure she has plenty of dancing partners. A time when she felt unlimited security with these five people. Now Jem is dead, Calpurnia doesn’t really talk to her, Uncle Jack isn’t helpful and Atticus and Hank are a lot different than they used to be. The way Harper Lee juxtaposes these two images really shows how though she has come home to Maycomb, it doesn’t feel like home to her anymore.

    The book eventually come full circle when Jean Louise begins to accept other people’s beliefs. She states, “I guess it’s like an airplane: they’re the drag and were the thrust, together we make the think fly” (Lee 277). In this quote it really demonstrates how she has learned to accept others peoples ideas even if she doesn’t really fully agree with them. This also I solves the main conflict, which is Jean Louise’s problem with how the town is kinda different now.

    There is a concept that I would really like to go deeper in and Michael also slightly addressed it. It is also fairly prevalent in the book. It’s how the privilege that people have is invisible to them. Jean Louise mentions that you don’t really have to do things people believe in to be accepted from them. This really shows how much privilege she actually has. Hank points out that coming from a more respected family can do more things and has wider degree of things that she can do. Hank came from a less respected family and had to earn his way up the social ladder the hard way. I have mentioned before that the main conflict of this book is the difference in maycomb when she comes home. But as Michael has said it has always been like that, she has just been to blind to see it. Just like she is to blind to see her own privilege. I believe that this conflict is actually due to the fact of her being so privileged and not seeing what it was like before. Not really from the fact that she moved and came back. I would also like to mention that the conversation with Hank does not really mention White Privilege, but the books theme with racism really extends the connection to White Privilege in a very subtle way.

    Overall I really enjoyed reading this book even though there really wasn’t a good solid plot. People think its bad because it was the sequel to TKAM which is an iconic book. There was so much hype and it kind of disappointing. If you remove that Go Set a Watchman was a great book.

  5. Michael Murray

    “Go Set a Watchman” By: Harper Lee 6/10 Stars

    “Go Set a Watchman” did a terrible job living up to the expectations and greatness of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. The story follows Jean Louise Finch who is returning home to Maycomb, Alabama. Jean Louise previously was living in New York, but travels home to meet with her ailing father. During her trip, Jean Louise reunites with one of her closest childhood friends, Hank, who she has had on again, off again feelings for ever since they were young.
    Jean Louise quickly discovers that her childhood town is not as glamorous or perfect as she once thought it was. This is shown when she discovers her father and Hank both attending meetings with groups that believe in and support racial superiority. She is of course shocked and appalled that her father, who she has always believed was a strong advocate of civil rights, would ever do such a thing. As the novel progresses, Jean Louise slowly learns that her father was never perfect, he like everyone else contained flaws.
    I strongly disliked this book. The book started off strong, using great word choice and sentence fluency to provide clear pictures of what was happening. Towards the end, the novel lost all of my respect. Both “Go Set a Watchman” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” are meant to be coming of age novels, where Jean Louise, or Scout, learns a valuable lesson about growing up. In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Scout learns the dangers of assumptions, how to accept others differences, and many more. In “Go Set a Watchman”, Jean Louise learns that is ok to be racist because people aren’t perfect. I would hope you could see the difference between these two. The moral of the story was disappointing, and frankly, just plain disgusting. It is as if Harper Lee is promoting tolerating racism, which is unacceptable. Overall, Lee used amazing writing technique, but the terrible plot and ending outweighed it.

  6. jefferysun1234

    This is my review for the novel “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee.
    Rating: 7.5/10

    “Go Set a Watchman” was a well written book with the same types of writers craft found in it as TkAM. The book at first was very slow moving and there was no clear indication of what the plot or central conflict was. Harper Lee kept dragging on basic introductions of characters even though I had already know who they were. The earlier parts of the story contained flashbacks that did not help develop any characters or create any context at all. It just made the story longer. Nearing the middle and the end the central conflict became very clear and the events of the story started coming full force and there were many major events of the story coming one after another.

    “Go set a Watchman” narrates the homecoming of Jean Louise back to Maycomb. It is there where she reunites with her on and off lover Hank, who is introduced through a series of flashbacks.. But, after a few days Jean Louise starts to realize that this is not the same Maycomb that she remembers from her childhood. When she discovers Hank and Atticus attending congregations of people that are really racist. She is shocked to see this since Atticus was a person that really seemed to advocate for civil rights when she was younger. At the very end of the book after a lecturing from Uncle Jack she decides to stay at Maycomb.

    One of the most interesting attributes of this book was Harper Lee’s use of flashbacks. Though sometimes the flashbacks were highly unnecessary they could be helpful at times. Flashbacks at points can really create a context of what is happening in another situation. The flashbacks also help juxtapose what Jean Louise saw in Maycomb during her teen years and what Jean Louise sees in Maycomb during her adult years.

    The people that would really enjoy this book are really more mature audiences. The use of the N-word is extremely prevalent in this novel and only mature readers should be reading this book. People who are out of the daydream of TKAM should also be reading this book as “Go Set a Watchman” brings the harsh reality of Maycomb out.

    All and all I actually kinda enjoyed this book but this book really gets a bad reputation since it is a sequel to TKAM. People come from TKAM thinking that they will get the same type of happy coming of age story. In TKAM Scout really learns how that people are not what the stories say about them so that you can’y go around making assumptions about them. In “Go Set a a Watchman” Jean Louise learns that everybody’s ideals are different, and the best thing to do is follow your own and just accept everybody else’s. The message of this book is a lot less satisfying than the message from TKAM so that is why people don’t like it.

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