The Lost Country

Fall 2015 • Vol. 5, No. 1

issn 2326-5310 (online)

Review Go Set a Watchman

By Harry Hoyt Lacey

This work was published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Lost Country. You may purchase a copy of this issue from us or, if you prefer, from Amazon.

Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman isbn: 978-0062409850. Buy the Book.
Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s recently released novel, was written before the well known To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet the dramatic date of Watchman was the 50s while Mockingbird took place in the 30s.

Watchman begins with Jean Louise’s (Scout was her nickname as a young girl) returning to visit Maycomb for her fifth annual trip since she has been living in New York. Part of her concern is with Henry Clinton, her lifelong friend and potential husband. She is also extremely upset with her father, Atticus, who has been attending White Citizen Council meetings. he cannot comprehend Atticus’s actions, since she was brought up by him to be colorblind in regard to race and he is now resisting desegregation. Jean Louise’s Uncle Jack explains to her that the South has been changing, that slavery was not the defining characteristic of the Old South. Maycomb was much more of a true community, its soul much like the yeoman farmer rather than the slave owner. She also learns that her father cannot be her god. She must set her own watchman, she must follow her own conscience.

In Watchman there are flashback scenes to Jean Louise’s younger days when she was known as Scout, but not so vivid as the ones in Mockingbird. In her cooperation with her editor she produced To Kill a Mockingbird. It could have been that they intended only to replace the scenes in Watchman or add to them, but a new novel resulted.

William Alexander Percy wrote in the early years of the 20th that he was disturbed by the hostility of many “rednecks” towards the blacks. It was his opinion that this had never been true for the good, true Southerner. One of the things that Percy did was to help convince Hodding Carter (from an old Southern family) to take over the editorship of the Delta-Democrat Times in Greenville, Mississippi. Carter became known as a violent liberal throughout the South, because of his editorial positions against anti-black rhetoric and actions in the South. Yet Carter mystified the liberals when he refused to support desegregation. We should remember that segregation was accepted by Booker T. Washington in return for blacks to be given the opportunity for education and betterment. Washington was opposed, however, by what was termed the violent actions of W E B Du Bois and the \textsc{naacp}. The Old Southerners opted for peace rather than violence, but they did not see that as anti-black.

In the literary world the Nashville Fugitives published I’ll Take My Stand, deliberately using a War Between the States reference. Robert Penn Warren contributed an article defending segregation. The Fugitives did not tarry long in that opinion, because soon all but Donald Davidson distanced themselves from the South. John Crowe Random went to Kenyon, believing that “pockets of culture” might still be able to exist. Robert Penn Warren became a supporter of liberal racial causes.

I have written in this Journal previously, that I believe that Boo Radley in Mockingbird is an embodiment of the Old South. At the end of the novel Boo Radley saves Scout from death at the hands of the black-hating redneck Robert Ewell. And when Scout walks Boo home in the last pages of the novel, she says, “His fingers found the front doorknob. He gently released my hand, opened the door, went inside, and shut the door behind him. I never saw him again.” The spirit of the Old South has perished into Modernity.

Jean Louise can love her father for what she saw in him, but she must respect him now even though she disagrees with his opinions in the present world. “Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience.”