Go Set a Watchman and Prejudice

Image result for go set a watchmanWhat was it about?

Jean Louise returns to Maycomb County after living for years in New York. Her father Atticus is now in his 70s, and she is courted by her childhood friend Henry. Jean Louise is still rambunctious and independent, but it looks like her family has changed. One day she finds evidence that her father and uncle have been attending the Maycomb County citizen’s council. Atticus speaks out against the recent Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregation. He only defended that black boy for professional reasons. The Supreme Court overstepped its boundaries. Atticus must continue to defend black people, otherwise the NAACP will.

Jean Louise is horrified. Her father had been her role model, but she had been deceived. He had deceived her. How can she ever love her father again? Go Set a Watchman is Harper Lee’s controversial sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. For the first time, Jean Louise (and the reader) has to face the unpleasant truth about the character of a beloved lawyer and father.

What did I think of it?

I put off reading this book for a long time because of all the controversy surrounding the publishing of Go Set a Watchman. I also admired Atticus Finch like so many other Americans. But in the past year, I have become increasingly interested in the dark side of humanity (evil, prejudice, and guilt). I knew that I needed to read GSAW. 

Even though it was very poorly edited (I believe it was only a first draft), GSAW will probably be one of my favorite books of 2017. This is the only book that I have ever read that explores prejudice from the white perspective. Growing up, I was taught that racism was something that existed 50 years ago, but is no longer an institutional problem in America. We were so wrong. Like Jean Louise, we thought of Atticus as the exception to the rule – the white savior who represented the “good” white man. Unfortunately, this image of Atticus has prevented us from having a serious discussion about prejudice. GSAW is so hard to read because it is clear that Atticus is not an entirely bad person. As long as we assume that only “bad” people are capable of prejudice, institutional prejudice will continue to exist in America.

Atticus is an educated man. He justifies his prejudice with reasoned argumentation. Prejudice is so hard to combat because the person who is prejudiced thinks his/her beliefs are reasonable. The “white trash” image of prejudice is so convenient because it allows the rest of us to wash our hands of the problem. As long as we pretend that only “uneducated” people are capable of prejudice, we will keep pretending that America is colorblind, and people of color will continue to face oppression. Jean Louise might think she is innocent, but a closer look at her character reveals that she too is guilty of racism.

I may not be white, but facing my own personal prejudices in the past year has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. For very personal reasons, I am so glad I read GSAW. In general, I strongly believe that TKAM and GSAW should be read together.

Favorite Quote

“A man can condemn his enemies, but it’s wiser to know them.”