Go Set a Watchman – First Thoughts

Did I just run a marathon? Because my heart has been pounding in my chest for the last few hours and I’m nearly POSITIVE I’ve burned more calories and exerted more buckets of sweat laying in bed reading today than I ever have at the gym.

As I’m confident you all know, the first chapter of the highly anticipated Go Set a Watchman was released this Friday morning by the Wall Street Journal. The manuscript, written 60 years ago, was Harper Lee’s “first go” at her magnum opus; when told it wasn’t exactly right, Lee rewrote her entire story into the To Kill a Mockingbird we all know and love today. Flash-forward 60 years later, and we’re finally getting to read her first go.

I haven’t fully processed my thoughts or taken steps to calm my heart rate, but I needed to get my first thoughts out while they’re all fresh and swarming in my mind. If you haven’t yet read the first chapter, it can be found here. Warning, spoilers are a given…

  • The first thing I noticed that threw me off was that GSAW is not told by Scout; it’s written in the third person. Not trying to doom the entire novel after only reading the first chapter, but I am so greatly disappointed by this shift in narration. Part of what makes the themes of TKAM so important is the fact that they’re learned and shared through the eyes of a naive, innocent, “pure” voice.  Children are among the most influential narrators because they’re able to tell stories without the biases of life; they have not yet been exposed to them. It makes sense to me that the original themes of Lee’s novel would have a stronger impact when being told in the first person, and I can see why she would choose to shift POV for her rewrite. I guess I’m just disappointed because I tend to dislike third person novels for their sense of detachment. Also, getting inside of Scout’s “tainted” head so many years later is a thought that’s too enticing to look past.
  • Scout’s love for the small town that had such an influence on her warms my heart, and it already gives way to such important themes that I can see flourishing through the rest of the novel. She may have left, but she’s never been gone.
  • The anecdote about Cousin Joshua ties so heavily back into the themes of heritage and family ties that are shown through in the preachings of Aunt Alexandra, and more importantly reinforced by so much of what Atticus tried to instill in his children: the Finches, stripped from their name, are no better than any other family. When you get into their skin and crawl around in it, you see how they are no less susceptible to the failings of human nature than someone who held a name like Ewell.
  • The news of Atticus’ sickness is currently still gnawing at my heart. Good people get shitty lots in life, and it is so in Atticus’ nature to take the shittiness with grace and contain it in an effort to save those around him from being tainted. When he chose not to tell Scout, I think my heart shattered into a billion pieces. Good ol’ Atticus–one of my absolute favorite voices in all literature, through whom some of the most important lessons have been taught. He never changes.
  • Scout has feminized without becoming feminine, and I LOVE it. I expect gender roles to have as big of a presence in GSAW as they did in TKAM, so getting to experience this same presence in her nature years later is refreshing and sentimental.
  • “Just about that time, Jean Louise’s brother dropped dead in his tracks one day…” I feel like someone has taken every single weapon imaginable to my heart. JEM. I JUST??? WHAT EVEN????? It’s too soon to connect all the dots, but I’m praying this subtle skimming of such a vital detail is not the last we’ll hear of Jem Finch in Go Set a Watchman. I’m truly at a loss for words. Death is never done without purpose in literature, and I have faith in Harper Lee; but DAMN. It doesn’t make my heart hurt any less.
  • “She was almost in love with him. No, that’s impossible, she thought: either you are or you aren’t. Love’s the only thing in this world that’s unequivocal. There are different kinds of love, certainly, but it’s a you-do or you-don’t proposition with them all.” I just had to highlight this paragraph because it was my favorite of the whole chapter. Another bomb of truth dropped hard by the fierce Miss Lee. Well played, as ever.
  • Who would’ve thought Scout would ever find someone to compliment her so well? In a way, I feel like Henry brings out in her what Jem brought out as a child, and for that I already love him so heavily.

I’m nearly positive that my all of my thoughts on the first chapter could be listed in an infinitely long set of bullet points, but for now my heart is so heavy and my brain is so full that these are the ones that have the most presence. If you’ve read my other post about the release of Go Set a Watchman, you know how monumentally important I feel this novel to be. Chapter One is only the start, and if I feel this strongly already I can’t wait to see how deep I’ll be on Tuesday when literary history is made.

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