While reading this novel, it was unavoidable to think about the controversy surrounding its publication. There was much concern that Harper Lee was coerced into signing a book deal, and did not want this book to be published at all. The investigation into these concerns found them to be unnecessary, thus the blast of criticism ceased, at least openly.
The story opens with 26-year old Jean Louise Finch – Scout – travelling back home to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City (where she now lives). The fluidity with which she floats back and forth from present to past memories is not as jarring as it could be, and readers of To Kill a Mockingbird will be happy with the nostalgic feel of the narrative (I was, at least).
After building up our adoring state of mind towards Jean Louise, a particular event strikes her as a sort of moral Armageddon, and her reaction would leave us more annoyed with her if we didn’t want everything to turn out well for by the end. Uncle Jack is somehow the voice of reason in this, although Jean Louise misunderstands his speeches as nonsense and as dodging her questions; it takes a falling out to make her realize the sense he was speaking.
Still a child in her soul, Jean Louise must break away from the path on which she has followed Atticus and set her own watchman. Like every child (literal or figurative) for whom the world is crumbling to bits, and for whom the ground seemingly disappears, there is light coming from the realization that becoming your own person does not make you alone, it makes you strong for when you have to stand up for what you believe.
Jean Louise’s realization comes with relief for the reader, and for Atticus, who finds comfort in knowing his daughter can truly depend on herself. Although the ending of Go Set a Watchman came in a rush, too much of a rush, the dialogue and the subject that sparked Jean Louise’s sudden growth – race relations – kept the conclusion inflated to the point that makes you realize the heated discussions could not have come anywhere else but the end; the impact would not be as significant.
I daresay this novel (maybe in conjunction with To Kill a Mockingbird) could be classified as a Bildungsroman – is there a minimum amount of time for the character(s) to spiritually grow for this classification? What about an age limit? I’m not sure mid- to late- twenties can be identified as formative years, but when a character is going through a transformation, why not?
Piper sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read—
So he vanish’d from my sight.
And I pluck’d a hollow reed.And I made a rural pen,And I stain’d the water clear,And I wrote my happy songsEvery child may joy to hear