Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman centers around the life of Jean Louise (Scout) Finch who is going back to Maycomb, Alabama after having grown up and moved to New York City. While the time period is slightly ambiguous, it safe to assume that the book is set in the 1950’s from Jean Louise’s clothing choices as well as the historical occurrences that are happening within the novel. The book travels through the eyes of a person who did not realize she grew up in a society where racism was a cultural more and is coming to reject that. While the book is well written and I applaud Harper Lee for a sequel, I did something I didn’t think I should’ve done: I finished it.
First of all, this novel is primarily through the eyes of Scout Finch who grew up race blind and can’t seem to understand how race affects people in such a racist society. While it has been many years since the audience has last seen Scout since To Kill A Mockingbird, she has not matured much in understanding that she lives in a society where racism is alive and well. It’s breathing, it’s thriving, and it’s hungry for the black body count to go up. This occurs solely because Scout was never really immersed into her racist society as we learn in the novel and she went to live in New York where black and white people were freely living among each other; it became easier for her to ignore the racial tensions that were building like she always had. She didn’t spent but two weeks annually in Maycomb after moving to New York, so she can’t fully understand what is happening there. But if the fact that our story follows Jean Louise Finch and the only problem would be her location of residence that kept her removed from racial tensions, that would be forgivable.
Instead, Jean Louise Finch is our white main character who is learning about racism. In my opinion, while she may not like racism, it doesn’t really affect her. Sure when she discovers the beliefs of various people who she loves dearly throughout the book, this is shocking, but other than shocking her, it never really does anything to her. She doesn’t have any friends killed behind lynchings from the KKK. She can freely use the “n-word” if she likes to and in fact she does use it, but not offensively. Knowing about the fact that she lives in a racist society is what hurts her, not the racism itself. That bored me. I don’t want to hear about how a white woman’s world was shaken because she found out that her boyfriend is an open racist, only somewhat hiding it from her. There were black men who were lynched every day and their white murders were never convicted of their crimes. I don’t care if Jean Louise Finch is nauseous because she learns that in her town, seeing black people as second class citizens, if seen as citizens at all, is considered normal. There were the lives of those black people that need consideration and needed to be able to vote and sit on juries. I believe that how white people view racism is completely insignificant past them thinking that it is wrong. I don’t care if it makes you sick to your stomach. I don’t care if it hurts your feelings to find out that your dad or uncle is a racist. At the end of the day, hurt feelings will never truly compromise how and whether or not a person lives. All racism really is to people who can never experience is fairy dust.
When discussing this idea with my mother, she told me that evil, while it hurts its victims also hurts its doers. I am inclined to agree with her, but with the finite time and resources we all clearly have, expending these on the victims is more important. So with our time, we should look at racism from the perspective of the people it hurts, not the masses that practice and inflict it. We do not really care why thieves steal, instead we care that people are not victism of thievery. Harper Lee may or may not have been attempting to make a political statement. However, literature is not isolated to being entertainment. It can speak volumes when nothing can. I wish Harper Lee had chosen a voice that was something other than insignificant and needing to be silenced because it was shouting over the screams of other people needing to be heard.
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