Although I believed To Kill A Mockingbird to be an outstanding book, I didn’t have any burning desire to read Go Set A Watchman when I heard it was to be published. I’ll admit it was the controversy surrounding the release of the book that piqued my curiousity enough to get my hands on the audio book. I wanted to see for myself how this supposed first draft held up to Harper Lee’s masterpiece.
* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Twenty-six year-old Jean-Louise Finch returns to her home town of Maycomb, Alabama to visit her elderly father, Atticus, her aunt and Henry Clinton, her friend and long-time beau. During her visit, Jean-Louise is startled to discover the immense racial tension and division in the town as the result of changing social attitudes following a landmark Supreme Court decision. But her perception of home and the people Jean-Louise loves is completely shattered upon finding out her father and Henry are members of a citizen’s council that supports segregation. When Jean-Louise confronts Atticus, she is shocked when he doesn’t deny rejecting civil rights for negroes.
I was reading Gone With the Wind at the time, so I already had the south in my head when I listened to the audio book for GSAW. I really enjoyed how Jean-Louise described life in Maycomb, all the idiosyncrasies and charm of the people she knew, and the funny memories that surfaced of being “Scout Finch” as she walked the streets of her childhood. Reese Witherspoon was the perfect performer to make the characters come to life, and convey all of the drama and humour in the story.
The events leading up to the book’s ending are emotionally tumultuous for Jean-Louise, but everything is wrapped up so quickly and neatly. It left me feeling jilted and unsatisfied.
As an independent book, I thought GSAW was a fairly decent story about a young woman who comes to realize that some of the ideals she depended on are not what she thought them to be; in particular, the shining light she reserved for her father, Atticus. Racial issues propel the storyline, but at the heart of it, GSAW depicts Jean-Louise’s struggle with her own naiveté.
However, the differences between GSAW and TKAM are glaring, so I now understand the outrage concerning the new book. Currently, GSAW has sold millions of copies and remains the number one book in North America. This may be good for the publishers, but I question how Harper Lee’s legacy and the integrity of TKAM can survive the publication of this book.