Go Set A Watchman

9 Sep

***This post does not contain spoilers***

 

To Kill A Mockingbird (TKMB) was is, to this day, a masterpiece which needs no additional vouching for. It’s a fact and it’s the truth (they’re different things, these two). Whoever loves reading has perhaps already embarked on the journey together with Jem, Scout, Dill, Cal and Atticus, and remains somewhere with them, even though the physical pages of the book long ended. Sometimes I find myself observing their backyard games and sometimes I imagine Atticus reading stories to me as well; I’ve always wondered what that would really feel like – nothing extravagant or ornate but poignant, I’m certain. On hot summer days, I want Cal’s lemonade and the easing of those warm days into still, slightly cooler evenings, sprawled on the porch or under a tree, sulking perhaps.

It’s a novel I first got introduced to in school, and we would spend one hour of the week being read to, in our own most beautiful English classes – sitting on the floor by the window, playing the words being shared with us to the tunes of our imagination. I’m grateful we were introduced to the book when we were. It goes to show that age has but nothing to do with the building of morals, character and the ability to be sensitive to more than what meets the eye. There is no right time because every time is when you add another block to the never-ending process, that is building and strengthening your own character’s foundation. And neither is there a boundary on the depth of what you can teach children from the books they ought to pick up and give a chance.

It was a mixed feeling when I heard of Harper Lee’s next book, for I was both delighted at what lay ahead in her story of these characters, and dejected that the story wouldn’t (obviously) match the one that had weaved its way into my world with its characters; a story that would obviously take away my imagined tales from me and follow the path she had chalked out for them instead. Natural as it was, it was also difficult. It was just a little while ago that I ordered Go Set A Watchman and decided to let go of my childhood romanticism with TKMB ever so slightly and give this new one a try. When the book arrived (being the book-cover judge that I am), I turned it over to find this excerpt from the book mentioned at the back.

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I had no idea what the word “island” was doing there and in what context someone was talking to Ms. Jean Louise about this concerned island and one’s conscience. I flipped it to the front and began this new journey with Harper Lee’s script.

As are situations with people you’ve known for most part of your life but have been connected with only in one’s imagination after the first physical meeting, a rendezvous many years later can only be unnerving. There’s excitement and there’s anxiety, simply because you don’t know what lies ahead and how far removed your imagination may have made facts and reality seem. And so it was, once I began reading the book and encountered a 26 year old Scout for the first time since our childhood.

She was herself, in an adult form, throughout the book, I’d say. It was heartening to see and experience. She is also now a smoker, looks at men differently than her younger self would have even though she believes she can never understand them. Jem and Calpurnia do not feature in the book as much as I would have liked. And that is the heart-breaking bit. Harper Lee tries maintaining a balance between the old and new, which is refreshing to what would otherwise be a stark experience for a reader familiar with TKMB. I traveled through Scout’s childhood reminisces, missed Jem, Dill and Cal terribly and felt her angst about the same. It’s perhaps a reality I may not accept for some time, because in my mind, things didn’t pan out the way they have at present.

Therefore there were many times when I couldn’t understand what was going on and felt disoriented and daresay bored enough to want to keep the book down. And keep the book down for breaks to process it all, I did. It’s not an easy book if you’re reading it with the baggage of the previous one. But if you can manage the difficult task of bifurcating the two, you’d be better off, in my honest opinion. I trundled along the story as are the days in sleepy Maycomb till I arrived at what I think, is the crucial bit of the book – the part where I take most meaning from it and from where I can see the book being more than just TKMB’s sequel. And it’s when I read this that things started to fall into place.

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This is an excerpt from Dr. Finch (Uncle Jack)’s dialogue with Scout after a confrontation she has with Atticus (just to contextualize). He begins by saying “Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as collective conscious.” (continues as per the image attached). This, to me, was the most definitive part of not just the novel, but also of the story and of Scout’s being. It acts as closure and gives you your time to take a minute, stop and look around at all that has become from whatever was, accept it and move on.

I saw these lines as more than just words being parted to one of my favourite literary characters. They taught me about the roles we play as children and the idealistic notions we have of what a parent should be like. So beautifully, yet simply stated are these stokes that make you rekindle the warmth of forgiveness in its entirety; and just what a load off of one’s conscience that is, I cannot even begin to describe.

Being at that point in my life where I’m preparing to move on to a new chapter, this profoundly deep conversation gave me new insight and meaning into the burdens we place on our parents who somehow become our ideals, ourselves and our sense of identity. I’ve never experienced an act of growing up as suddenly and overpoweringly as I have from a book before. To kill yourself or to allow yourself to be killed is overwhelming to say the least; but the power of knowledge, freedom and forgiveness that lies on the other side is liberating in ways we need to be more aware of. It brings to light just how enmeshed we are or can be, especially when it comes to love, expectations and worldviews, particularly from that of a parent’s. To think of such a burdensome existence is suffocating – and just how tremendous the drop in pressure by letting it go, can be.

Have you ever thought about what Uncle Jack tells Scout? Of course this doesn’t go to say that forgiveness comes at the cost of overlooking the duties of being a parent. But when it gets as good as it can, it helps to take a step back and really assess just where we cross the line; the sooner, the better.

And for coming my way sooner than later, I’m once again thankful to Harper Lee for deciding to put this story out there for me to see, in all its rawness, ruthlessness and eventual calmness.

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