Separate but Equal: Go Set a Watchman

Gregory Peck and Mary Bandham read from the movie script "To Kill a Mockingbird"
 
 Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest,
"TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)-
PECK, GREGORY; BADHAM, MARY," 
 
The critically acclaimed novel To Kill A Mockingbird is beloved by millions and has become a staple of high school and college reading lists. Harper Lee’s book Go Set a Watchman has been published 55 years later. Promoted as a sequel to the beloved and Pulitzer Prize-winning classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman was actually written first, and was assumed lost until it was discovered in 2014.
 
The book is considered a first draft and features many of the same characters some twenty years later. However, there are some key inconsistencies with respect to the plot and characters, and critics have wondered if it truly could be viewed as a sequel or if it should be treated more as a separate story altogether. 
 

In that regard, it’s hard to come to a clear conclusion; the intent was to publish Go Set a Watchman first, but it never saw the light of day--until now. Upon submitting her manuscript, her publisher told Harper Lee to go back to the writing table and rewrite the story from the perspective of a little girl, Jean Louise Finch aka “Scout.” And that’s how To Kill a Mockingbird was born. 
 
Thus the story picks up some twenty years later when Jean Louise returns home to Maycomb, Alabama to visit her father Atticus. It is the mid 1950’s and Jean Louise now lives in New York and Brown V. Board of the Education was recently decided on. The name of the court case is never mentioned directly but was heavily hinted towards. The weakness of the book lies in the long rambling and reminiscing of Jean Louise’s childhood. Only die-hard Mockingbird fans and scholars may enjoy reliving some parts of this aspect. For the rest of us we may wonder what the point of the story is or where it’s ultimately going. 
 
Coming home seems at first a trip down memory lane. But soon Jean Louise finds herself disagreeing with everything she’s come to love and know about herself, the small Alabama town, and ultimately her father Atticus, who has been her guiding compass. 

*** SPOILER ALERT ***
 
Only towards the end of the story does it get really interesting. Jean Louise discovers that the man she’s adored all her life is actually a racist. We’ve been warned about this in the media. Feeling nauseous and angry a distraught Jean Louise confronts the man she’s idolized since Mockingbird. Frettin’ and fumin’, hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn. But Atticus never gets angry with her. Remaining cool as a cucumber his lawyer instincts kick in as he tries to justify his Southern racist beliefs. Atticus explains to her that at his core he’s a Jeffersonian Democrat believing in state’s rights, the concept of separate but equal, and that citizenship is not a right but  earned. The NAACP is continuously trashed, the N-word is peppered liberally throughout the novel, as well Scout agreeing on some perplexing concepts concerning state’s right & Southern blacks as being backward and uneducated. At this point a good cleaning up could have been undertaken in parts of the novel to fine tune the characters a little bit more to further strengthen them like they were in To Kill A Mockingbird. The tipping point is reached when Scout is smacked figuratively and  literally to the ground by her uncle, which leaves her numb with no more fight left in her. 
 
The novel ends on an ambiguous note. While there’s love and perhaps acceptance it is unclear what Scout will ultimately end up doing. How is she going to sort out her feelings towards her father, the town she’s grown up in, and the life that follows for her? 
 
We will ask ourselves the same questions. How are we going to sort out our feelings for this novel and the fact that our beloved Atticus is now a racist. How will schools and scholars treat this latest discovery? So many questions remain and one is left wondering how an intelligent and educated man like Atticus could believe such things. 
 
While ultimately remaining an uneven novel, Go Set a Watchman will haunt you for a long time, making for a great conversation piece. Pair this with any book on Brown V. Board of Education, or better yet the movie Separate but Equal with Sidney Poitier for an expanded discussion about race in American history and education. 
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