Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction (2015), Waterstones Book of the Year Nominee (2015)
Title and Cover:
The original cover shows a railway track under the tree. While the ‘tree’ is the symbol from Lee’s first novel ‘Mockingbird’, the train track’ traces Jean Louise’s journey back home.
The title of the book is a biblical reference to Chapter of Isaiah 21:6, “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, / Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth” and is referred quite a few times in the novel. Literarily, ‘watchman’ symbolizes Jean Louise’s transition as a woman. She is no more the six-year-old whose understanding of the world was more from the perspective of her father but her won watchman.
The novel opens with 26-year-old Jean Louise Flinch returning to her hometown from New York city for a fortnight to visit her aging father Atticus. There she is met by her beau, Henry Miller, who now works for her father. Much has changed in the small town of Maycomb in the past 20 years including the very home she used to live in and the readers are given the glimpses of those changes as Jean Louise remembers her childhood in retrospection. Jem is dead and her Aunt Alexandra has moved in with her now 72-year-old ailing father who is afflicted with arthritis and Uncle Jack has also moved to Maycomb. However, her homecoming turns to be a bittersweet experience as she mistakenly discovers a pamphlet titled “The Black Plague” in her father’s papers and secretly watches the Citizen’s Council meeting from the same balcony from where she and Jem once watched her father defending Tom Robinson 20 years back. After attending the meeting, Jean Louise suffers an extreme emotional crisis finding herself in the middle of nowhere as all idols are shattered hereafter. As she confronts Atticus and Henry, she is shocked to discover the hypocrisy and bigotry in them which leaves her completely disgusted and sick. The coffee hosted by her Aunt for her, further leaves her disillusioned as she feels herself segregated from the local Maycomb society as a whole. Finding herself a complete misfit in the world she once thought her own, she decides to leave.
Set against the political turmoil and civil right tensions, Lee’s ‘Go Set A Watchman’ provides a finer picture to the hypocrisy, bigotry, moral and racial prejudice that prevailed in the Southern society in 1950’s America. Written in third person, ‘Watchman’ presents Jean Louise’s transition as a woman as she tries to grapple the truth of her world and her painful realization of herself and her idols at the end. Her romance with Henry and her inhibition to settle down reflects realism that any woman of her age typically experience. When she finds both Atticus and Henry in the center of the meeting speaking against the NAACP, for the first time she meets Atticus the man and not Atticus the God. Unlike in Mockingbird, where we see Atticus, perfect man and father, the epitome of integrity and racial equality, here we meet Atticus the racist. As he denounces the Supreme Court’s decision about NAACP, he defends himself to his daughter by making statements like: ‘The Negroes down here are still in their childhood…’ and asks her, “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters?” Both Scout and the readers are left completely horrified as this is the same man who once taught her daughter about human equality and justice. What we see in the novel is the growth of Scout as she comes to term with the uncomfortable truths of her own kin. Her flashbacks of her childhood in between the novel provides a contrasting parallel to the disillusionment she suffers and her understanding of the truth at the end. It’s true, what Jean Louise witnesses in the courtroom is too much to take at one go and she is left sick and disgusted until her uncle helps her to understand the true picture. The realization makes her come to term with the truth and she stays at the end.
Published after 55 years from Lee’s first novel, ‘Go Set A Watchman’ can be said ‘a fish out of water’ and there is a lot of controversy surrounding its discovery and publication. Although, Lee claims this to be the first part of Mockingbird, this novel in fact, perfectly surmises as a sequel of her first book as a complete understanding and appreciation of this book not possible without reading ‘Mockingbird’.