“Go Set a Watchman” ticks off fans

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Photo by Avantika Vivek

Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” fails to meet expectations.

Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” is a clenched-knuckle punch to the gut, delivering confusion, horror and a reluctant sense of acceptance. Lee’s previous book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is standard fare for most freshmen high school classes, delivering altruisms about tolerance and acceptance in the easy-to-swallow words of a young girl: Jean Louise “Scout” Finch.

“Go Set a Watchman” takes a trip into the future, with a twenty-something Scout returning from New York to her childhood home of Maycomb, Alabama. The novel takes place during the 1950s, and deals with the impact of the landmark case of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education on Maycomb. As the case outlawed school segregation, effectively cutting down much of “separate but equal” legislation, many well-known Maycomb residents fervently oppose it.

It is then that the novel takes a turn that may alienate readers. The character of Atticus Finch, formerly a perfect, almost omniscient father figure, who preached tolerance and acceptance in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” reveals himself to be racist. Atticus openly states that black people in the South are not ready for full civil rights, and defends his decision to Scout.

But Atticus Finch’s unexpected racism is not the main theme or conflict of the book. Rather it is the pedestal upon which readers and Scout have placed him on. As a character in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch was invincible, incorruptible and the epitome of tolerance. Yet this was through the eyes of Scout, a child herself. The book’s real takeaway is the idea that parents are human, are fallible and can make mistakes.

Although the plot of the book drifts off into space and the writing itself is amateurish, the themes contained in the book are applicable today, in that nobody should be placed on a pedestal and thought of as perfect. What Lee’s book lacks in style, it makes up for in ideas.