In Defense of “Go Set a Watchman”

*Beware: Spoilers Ahead


From everything I had garnered from the Internet, I had expected to hate Harper Lee’s new (old?) book of dubious origins and further dubious character actions.

So sure, I went in with low expectations of the book. I really enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, perhaps not with the same reverence that others that have grown up with it had, but with immense respect for a book that I hadn’t picked up until two years ago. And yes, I knew beforehand the big bad secret, Atticus is a racist, so I was expecting that, and perhaps didn’t have the same level of shock that my predecessors had to endure. “Our beloved Saint Atticus is an [explitive] racist? Well, that was honestly the last thing I could have possibly expected…”

But in the end, I surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying this book.

This book was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, after some sound advice from a publisher to make the book focus on the childhood of Miss Jean Louise Finch, rather than on her adulthood. This is essentially a first draft of the novel which is considered to be one of the greatest books in American history. So yes, the writing is a little rough around the edges in some areas, but whose first draft isn’t?

This is a book about disillusionment. About the fall of idols, about the return home and the changes that have occurred in your once-idyll. It is about accepting changes of the things you love most, and accepting that everyone is imperfect and human.

And I frickin’ loved that.

To Kill a Mockingbird is so optimistic about the human spirit. But it was told from the point of a six-year-old. Of course your parent is a God when you are six. Everyone’s is. It isn’t until you grow up and opinions are diverged and faults become prominent that these God-like figures begin to topple.

Scout is now 26 and referred to by her proper name, Jean Louise, but she is still just as reverent of her father as ever. Which isn’t bad. I think that all of America was just as reverent of Atticus.

This is a book about life. About the imperfections of life. Some found Atticus’s paranoid racism awful (“Why did Harper Lee do that?”) but in the end, you just have to accept that he is human. I am not saying that his beliefs are correct by any means. However, as a species, we have a tendency to hate. Which sucks, but it is who we are.

And okay. I completely understand if you are coming to terms with the fall of your idol. Some of you are probably more invested in Atticus’ character than I am. That’s fine.

If that bothers you so much, just look at Jean Louise.

Sure, she isn’t perfect, but she is pretty damn awesome.

The majority of the book she spends struggling to come to terms with who her father truly is. But in the end, she learns to accept him as a person without compromising her own values. So what if Atticus hasn’t stayed your pristine golden boy? He raised a kick-ass daughter who will fight for what she believes in, and maybe someday she will raise children to continue that fight and so on and so forth. Tolerance grows increments by each generation, and Jean Louise is proof of that.

So don’t be angry about Atticus. In all honesty, he is no more than a plot device to drive the story forward. Jean Louise is the real treasure. She is strong, brave, perhaps a little hot-headed, but tolerant and with sound morals. She was able to maintain a love for her father while realizing that he was a flawed man with flawed beliefs. So don’t be angry about Atticus. Simply replace our favorite lawyer with our favorite overall-clad Scout as your idol.