This past winter, when I heard Harper Lee’s long lost first novel, Go Set a Watchman, which happens to be the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, was going to be released this summer, I was so excited. But then once the negative reviews started coming in from respected sources, not only was I hesitant to read it, I was saddened by what I read in the reviews. Could Atticus Finch really be a bigot? Surely the man the world grew to love, respect, and perhaps idolize to an extent couldn’t be a prejudice hypocrite. But that’s what the reviews said. The New York Times even had a quote. So, somewhat disheartened, I put the book I preordered back in March on my bookshelf with no intention of picking it up to read. Luckily, my mom did read the book and told me how great it was and that it was worth the read. So I read it, and I’m so glad I did.
Go Set a Watchman finds Scout as adult in her mid-20s in Maycomb during a visit from New York. Now, in the mid-1950s, Maycomb has changed since we, as readers, first visited the small southern town, but so had the country and the world for that matter. The story follows Scout as she reminisces about her childhood and grapples with the changes to the people and places she called home.
I understand the sentiments of this book’s critics. Is it quite as polished as To Kill a Mockingbird? Probably not. Does that take away from the story? Definitely not. And yes, what stunned and disheartened many when they read Go Set a Watchman is true. Atticus Finch is not painted as the same even-minded man we met in To Kill a Mockingbird. But to the critics and the disheartened fans, I say this. The world was introduced to Atticus Finch through the eyes of a young girl, who idolized her father like many young children do. We saw that man. The man Gregory Peck so eloquently gave a face and a voice that many will always have ingrained in their memory. However, people are rarely the idols we imagine in our minds as children, nor are they the devil we paint them to be after witnessing their actions as adults. For over 60 years, we’ve known Atticus Finch through the eyes of a child, and as we read Go Set a Watchman, we have to understand that we are meeting him 20 years later through the eyes of an independent, young adult.
The rose colored glasses and blinders come off. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a fact of life.