You’ve probably heard: Go Set a Watchman is getting a bad rap. Michael Bourne of The Millions says the new novel from Harper Lee “fails as a work of art in every way except as a corrective to the standard sentimental reading of Atticus Finch.” By and large, this appears to be the consensus, and across the world, parents of little Atticuses (so named for the shining hero of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird) shift uneasily in their seats.
Slate critics Dan Kois, Meghan O’Rourke, and Katy Waldman unpack:
O’Rourke wonders if Watchman perhaps calls into question the authenticity of Mockingbird‘s heretofore acclaimed mechanics:
“Was To Kill a Mockingbird a great novel, or was it actually, in some ways, a sentimental and didactic one? … Are the pleasures of To Kill a Mockingbird actually these local characterizations of place and childhood and summer, not, in fact, the story and Atticus, as this figure?” (12:13).
Waldman calls Watchman “a microcosm of Lost Cause romanticism” (7:23)—a tip of the hat to the post-Civil War view that the upright, traditional South succumbed tragically to those carpetbagger Yanks.
Kois, at 5:46, says, “The realization that Scout is meant to come to at the end”—which I won’t spoil for you, though the critics might—“seems to me to be very emblematic of the weird politics of this book and the double weirdness of releasing it in 2015.” But “weird” by what standards, I wonder? Is it not fair to say a bit of Lost Cause romanticism persists to this day?
The most interesting bit of the discussion, I think, is the suggestion that Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, also released July 14th, rubs a wry shoulder with Watchman. (Why not find out for yourself?)