Narrator: Reese Witherspoon
Series: To Kill a Mockingbird
Published by Harper Audio on July 14th 2015
Length: 6 hours and 57 minutes
Genres: Historical Fiction
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Also by this author: To Kill a Mockingbird
From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.
Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.
To Kill a Mockingbird series
This book will be discussed in detail, so please do not read unless you wanted to be spoiled.
When Go Set a Watchman was announced and released in the summer of 2015, it had its fair share of controversy. It was heavily questioned initially whether Harper Lee had authorized the book’s release, or if she had even written it at all. But then the release came, and the outrage became even more substantial: Atticus Finch is racist. I couldn’t help but feel that the quotations that were shared were being taken out of context, but it was some pretty solid evidence that was hard to refute. Bottom line, my curiosity was great and I had to experience the truth myself.
Readers are mad, and rightly so in my opinion, that Atticus Finch’s character has been dramatically transposed from the interpretation we were given in To Kill A Mockingbird. But that’s just what it was, an interpretation. If you remember, the story was written entirely from the point of view of Scout, who was just six years old and at that young age, it is easy for parental idolatry to occur. Go Set a Watchman takes place years later, where Jean Louise Finch “Scout” is now twenty-six years old and coming home from New York to visit her aging father. She’s confronted with the fact that she’s understood her father to be of one frame of mind about the world, that she has modeled her own mindset after his, and her beliefs are now crumbling when she discovers him in a “citizens’ council” meeting hosting a racist preacher. When she has it out with him later, she finds out that her father is a card-carrying member of the KKK as well. Atticus was that one shining beacon of hope in a sea of racism and to find out he’s no different than the majority of individuals in this era caused a complete loss of innocence. And here we all thought that To Kill A Mockingbird was the coming-of-age tale.
I did a re-read of To Kill A Mockingbird just last year, so it was all still very clear in my mind. This is a direct line from my review which posted last March:
“Atticus Finch, by far my favorite character, is a man that saw everyone as his equal. He believed this wholeheartedly and was willing to put his very livelihood on the line to fight for those rights. He was able to accept the differences in all of us and see the true bottom line: regardless of race, color, gender or any of the multitudes of ways that not only make us who we are but also separates us from the rest, at the end of the day we are all the same; we’re all human beings. This world would be a far better place with a few more Atticus Finch’s in existence.”
Go Set a Watchman has definitely caused me to examine my own mindset, much like Scout. So other than our preconceived notions that Atticus was anything but racist, what do we know about him actually? He’s honest and fair, he’s a great father and a fantastic lawyer. He views his job less as a job but more as a personal pledge to upholding the law, regardless of race. And there’s the rub. Atticus chose to defend Tom Robinson solely because of his personal obligation to upholding justice because he felt that no one would properly defend him like Atticus would.
“I remember that rape case you defended, but I missed the point. You love justice, all right. Abstract justice written down item by item on a brief – nothing to do with that black boy, you just like a neat brief. His cause interfered with your orderly mind, and you had to work order out of disorder. It’s a compulsion with you, and now it’s coming home to you – “
He goes on to explain his membership to the KKK as a way of being aware of who is also a member and who holds those beliefs. Jean Louise’s love interest, Henry, is also a card-carrying member and he explains to her his presence in the citizen’s council meeting be saying it allows him to continue to be of use to the community. That he isn’t necessarily agreeing with their beliefs, but he’s not going against them because calling them out would cast him out and being a part of the norm is safe. In a nutshell. So, conform to the norm and don’t voice your differing opinions because that’s not safe, is the belief. Of course, this is an extremely accurate interpretation of the typical mindset during this period in history and having Atticus come out as having racist beliefs just makes more sense even if I’d prefer to stick with my illustrious views of him, rather than these dispiriting quotes:
“Have you ever considered that you can’t have a set of backward people living among people advanced in one kind of civilization and have a social Arcadia?”
“You realize that our Negro population is backward, don’t you? You will concede that? You realize the full implications of the word ‘backward’, don’t you?”
“You realize that the vast majority of them here in the South are unable to share fully in the responsibilities of citizenship, and why?”
“Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world? […] Do you want your children going to school that’s been dragged down to accommodate Negro children?”
“…you do not seem to understand that the Negroes down here are still in their childhood as people.”
Jean Louise is naturally irate at what’s coming out of his mouth, but instead of voicing her dissension, explains her anger to him by asking him why he didn’t just raise her right.
“…I grew up right here in your house, and I never knew what was in your mind. I only heard what you said. You neglected to tell me that we were naturally better than the Negroes, bless their kinky heads, that they were able to go so far but so far only.”
Because if he had raised her to not be “colorblind”, as she says, and to be able to recognize the differences in the races then she wouldn’t be so conflicted because she’d be like-minded with everyone else in the town.
I loved To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved the hope it presented, but again, it was all being viewed from the point of view of a child so it had that sense of innocence. To Kill a Mockingbird has grown up, Scout has grown up, and that same world is now viewed with a devastating sense of realism that I think is a difficult thing to stomach. I have read many reviews that state even if this tarnishes Atticus for you, it is still a must-read because of how it views the world harshly but honestly. I have to disagree. For me, I think even if we enjoyed Scout’s innocent interpretation of the world, we’re all still fully aware of how the world truly is. We’re all aware of the masks that people can wear and the secrets that they hide from the public and even from those they love. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with continuing to hope that there was at least one good man in the South that was willing to stand up for his beliefs even if they didn’t manage to fit the norm.
‘I did not want my world disturbed, but I wanted to crush the man who’s trying to preserve it for me. I wanted to stamp out all the people like him. I guess it’s like an airplane: they’re the drag and we’re the thrust, together we make the thing fly. Too much of us and we’re nose-heavy, too much of them and we’re tail-heavy—it’s a matter of balance. I can’t beat him, and I can’t join him–’
Note on the Narration: I listened to Sissy Spacek’s narration of To Kill a Mockingbird and I couldn’t imagine Scout’s story being told any other way. But this book wouldn’t have been anything without the narration of Reese Witherspoon. Her southern accent is perfection and somebody has got to tell her she really must narrate more audiobooks. Listen below for a clip.