Saturday, July 18, 2015

Scout Finch Comes of Age

I have just finished "Go Set A Watchman" by Harper Lee. For years I have been praying that there would be more from a favorite author, and I was ecstatic when I heard the news that something further was coming out. With dread I read the stories of her being taken advantage of by unscrupulous agents acting on her behalf after the death of her sister who had protected her legacy for decades. For good or ill, it is out there, and I knew I would buy it and read it no matter what. I loved "To Kill a Mockingbird" that much. For the last 4 years I have taught the book to African-American 8th graders, and the conversations that ensued on race and power in America were some of the highlights of my teaching career. So what of "Go Set A Watchman"?
"Go Set A Watchman" is a novel unto itself. It can and should be judged on its own merits, though it uses beloved icons of American literature and the awkward and nostalgia-inducing Maycomb County, Alabama. Do we trust anyone, even Harper Lee, with furthering our mental images? Some will say no. I, for one, found Harper Lee's "Go Set A Watchman" an admirable continuation of a beloved novel. It could very well have been titled Scout Finch Comes of Age. It follows only four days of a return visit home by the 26 year old Jean Louise, and during that time she becomes her own person. I would recommend it to anyone, especially those for whom the first novel was a touchstone.
What I find most remarkable about the book is that it is still poignant and applicable today, even though it was supposedly written decades ago. We are still fighting the same battles, and we are still waging the same wars. Outcomes may be different, but the atrocities of Charleston a month ago and the ensuing conversations/arguments over the Confederate Battle Flag fit hand in glove with the premise and passion of this book. What does it mean to be Southern and white now? What does it mean to care about so many things one can hold dear but not embrace the totality of the Southern legacy? There are not easy answers and this is not an easy book. Do not hear me saying that it is. I read To Kill A Mockingbird with children. I would want to read this with them 8 years later, when the adolescent black and white perspective can be let go and we can go on to ask ourselves, how do we live in the gray? Read it. Decide where you stand. Wherever you land, may we come together and talk it through.

A link to the book on Amazon:

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Blessings, Rock