Go Set a Watchman set the world afire when it was announced. After years of rumors that Harper Lee had written another book and questions about if it would be published, the book’s final discovery continues to be followed by controversy surrounding whether or not Lee had been taken advantage of by her publisher. Regardless, the book is out and with society in upheaval again, it just may be the perfect book at the perfect time. In the story, Jean Louise (Scout) is home visiting from New York and what follows are vignettes on a theme. Each vignette builds to a crescendo as Jean Louise breaks the shackles of childhood to become her own person.
Breaking the Icons
Thomas Wolfe famously wrote that you can’t go home again and for Jean Louise the statement is true. When she arrives she finds a world in chaos. As the South reels from the recent Supreme Court decision, presumably Brown v. Board of Education, the battle lines have been drawn and Scout finds that her father and boyfriend might be on the opposite side as she is.
Atticus allows his daughter to tear him down verbally as she works out her own beliefs about the world. He gives her the opportunity to stop using him as a crutch and instead stand firm in what she thinks, moving through the process of metamorphosis from child to adult. Scout is able to crush the idol she has made of her father and see him as simply human. It’s a beautiful picture of fatherly love as Atticus helps his daughter to make her own way.
There is little that is as painful in this world as having a hero in your life suddenly become nothing more than human. Yet it is one of life’s most important lessons, finding that the thing you’ve placed on a pedestal is not worthy of such admiration. What we put our faith and hope in must be able to sustain the weight of such things,and the weight of such glory is heavy indeed. False idols must be brought down if true clarity is ever to be found.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Scout finds herself irrevocably changed by the end of the story and her question becomes how to live in a place where she does not agree with those around her. The answer her uncle offers is poignant, “…the time your friends need you is when they are wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right -.”
Standing up for what you believe is the most difficult when the world and worldview of those around you is diametrically opposed to your own. Our response should not be to run and isolate ourselves with likeminded people. It is at those times that we must stand up and lovingly engage. Edmond Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Scout’s uncle continues with the good advice about how to engage such a culture when he says,
“I mean it takes a certain kind of maturity to live in the South these days. You don’t have it yet, but you have a shadow of the beginnings of it. you haven’t the humbleness of mind-”
“I thought the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom.”
“It’s the same thing. Humility”
To influence and impact the people and the world around us any action we take must be done with humility and love. If we want to change the world around us it must be through honest and open interaction. We must stand for something and not be afraid to share those convictions with others. We cannot do nothing. Jesus clearly reminds of us this in Matthew 5,
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Go Set a Watchman is a visionary book about the past yet it is just as relevant today. It’s an important read and well worth your time. I encourage everyone to wrestle with the themes because you just might find yourself changed in the end.