“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.” – Harper Lee, Go Set A Watchman.
Atticus Finch’s status in my fiction scope is high up there. In a collage of impressionable characters and memorable villains, this man peers through always. In a number of ways, Atticus is the epitome of the moral man in an immoral world. He wasn’t wired to be the altruistic Dudley in the tradition of the good-triumphing-over-evil trope, he became it. If villainy was a tribe Atticus was the lost sheep, too far strayed to find his way back to a home white-washed by segregation and deeply steeped in bigotry and prejudice. In Finch’s forays, he had discovered a fundamental truth that made aligning with the prevalent tribal consensus impossible. With his foibles and struggles and insecurities, as all men are so marred, he stood to bat for the other side in the name of good conscience.
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
― Harper Lee, .
Harper Lee’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird is a story of a closely-knit white family with the lawyer-father Atticus Finch, an iconic defense attorney standing up for a black man in a very heated rape case in Maycomb, a racism-infested deep Southern community in Alabama.
That was To Kill A Mockingbird.
I have to tell you, Go Set A Watchman is not a very likable book.
Go Set a Watchman is a sequel to the American classic To Kill A Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee. The authorship of this sequel is still enshrouded in controversy but linearly the story is a plausible attendant to the one that came before it.
When a classic like Mockingbird is 55 and has traipsed the world in shining glory, leaving us with feathery stalks of goodness to line our hard beds, showing us that we can find recourse in literature, that the concept of art mirroring life even in the unsubstantiated is a good omen for our world; helping us teach our children through literature the values of bridging racial divides and propagating oneness, it has to be held high as a beacon of what is good and noble and just.
Before Go Set A Watchman came, To Kill A Mockingbird was the book that would secure your passage to heaven, I kid you not. After Go Set A Watchman, heaven seemed like a phantasmagoria. Still, To Kill A Mockingbird will remain on my top list of memorable books. I don’t see it being ousted in the forseeable future, Watchman or not!
For a lot of people, that has changed and reasonably so. In what has been considered as the grand volte face of modern literature, Go Set A Watchman is a clever dismantling of everything you think you know about Atticus Finch. In Watchman, Scout now 26 year-old Jean Louis Finch returns to her native hometown only to stumble on a dark, invidious truth about her doting father, that will shatter her world and leave her disenchanted, as it probably did all lovers of this great American story.
As disappointing as the story is, there are several moments of sheer profundities that remind one of the greatness of the prequel, and of the gem of the latter. For me, it’s easier to forgive this betrayal as a philosophical fact. Maybe a tad Machiavellian but hey, such is life. I know we like to act holier-than-thou and don the Pope’s habit at the mention of that name, but every reasonable person knows that in this life there are many hues between black and white.
It’s still art mirroring life.
Personally, some of the things that have shaped my view of the world have been uncomfortable facts. To grow you have to deal with some shitty stuffs. Stories are awesome sounding boards for testing the depth of our convictions. I love this story for the singlular fact that it sets the clangor of my mind click-clacking. This hasn’t changed for Watchman. On this score alone, I count the gems rather than go cold turkey. I could have a thousand words on marble from this 278-page whooper. Here are a few.
“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”
“[T]he time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right”
“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.”
“But a man who has lived by truth—and you have believed in what he has lived—he does not leave you merely wary when he fails you, he leaves you with nothing. I think that is why I’m nearly out of my mind.”
“What does a bigot do when he meets someone who challenges his opinions? He doesn’t give. He stays rigid. Doesn’t even try to listen, just lashes out.”
After I finished this book, I needed to talk to somebody. Unfortunately there was not one person around me who had read the book at the time. I hated everybody for a while. I felt disenchanted, abandoned even like Jean-Louise. But thank God, everything fades eventually.
Just look at me now, all grace and philosophy.
Right now there is a sharply divided opinion over this book . Those against it are up in arms mostly because it tears down this very noble figure, sterling in character, immaculate in propriety – by removing the white cloak of purity and revealing a starkly abhorrent human being. Those for it, know that humanity is sometimes a convoluted thing. Good people do bad things sometimes. And some good people are really bad people. Read and stand on that balance. Where do you stand?