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Review – Go Set A Watchman: Harper Lee goes back to Sweet Home Alabama

Fifty-five years ago, Nelle Harper Lee, better known as Harper Lee, published a book that made history, sparked huge controversy and revolutionized the American way. To Kill A Mockingbird gained immediate success, winning the Pulitzer Prize and becoming an American classic, read in almost every school that allowed it. In New York State, and several other East Coast states, To Kill A Mockingbird was a recommended read by the Education Department. Everyone who completed Junior High (Secondary School) read it and was taught it an accurate and historical depiction of a racist pre-civil rights Alabama. Yet, the situation just a couple of States to the South was very different. Schools in Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia — to name a few — banned the book, objecting to its depiction of how African Americans were treated by members of the white-supremacist community. In 1996, a school in Texas went so far as to stating that the book, “conflicted with the values of the community”.

Two decades later Harper Lee strikes again. At the ripe old age of 89, she brings us back to sweet home Alabama, right in the middle of the civil rights movement. Our favorite troublemaker Jean-Louise “Scout” Finch (the narrator and protagonist of To Kill A Mockingbird) is now 26 and back in Maycomb for her yearly visit from New York, where she now lives. Jean-Louise has “turned from an overcalled, fractious, gun-slinging creature into a reasonable facsimile of a human being.”
The novel is told in the third person and takes readers on a journey alongside Scout, who tries to find her way in a current that is moving against her. It seems as if she sees eye to eye with no one anymore, not even her self-righteous father, Atticus Finch, who years ago fought for the freedom of Tom Robinson (a field hand falsely accused of rape). Although it may seem that winds have changed in the Finch house, they haven’t. To Kill A Mockingbird is seen from the perspective of a 6-to-9-year-old, who, although being smart (or rather, a wisecracker) for her age, remains nonetheless a child. Scout doesn’t understand, to the full extent, what is happening during the Robinson vs. Ewell rape case. She doesn’t understand that her father is fighting on the side of the law and not on the side of African Americans. Atticus defends Robinson not because he is black, but because he is innocent. The readers and Jean-Louise find that out twenty years later, in Go Set A Watchman. Now that she is able to understand, and so are we. The final chapters revolve around the realization that Atticus and Scout are not one, they cannot share the same watchman. After moments of desperation, self-doubt, anger, resentment, and just a few profanities, Jean-Louise starts to pack her bags until she is stopped by her Uncle Jack. He convinces her to stay in Maycomb by saying, “The time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right.”
The novel was released on July 14th (in the U.S. and in the U.K.) and has been showered with both criticism and praise, called brilliant and terrible, monumental and ridiculous. Either way, Lee makes history once again, this time by releasing the most pre-ordered book in publishing history (beating Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows), and as far as its criticism goes, she can definitely handle it by now.

Bianca Serafini

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