Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thoughts about GO SET A WATCHMAN

I listened to GO SET A WATCHMAN on Audible read by Reese Witherspoon.
I also listened to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD read by Sissy Spacek. I had last read it thirty or more years ago.
I chose this moment to dip back into the world of Maycomb, AL to coincide with my return to Jacksonville, FL, my hometown. I went there to clear out my parent's house.

GO SET A WATCHMAN is not a great book like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. And yet, it is an important book.

It's literary importance is as a road map of how an interesting idea and impression was taken and crafted to be the book it became. It is fascinating to see what was discarded and to suppose why.

WATCHMAN like it's progeny is also a political book. Had Ms. Lee stayed with this book and honed it, it could have become a very good book, but I doubt it would have been published or had gotten much notice. Being a Southerner, I appreciate WATCHMAN's complexity and complicity of response to race and the threat to the established way of life.

MOCKINGBIRD, while still holding subtlety and complexity, has a child's simplicity. Part of its power is that a child's point of view is clear, right and wrong is obvious to a child.

WATCHMAN attempts to illustrate how maturity and socialization leads us to the necessary evil of compromise. Cognitive Dissonance is the way of adulthood. While a mistrust of the other might be genetic, prejudice is honed and taught through experience and ambition. Racism is treated as necessary. Suggesting it isn't is naive and childlike. As any adult must know, it's obvious.

MOCKINGBIRD has been credited with having a strong impact on the Civil Rights Movement. Published in 1960 between Brown v. Board of Education and the Voting Rights Act, it provided greater awareness and understanding. Reading it now made me wonder what would have happened had Harper Lee returned to the story of WATCHMAN after publishing MOCKINGBIRD. Set some twenty years after MOCKINGBIRD in the late fifties, Scout gains a deeper understanding of the racism in her hometown. I wonder what would have happened if America had been confronted by a honed and completed WATCHMAN in the mid-sixties? Would it have helped explain the complexity of racism and helped us to transition more quickly?

While the publishing of WATCHMAN today seems like nothing more than a money grab by an atrophied industry, perhaps its view of racism might help us face the racism our country still deeply harbors.

I recognize the people in WATCHMAN. I still see them in America (and not just Southern America). It made me mad and embarrassed. And, I was thankful to be confronted by this more realistic/adult view of our society.

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