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Jean Louise the Silent: My Review of Go Set a Watchman, Part Two

“The time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right.”
–Dr. Jack Finch

Further Character Discussion:

In Watchman there are important characters to the story, a few specific Finch relatives, those who were only briefly included in Mockingbird. This made the story of this literary family of note even more layered and interesting.

Atticus’s sister Alexandra and brother Jack are two important characters in this second story. His sister has been watching over Atticus, as he ages and grows arthritic, freeing Jean Louise from the responsibility.

By the end of Watchman, Jean Louise’s short visit home has resulted in a few battles between the proper southern lady her aunt thinks she should be and the modern woman she sees herself as. They butt heads, more than once, on matters both big and small.

“Her father’s sister came closest to setting Jean Louise’s teeth permanently on edge.”

Her respect in her well read uncle is tested when she looks to him to provide answers to the questions being back home has raised.

“As I sit here and breathe, I never thought the good God would let me live to see someone walk into the middle of a revolution, pull a lugubrious face, and say, what’s the matter?”
–Dr. Jack Finch

Uncle Jack is a doctor, but now devotes his time to being a bachelor, who loves his cat and Victorian literature. Jean Louise gets along a whole lot better with her uncle than with her aunt, usually anyway.

“Uncle Jack was one of the abiding pleasures of Maycomb.”

While one may not always understand the older generations attitudes or behaviours, they provide vital information and context for those returning characters we all know and love.

The absence of Jem (rest in peace) is made more tolerable with the new character of Henry, a youth who grew up across the street from Scout and her family from soon after the TKAM story came to an end. He is a friend of the Finch children as teenagers, a possible love interest for Jean Louise, and someone Atticus can take under his wing to possibly take over the law practise one day.

“She was easy to look at and easy to be with most of the time, but she was in no sense of the word an easy person. she was afflicted with a restlessness of spirit he could not guess at, but he knew she was the one for him. He would protect her; he would marry her.”

Will Henry and Jean Louise live happily ever after?

“Love whom you will but marry your own kind was a dictum amounting to instinct within her.”

She is stubborn and undecided

“She was almost in love with him. No, that’s impossible: either you are or you aren’t. Love’s the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There are different kinds of love, certainly, but it’s a you-do or you-don’t proposition with them all.”

On the other hand, when it comes to returning characters, Go Set a Watchman does not bring back someone such as Cal (the wise old African-American housekeeper from To Kill a Mockingbird) without this story taking on a whole new level of seriousness.

“Calpurnia, the Finches’ old cook, had run off the place and not come back when she learned of Jem’s death.”

Things have changed in Alabama, in the south, and in the country in twenty years and not all relationships have necessarily survived the evolution in the intervening years in tact.

“She loved us, I swear she loved us. She sat there in front of me and she didn’t see me, she saw white folks. She raised me and she doesn’t care.
It was not always like this, I swear it wasn’t. People used to trust each other for some reason, I’ve forgotten why they didn’t watch each other like hawks then.”
–Jean Louise Finch

Jean Louise is grown now, a lady, but she is unable to be the good southern lady that she could so easily have become.

It was during a scene where Alexandra has organized a gathering of Jean Louise’s “friends” and acquaintances, a group of good Christian ladies for Jean Louise to socialize with while she is visiting, where I first was given the idea for the title of this review. This scene very closely mirrors one from To Kill a Mockingbird and Jean Louise feels just as awkward and out-of-place now as young Scout did back then, expected to grow up into the perfect MAGPIE.

Jean Louise sees these women as MAGPIES and finds nothing whatsoever in common with them and their inane chatter. She becomes shy and withdrawn, distracted and unable to relate to any of her contemporaries, her equals as they might be known by some.

She sits silently, in a corner of this circle of ladies, but she can not just sit silently by, while the men of Maycomb go to their meetings and have their say on the way the world has worked or will work. Things were all cordial for everyone, just as long as the races knew their places. This begins to change, but there is a fight to come as it does.

She must make a choice: soon, sooner than she thought, now.

