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Go Set A Watchman

Last night I finished reading Go Set A Watchman. When I started it the first time, I abandoned it halfway through, so it had been lying by the sofa in our conservatory unfinished for about a year. I had given up on it because of the way I felt it spoiled To Kill a Mockingbird: it took a character who had been aa hero of mine, Atticus Finch, and re-presented him as a racist. However, after finishing Fire and Fury last week, I thought I had better polish off Harper Lee's effort before starting anything else.

I decided to make an effort and get it read quickly. Once I started it a second time (I thought it best to start from the first chapter again) I found I could hardly put it down. It was still a difficult text, but this time I found it intriguing. It is an exploration of the American South and the Southern way of life. It does not forgive or excuse bigotry, yet it explains it. Scout, returning to her old home town after so many years in New York, finds herself at odds with the racist values she returns to. Even her father, whom she had always looked up to, seems to now share these values.

Yet the invaluable lesson this novel teaches us is one of acceptance. Nobody has the right to force their values onto anyone else, and whether we like it or not that includes bigotry. True tolerance must include tolerance of those whose views we find abominable. That is what Lee is saying through atticus.

It's a very difficult lesson to learn, but one we could all do well to heed. Scout finds herself utterly at odds with the maycomb she returns to just as we remainers find ourselves increasingly at odds with Brexit Britain. But rather than rail against the system and try to impose her views on her old town, Atticus shows his daughter that true tolerance lies in acceptance: true bigotry, by definition, is refusing to tolerate other people's views. Thus, at least as Lee frames it, if scout tried to impose her more liberal values on the citizens of Maycomb, she would effectively be as intolerant as the white supremacists she rails against. Atticus is thus not a bigot but a liberal in the truest sense.

Now I have finished it I see Go Set A Watchman for what it is: an absolute masterpiece. I was once upset at how Atticus' portrayal in this book seemed a betrayal of how he was portrayed in To Kill A Mockingbird, yet Lee shows how they are in fact one and the same character. That is where the beauty of this novel lies.


[Edited 10/05/2018 at 13:11:01 - minor correction]

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