Book: Go Set A Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Price: Rs 550
"Every man's watchman, is his own conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious"
You can't help but compare Lee's Pulitzer prize winning novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird' with her latest offering that has been proclaimed as a sequel to it.
For many, Atticus Finch, the liberal minded anti-racist hero of the previous book, was a major incentive to delve into Go Set a Watchman -- to see what Lee had done with the beloved literary figure.
The answer came as a shock to critics and fans alike.
Scout Finch returns, yet again to show a mirror to this hypocritical society, one which, I daresay, was much needed. Miss Scout has come back from New York to her birthplace Maycomb County. Her father, the beloved Atticus Finch of our literary memory is now 72 years old and has a bad case of rheumatoid arthritis.
However, the Atticus Finch of Go Set A Watchman is miles apart from the lawyer we remember who successfully fought for the rights of a coloured boy unjustly accused of rape. In this novel, Finch is still ready to fight in court when his erstwhile housemaid's grandson falls in trouble but only because he doesn't want the case to fall in the hands of the 'Negro' lawyers who want to defend their 'own' kind. He too has joined the league of men that he had once hoped to defeat in the previous novel, he too has a copy of the pamphlet titled 'The Black Plague', a treatise on the inferiority of the Black race that his sister, Scout's aunt, proclaims to contain many "truths"
"Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends"
The best part of the novel is Scout's interaction with her uncle Dr Finch. His words, his attempts at explaining things beyond him are some of the finest pieces of Lee's writing.
What Scout Finch's account as an adult does is open our own eyes to the world to which we belong. Her constant questioning that is prevalent throughout the course of the narrative not only becomes a critique of the day and age in which the novel is set but also forces the reader into questioning their morals, their own daily existence and the values that they hold dear.
The devoted father who had taught their children to love and respect all, the black maid who had brought up Scout as her own daughter, all of these relationships come under question in Lee's Go Set A Watchman. What makes this novel even more relevant in our own times is its release that comes in the aftermath of the Charleston killings.
What Atticus Finch comes across is not only a beloved literary character who can never be seen with the same respect again, but he also perhaps stands for the so-called 'civilized' Western world itself. While even in this day and age, after so many years have passed, videos of 'white' police officers manhandling 'black' college students and pointing guns at the unarmed are doing the rounds.
"I thought we were just people"
Perhaps what Scout Finch has accomplished today as she did all those years ago, is show the society how insulated we are, how we have forgotten the fact that we are "just people" and that humanity should be worshipped above all.
Go Set A Watchman thus comes across not just as a sequel to a much beloved classic, but also stands on its own as a mirror to the society, as an account of a woman struggling to find her own in a male dominated world, and finally as a work of literature that tells us when we have all but forgotten that we are in fact "just people".
In today's world where courts rule in favour of women marrying their rapists, where people attack other people based on the colour of their skin, where the poor continue to be poor and the rich just keep getting richer, the day is not far when we begin to question humanity itself, when we all turn "mad, mad, mad as a hatter".