When I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ sometime in my early teens, I did so because I had put a list of books together that I must read before I died. There were many on that list that were too early for me to read, not because of any rated content but more so because I had yet to experience life. And so it came to pass that I had to re-read it sometime later, around the time I read A Time to Kill by John Grisham, which had certain similarities in its premise, yet were miles apart as I later realised.
I heard Reese Witherspoon narrate some of the best lines I have heard for the past few hours, deconstructing and digesting Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Having seen its adverts here and there, I was inclined to at least keep it in my library and then hear it when the buzz died done. I don’t like these book frenzies of late, that have pushed rubbish works to plummeting heights just because they happen to ride the wave of the internet or tend to feed the masses of zombies out there.
Working on a piece of art, I set out to listen to something that was poles apart in genre and style from Michael Connelly, whom I had just finished listening to. Somehow, Go Set a Watchman chose me from the plethora of books sitting on my cloud and then began Witherspoon’s Southern drawl, smooth and engaging.
The story is centered on Jean Louise, twenty years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, and her return home. She is averse to change and is herself astounded to how she wants to hold on to the things as she had painted them in her head. All is not well. Racism runs deep into the subconsciousness of the community, like the involuntary power of taking in breath. Jean Louise does not see it that way. She realises that she is color blind and cannot make more or less out of people. People are people_ period. Raised by a black housekeeper, Calpurnia, nearly her mother and caretaker, Jean Louise is shocked to her core when her visit to her turns into a measurement of balances.
The complete novel is set upon the plot of 3 days I guess. 3 days that shake Jean Louise’s very core. This book is about many things. There are so many finer themes running through them that it would be impossible for me to sit and write about them in my first reading now (note to self- buy a hardcopy), however, the ones that are integral are that of seeing.
To see and to understand.
To see and to believe.
To see and to disbelieve.
To see and with clarity.
To see and to accept.
To see and to stand your ground.
There are some wise words that are passed back and forth between the characters, like:
“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.”
“But a man who has lived by truth—and you have believed in what he has lived—he does not leave you merely wary when he fails you, he leaves you with nothing. I think that is why I’m nearly out of my mind.”
“Sometimes we have to kill a little so we can live.”
“She went to him. “Atticus,” she said. “I’m—” “You may be sorry, but I’m proud of you.” She looked up and saw her father beaming at her. “What?” “I said I’m proud of you.” “I don’t understand you. I don’t understand men at all and I never will.” “Well, I certainly hoped a daughter of mine’d hold her ground for what she thinks is right—stand up to me first of all.”
After I finished this novel and went ahead to write what I thought, I did some background as to when it was published and the story behind why Harper Lee would have waited all these years to wake us up from this lull and shock us with realisation. I was surprised. This was actually her first book, a precursor to To Kill a Mockingbird. There are many conspiracy theories rampant that publishers told her to write events of Jean’s youth and that this novel was so and so and so. I stopped reading all those theories because it was just clouding out the wonderful taste left by this narration.
Go Set a Watchman is beautifully crafted. Set in the Southern country, it is a read for each and every individual because it resonates with something that is innate in us humans. Lee’s words are like exquisite pieces of handcrafted jewelry. There is much that is gracefully adorned, there is much to be seen and to be read again.
If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to take some quiet time out… and to read.