A Watchman

No cats today, and, sadly, no Ireland news either. I am dedicating this particular entry to book review and musings. Continue if you wish.

Those who know me well know that I have never cried during a movie (though the last third or so of Return of the King gets me close every time). I have, however, cried on numerous occasions while reading. This week I finished a book that not only made me cry but made me sit in stillness a bit after I finished reading. That happens sometimes and, regardless of whether or not I liked the book, it’s a sure sign that the book is just important. There’s been a lot said about this particular book, and I’ve tried to stay away from the talk so as to form my own opinion and now I will unleash said opinion, freshly formed, upon all of you.

The book is Go Set A Watchman, the quasi-sequel/rough draft of the dearly loved To Kill A Mockingbird. I reread that one just before starting the new one (by new, I mean recently published as it was written before) and that was an enjoyable experience because it’s a pleasant book. When I first began the next one, I thought Watchman was going to be a disappointment–the writing was sophisticated in a sort of annoying way, the themes and action were awkwardly more mature and, in my eyes, wandering, in part because the case of Tom Robinson (a pivotal event in Mockingbird) was barely mentioned in passing. As I headed into the second half, maybe final third, I noticed myself not caring about the syntax or diction, simply engrossed in a story that made itself plain on its issues. Mockingbird dances elegantly around them, framing them in a child’s eyes and having Boo Radley do his thing, but dancing is dancing one way or the other.

Anyway, the book definitely grew on me and I felt called on to compare it to Mockingbird less and less. Watchman has its own story to tell, and it’s a harsher one that I expected. Moments in the main line as well as the frequent flashback/reminiscences really got to me and told me that this is definitely not a suitable freshmen English book. That being said, I think that it maybe should be class reading later in high school.

There is a scene at the end (spoiler alert) where Scout is railing against Atticus for being racist and complicit and all sorts of nasty things. She calls him a variety of uncouth names and just really lets him have it. His response is only to say, “I love you.” Then, when she concludes by saying she never wants to see him or the town of Maycomb again, he says only, “As you please.” This is where I cried. There’s a lot going on in the book, and all sorts of meanings are contained in those words and the final few pages that come after them. But I think that, even without reading the book, that single moment makes something clear.

I don’t know if I really got everything out of the book (either one, really) or that I saw what Harper Lee wanted me to see. But I saw one thing clearly: we are supposed to love. There’s a lot to be said about the themes of racism and the civil rights movement, about ethics and justice and even constitutional politics. But I think the most important thing the book says is that simple. Love. Love black people, love white people. Love your parents, siblings, children, relatives. Love your neighbor, love strangers. Love your friends, love your enemies, love everyone in between. Love the lukewarm, love the spineless, love the broken.

The title comes from Isaiah 21:6 and the watchman is supposed to be watching for Babylon’s fall or something like that. But for me, in this book, the watchman is watching us. Watching for our actions. Watching for our words. Watching, waiting, hoping for love.


One thought on “A Watchman

  1. Thanks Keegan. I also just finished it about three weeks ago. Had not read “Mockingbird” in many years, and unfortunately I had read some of the negative reviews. But I’m so glad I pressed ahead, and in some ways similar to you the book also really touched me. It struck me how Atticus Finch (like all of us) did not stay in the same place or season of life, nor did his context. I did not feel that Harper Lee was presenting him now as a racist, but rather developing a complexity to him that reflected the difficult choices presented to people living in that period.

    Thanks for writing this post!


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