“I thought I was a Christian but I’m not. I’m something else and I don’t know what. Everything I have ever taken for right and wrong these people have taught me-these same, these very people. So it’s me , it’s not them. Something has happened to me.
They are all trying to tell me in some weird, echoing way that it’s all on account of the Negroes…but it’s no more the Negroes than I can fly and God knows, I might fly out the window any time now.”

***

“Had she been able to think, Jean Louise might have prevented events to come by considering the day’s occurrences in terms of a recurring story as old as time: the chapter which concerned her began two hundred years ago and was played out in a proud society the bloodiest war and harshest peace in modern history could not destroy, returning to be played out again on private ground in the twilight of a civilization no wars and no peace could save.
Had she insight, could she have pierced the barriers of her highly selective, insular world, she may have discovered that all her life she had been with a visual defect which had gone unnoticed and neglected by herself and by those closest to her: she was born color blind.”

All character discussion thus far leads up to the bigger question – the big question really, for so many readers who’ve claimed To Kill a Mockingbird as their own moral compass over the last fifty-five years.

“She crossed the room again to straighten the stack of books on his lamp table, and was doing so when a pamphlet the size of a business envelope caught her eye.
On its cover was a drawing of an anthropophagous Negro; above the drawing was printed The Black Plague.”

There is one main reason so many people did not want to read Go Set a Watchman or regretted it when they did.

Both Atticus and Henry are members of The Maycomb Citizens Counsel. Jean Louise discovers this and she takes her place, that familiar place, up in the balcony of the courthouse where, as kids, her and Jem watched from above, as her father defended Tom Robinson.

“He walked out of the courtroom in the middle of the day, walked home, and took a steaming bath. He never counted what it cost him; he never looked back. He never knew two pairs of eyes like his own were watching him from the balcony.”

Now she is here again, looking down on white trash and respectable Maycomb men gathered together, discussing the preservation of segregation and of southern values.

“The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, he is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman, had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.”

Would this newly revealed piece of the puzzle taint the beloved hero status Atticus Finch has held for so many, for so long, like it did poor Jean Louise?

Do these things change the man Atticus was, as a father and a man, in Jean Louise’s eyes.

“She knew little of the affairs of men, but she knew that her father’s presence at the table with a man who spewed such filth from his mouth-did that make it less filthy? No. It condoned. She felt sick.”

Whether Harper Lee completely meant to show Watchman off to readers or keep it hidden and buried – would this bring an end to the love and admiration?

I saw, just the other day, a Hollywood actress named her son Atticus. Others who had done the same seemed to regret choosing the name in the first place, as rumours of Watchman’s Atticus began to surface. Was he the same Atticus they knew and loved? Was he the complete opposite, a cold, bigoted, racist old man?

“Her nausea returned with redoubled violence when she remembered the scene in the courthouse, but she had nothing left to part with. If you had only spat in my face…It could be, might be, still was a horrible mistake. Her mind refused to register what her eyes and ears told it.”

Like the drunken and abusive liar of a man who spat in Atticus’s face all those years earlier.

***

I admit this was my main curiosity for going ahead and reading Watchman. I guess these rumours did help spread word and drum up publicity for the July 15th release.

After all, it’s all about sales and hype and even controversy.

Not for me.

For me, it’s all about the writing. It’s about relatable characters and the way in which they interact with one another.

It’s about the story.

“The novel must tell a story,” as Uncle Jack says vaguely to Jean Louise. That’s all Watchman must needs do, no matter what some readers may think or feel, which ever story came before, after, or during.

To be clear, I do not think of GSAW as a sequel, in any of the ways we all know a sequel to be. True, it takes place twenty years after Mockingbird and yes, it is being released more than fifty years after Mockingbird, but it was written a few years before. The timeline may feel dizzying as it is laid out, but it makes for an interesting study of Lee’s writing.

Lee’s publisher wanted more of the flashbacks, with the children, and less of what Watchman would have been back then. But it feels meant to be seen, if not then, then now, and here we are.

I would imagine English literature classes will be discussing and debating the merits and the classification for this book, as compared to Mockingbird, for years to come.

