Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: Finding the Child

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Both To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman deal with some serious issues. I suspect there will be discussions around racism, feminism, and even familial abuse–Uncle Jack pushed Scout’s face into an ant bed in Mockingbird and slapped her in Watchman. Will there not be now, from our lofty throne of 2015 where we know what is right, just, and acceptable for EVERYBODY, an outcry?

Let the debates rage on, but don’t let them keep you from finding the Child and the Humor in Watchman

Go Set a Watchman was written first. In a time when Harper Lee, like many of us, was grappling with the culture that had nourished her, the South she loved and the people she loved. People she loved and trusted were behaving in foreign ways. Scout’s father attending white city council meetings to deal with the NAACP and Calpurnia, the woman who had raised her, turning distant and formal. The reclusive Harper Lee has not revealed her reasons for setting her Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill a Mockingbird two decades before Go Set a Watchman.

Harper Lee unlike many women who have never married or had children had an uncanny ability to capture childhood, at least a childhood where children ran free, created their own games, and discovered the world by doing–a sharp contrast to heads bent over electronic pads like the one I am using right now.  Perhaps, after writing and reading her Watchman, she recognized that the flashback scenes to Jean Louise ‘Scout’s’ childhood, the innocence, the lessons, the relationships, father/daughter, brother/sister, housekeeper/children, adult/children, extended family and friendships were the window she needed to explore her own conscience, her own watchman.

One thing I fear is that people will get to discussing these two books, honing in on the serious issues, examine them to death and overlook Harper Lee’s keen sense of HUMOR, her understanding of growing up. If you read Watchman and do not laugh out loud at least once, you will miss some of the most appealing aspects of this book.

Who cannot laugh when Jem, Scout, and Dill decide to play Summer Revival complete with a naked Scout being baptized in Aunt Rachel’s fishpond, only to have Atticus show up with the visiting evangelist for dinner; Or, when Scout, filled with misinformation and misinterpretation of information goes through nine months thinking she is going to wake up with a baby next to her after a kiss; Or, when her falsies end up on a patriotic sign at school:

“Following Mr. Tuffett’s finger, Jean Louise looked at the billboard. She read, IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTR . Blocking out the last letter and fluttering softly in the morning breeze were her falsies.”  Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee, 2015

Both To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman remind me that children are watching, they are listening and they are learning from each other and the adults in their lives. They don’t always get it…they misinterpret…but they learn. Even when they play, especially the imaginative play of these books, they are learning how to live in this world, they are learning how to become adults. As a Christian adult part of my responsibility is to represent the love, acceptance and humor that will help them grow up responsible, able to think for themselves, and be examples to the next generation.

Harper Lee takes us inside the Scout’s very being both as a child and as an adult, but she does it best with the child. She makes it clear, I may laugh  with children, I may laugh at the exploits of children, but I need to mindful to never laugh at the child, for as William Wordsworth put it:    “the child is father (mother) of the man (woman)”  [paraphrase mine.]

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2 thoughts on “Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: Finding the Child

  1. paperandwhisk

    So glad to see that there are people able to see beyond headlines of ‘Atticus’ downfall’. Such a beautiful book, regardless of whether or not it is a draft – which I believe is a strong example of Harper Lee’s talent. The emotions you follow through with Scout in this book are so strong, you laugh through all of her childhood confusions, you get angry at her fury towards her father and her town, but at the end you are left so emotional with the fight between Scout and Atticus and right when you’re left with a horrible pit in your stomach, they come together in such a beautiful way. Unfortunately, those with outcry to Atticus clearly haven’t read past the first few chapters, as Uncle Jack explains, Atticus was never a man against racism, he was a man who believed in the law and justice going to those responsible, we all just chose to read To Kill a Mockingbird in a way in which Atticus was the hero against racism.

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    1. ckisler Post author

      Thanks for reading the blog. We live in a world so quick to judge and label even while some who are doing the labeling and judging shout “do not judge”. The raw emotions of Watchman reminded me of my own about the same time in history especially as I argued with my mother, my grandparents, and even friends. Like Scout I was cutting the cord that bound me in mind, soul, and body to the opinions, beliefs of others, especially people I loved. It was painful at times. The times they were achanging and I was unwilling to concede any ground even if time proved me wrong…which in some cases it has.

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