Published in 2015, 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman revisits the sleepy town of Maycomb, home of Scout, Jem, and Atticus. This book has a gentle introduction, until about a third of the way through when it takes a sharp turn to discuss some overt racism. Jean Louise, “Scout”, is thoroughly shocked to hear how divided her little town has become, seemingly over just a few short years.
My favorite scene is the one in which Jean Louise is at her “Coffee,” which is a get together for the ladies of Maycomb to come chat with a woman who’s just returned to town. Jean Louise listens to their conversation and has a period of time in which she turns everything they are saying upside down, wondering how on earth everyone got to be so callous towards their fellow townspeople of different races. She hears their comments and begins to wonder, is it them who’s changed or is it she who’s changed? I myself have come to similar realizations when returning home to be around people I grew up with. Listening to phrases that I can’t believe they are throwing about in casual speech, sometimes I feel like it must be me who has changed, and I’ve finally realized how uncomfortable some of the things they say truly are.
The hardest part of this book is realizing that Atticus may not have such pure intentions as he seemed to in To Kill a Mockingbird. Jean Louise realized he is in on some of the racist conspiracies that are happening in Maycomb. Realizing your hero is not who you thought they were can be hard on anyone, and it’s especially hard on Jean Louise. This questioning of the morals of her whole town continues through the remainder of the book, and the ending took me by surprise based on the continued arguments that were held throughout the book.
The subtle rhetoric from Jean Louise that she is colorblind was one of the parts for me that was perhaps the hardest to read. That’s something that often comes from a well-meaning white person intending to assert their solidarity, but actually negating how hard it can be for a person of color. However, in this case, I believe Lee meant it to be yet another way in which Jean Louise grew up supportive of people of color rather than as another example of subtle racism. That being said, Jean Louise is definitely not a saint in the way she describes people of color as well, and that is made clear throughout the book.
Spoiler alerts below!!
Jean Louise ultimately realizes that Atticus was glad she was there at the council meeting to see that they had different opinions, as he felt she had different morals from him her entire life. He was glad to raise her to be an independent thinker, and glad to raise her to think differently from most of Maycomb, including himself. He was glad she was willing to bring herself into the discussion, and to call out others for their prejudice. And at the same time, he was calling her to listen to people whose opinions differed from hers, as he felt she was creating too big a divide between herself and the people of Maycomb, such that a productive conversation could never be held. This final discussion and conclusion generated some surprising thought from me in my head, as I continue to listen to the discourse in the media and continue to stand by my beliefs that listening is the place where we all need to start from in order to move forward socially and productively.