Thursday, February 18, 2016

Go Set a Watchman

“Go Set a Watchman” seems like a peculiar title for a book, and it is - until you dig further into its meaning.

55 years after the publication of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird“ was released, Harper Lee’s sequel to “Mockingbird” was released to the public. Although “Go Set a Watchman” was actually written before the other more famous novel, it was only recently discovered. “Watchman” was actually the first draft for “Mockingbird” , and the original document found its way into Harper Lee’s safe deposit box in Monroeville, Alabama, where it was discovered in 2011.

The time period for “To Kill a Mockingbird” are the years 1933-1935, and the locale is the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, which bears a strong resemblance to Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville. In the novel, Atticus Finch was appointed by Judge Taylor to defend a young black man (Tom Robinson) who was accused of raping a white woman. Finch agrees to take the case because he is convinced of Robinson’s innocence, but the young black man was convicted by the jury. He was later shot and killed while trying to escape from prison.

The title of “To Kill a Mockingbird” refers to the loss of innocence found in the novel. The paragraph titled “loss of innocence” in the article posted below provides more details on that theme:

To Kill a Mockingbird

Virtually all of us have read “Mockingbird” at some point during our scholastic careers, and in 2006, British librarians ranked the book ahead of the Bible as one that every adult should read before they die. Since its publication in 1960, “To Kill a Mockingbird” has never been out of print, and has sold over 30 million copies. It has also been translated into more than 40 languages.

“Go Set a Watchmen” is set in the 1950’s, and follows Jean Louise Finch (Scout) for a few days as she returns to her home town from New York. The title is taken from a Biblical verse, Isaiah 21:6, which reads (in the King James version):

For thus had the Lord said unto me

Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth

In many ways, the adult Jean Louise Finch parallels the life of Harper Lee, who moved to New York in 1949. A month after she found an agent in November of 1956, she received a Christmas present of one year’s wages from several of her friends, who told her to take a year off and write whatever she pleased.

“Watchman” may be disturbing to some folks because it reveals the fact that Atticus Finch may not be the noble man that was evident in “To Kill a Mockingbird” . This is what he had to say in “Watchman”:

“Now think about this. What would happen if all the Negroes in the south were suddenly given full civil rights?. I’ll tell you. There’d be another reconstruction. Would you want your state governments run by people who don’t know how to run ‘em?”

Scout’s crazy uncle, Dr. Jack Finch, manages to tie the two books together with a quote toward the end of the latest novel:

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience”

Although Atticus Finch may have had the same feelings towards black people as his contemporaries, his conscience compelled him to defend a man who he firmly believed was innocent.

Bear in mind that the mid 1950’s saw the early beginnings of the civil rights era. Brown vs. the Board of Education was settled in 1954, and Rosa Parks’ action on a Montgomery bus, as well as the murder of Emmett Till, both occurred in 1955. Two years later, the “Little Rock 9”incident eventually caused President Eisenhower to federalize the Arkansas National Guard, taking control of the organization away from Governor Orval Faubus.

Starting with the integration of the Armed Services during WWII, the “civil rights era” also led to the third (and current) version of the Ku Klux Klan, which is now led by a Baptist minister.

The civil rights era has resulted in some very dramatic political changes in Southern states, which were solidly Democratic institutions almost since the end of the Civil War. Richard Nixon exploited the shift in attitude with his “southern strategy”, and the southern states have been solidly red ever since. The Tea Party movement has caused the Republican Party to move more towards extremism, which is very evident in the Republican Presidential candidates.

There are a lot or crazy politicians in office today, and there are also a lot of crazy voters, as evidenced by the fact that 23 million Republicans still believe that President Obama is actually a Muslim. However, the wisdom of both of Harper Lee’s novels should provide a ray of hope for our country, since there are still enough rational people in this country with a conscience who will prevent the truly crazy people from taking total control of the country.

I’m in the full agreement with President Obama when he recently said that Donald Trump would never be elected President because “he has faith in the American people”.

Although Jean Louise Finch may have been disappointed in her elderly father’s attitudes, she also would feel that the American people, despite our faults, will still make the right decision in November - because our watchmen are set in place.

(Editors note: The morning after this article was published, Harper Lee died in her sleep on the morning of February 19, 2016. I'm generally not a believer in coincidences, but her passing a day after this article was published seems a little eerie to me. At the time of her death, Ms. Lee was earning $3 million a year in royalties from "To Kill a Mockingbird", which gave her a net worth of $35 million. It is estimated that "Watchman" will increase that amount by $10 million).

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