Literary scholars will do the same.

As someone who loves literature, I wanted to read Watchman because it is Harper Lee’s contribution, no matter how we ended up with it or what it might say about the American south in the 1950s.

I don’t know the ins and outs of the publishing world. I don’t know what it takes to bring a novel to fruition. I am not aware what the process entails. I would have liked to witness this particular process though, over those five or so years where Go Set a Watchman evolved into the bestseller that To Kill a Mockingbird became.

People like to label things and put them in their proper places. They like things to follow an order and they like to be able to map things out.

You can’t do that here. However the publishers may have marketed GSAW, read it for yourself before making up your own mind.

I am glad this story got to see the light of literary day. My enjoyment of each and every chapter was immense and a little unexpected, after my less than expected love of the classic elements of Mockingbird. As someone who prides herself on loving literature, I was pleasantly surprised that I took to Watchman as entirely as I did throughout.

Harper Lee dedicates Go Set a Watchman to her father (Mr. Lee) and sister )Alice.

Is her beloved character of Atticus (whom she said was based on her father) tarnished in the reader’s eyes forever? What might this mean about the kind of man Mr. Lee was?

What would Alice have to say about this book’s release, if she were still alive?

These questions aren’t ones I can answer here, in my little old Watchman review, but I am sure they will both be debated in the future, as a little time and distance offers perspective.

“Even his enemies loved him, because Atticus never acknowledged that they were his enemies.”

For my part, this line perfectly sums up what’s truly in his heart and intentions all along. Not sure others will see it that way or be able to let it go at that because he was a man of his time, whether I myself can accept that or not.

As much attention as is put on Atticus’s shoulders, Scout steals the show here. This does not mean the actions of America’s heroic father figure are of no importance. History and humans are rarely ever that simple, even though I wish they were, that I could snap my fingers and make them that way.

Henry tells her, “You’re gonna see change, you’re gonna see Maycomb change its face completely in our lifetime. Your trouble, now, you want to have your cake and eat it: you want to stop the clock, but you can’t. Sooner or later you’ll have to decide whether it’s Maycomb or New York.”
–Henry Clinton

She is stuck between two worlds and the past and future going forward.

“She looked at Maycomb, and her throat tightened. Maycomb was looking back at her.
Go away, the old buildings said. There is no place for you here. You are not wanted. We have secrets.”

Jean Louise can never remain silent, but this also means she can not remain in Maycomb either, or that is what she will end up being, unless she can find some way to make peace with things as they are, even work to make a better, more equal future for everyone. Her and her brother were raised by a white man and a black woman and yet, sadly, life’s rarely so black and white itself.

She has received the most important quality from her father, for good or bad, and that is conviction.

“She did not stand alone, but what stood behind her, the most potent moral force in her life was the love of her father. She never questioned it, never thought about it, never even realized that before she made any decision of importance the reflex, “what would Atticus do? passed through her unconscious; she never realized what made her dig in her feet and stand firm whenever she did was her father; that whatever was decent and of good report in her character was put there by her father.”

She can not remain in Alabama and silent to an ever changing world. This makes her the heroine of this story in my estimation, of her story, which she is finally getting to tell.

For thus hath the Lord said unto me: Go, set a watchman; let him declare what he seeth!
–Isaiah 21:6

***

Wow. I must end my review here, for now, but there is still so much I could say, so many lines from the book that spoke to me and of which I wish I could include here, to prove my points.

But I realize that then this darn thing would end up being several thousand words long. And who knows if anyone’s even made it this far, managed to stick around to the end anyway.

One last piece of Go Set a Watchman wisdom if you’ve read to the end:

“I’m only trying to make you see beyond men’s acts to their motives. A man can appear to be a part of something not-so-good on its face, but don’t take it upon yourself to judge him unless you know his motives as well. A man can be boiling inside, but he knows a mild answer works better than showing his rage. A man can condemn his enemies, but it’s wiser to know them.”

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3 thoughts on “Jean Louise the Silent: My Review of Go Set a Watchman, Part Two

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