Is the novel Go Set a Watchman worthy of being studied? What textual evidence supports this?

1 Answer | Add Yours

analiesev's profile pic

analiesev | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

Go Set a Watchman is worthy of being studied if one wants to gain a more well-rounded understanding of the dynamics within the fictional Maycomb community and the real life South of the 1950s. We only see Scout's perspective of her childhood in To Kill a Mockingbird, thus we are limited by the fact that everything is interpreted for us via Scout's memories of what she witnessed as a child.

In Go Set a Watchman, however, she has since grown into a young woman and spent time living in New York. When she returns to town, she is able to look at the people of Maycomb with wiser, more worldly eyes. In addition to her experiences outside of the South, Scout has gained new perspective due to growing older and losing Jem as her protector and idol.

Scout now recognizes that her father has imperfections; he is becoming physically weaker with age, and as Scout discovers in chapter eight, Atticus participates in a citizens' council that is largely populated by men who do not believe in equality for black people. She feels a disconnect between her previously-held idea that her father was a hero of racial justice and the scene she discovers at a citizens' council meeting wherein her father seems to condone its racist slant by being present while a bigoted guest speaker orates. A large part of the story is Scout's struggle against the notion that her father seems to tacitly support the bigotry of the men around him, since she had always believed that his honor and love for justice were infallible and extended to all human beings.

This narrative also reveals through a series of Scout's memories some social changes that have happened in the years between To Kill a Mockingbird and the present day within Go Set a Watchman. Racial tension has increased, resulting in Calpurnia growing distanced from the Finch household in her old age. Calpurnia does not answer in chapter twelve when Scout asks her the complicated question of whether she ever loved the Finch family while employed by them. A World War has been fought, racial segregation is crumbling in parts of the country, and the town of Maycomb remains stuck in its "social pattern" of viewing black people as somehow less valuable than white people. 

Chapter fourteen of the story is particularly intriguing in terms of social analysis because Scout's Uncle Jack tries to lead her toward understanding of why her father has joined the council. His roundabout explanation includes a history lesson for Scout about why he thinks the current white population of the South feels aggression and competitive scorn toward black people, dating back to the aftermath of the American Civil War.

Scout's disgust with what she calls the hypocrisy of people like her father makes her reconsider every relationship she has. She no longer knows who she can trust or what people in her life truly value. Eventually in conversation with her father in chapter seventeen, Scout hears Atticus explain why he has participated in the council and why he is against desegregation. Scout's rebuttal of Atticus's arguments is equally fascinating. In a way, the characters are a microcosm of broader society in which groups of people with competing political views must grapple with ideals they feel are necessary and just. The rhetoric on both sides of the issue is well worth examining for modern readers who may not be aware of attitudes driving social/racial unrest in this time period.

We’ve answered 318,949 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question