“Go Set a Watchman” shows how little has changed in 50 years

2A626E5A00000578-3155339-Upcoming_Go_Set_A_Watchman_will_be_out_July_14-a-12_1436536067926Go Set a Watchman was an insightful but disappointing read – disappointing because I, like many Mockingbird fans, saw Atticus Finch as an iconic figure and a kind of hero. Watchman definitely tears that image to bits.

But it’s a timely book, because “separate but equal” is a recurring theme in this country’s history: from race, class, and now with the legalization of gay marriage.

Watchman shows that prejudice and equality are complex and often go together: you can support equal rights legally and still believe one group of people is superior to another. There’s overt prejudice, and then there’s prejudice doused with pleasantness – the latter being the hardest to diagnose. Somehow, as prevalent as racism is, it’s not always “polite” to wear it so obviously on one’s sleeve (unless you belong to the Klan).

But this book makes me wonder if “polite” prejudice is perhaps the most harmful kind. That’s what we saw in Mockingbird, told from the child perspective of Scout Finch. In Watchman, the racism is obvious and unapologetic, and the now-grown Jean Louise Finch comes to the same realization that Mockingbird’s readers knew all along: she was duped by her childhood. She learns that good is not always good; that justice and equality do not always go hand in hand.

I confess that I have not witnessed a great deal of racism personally. My sheltered, privileged upbringing kept me sheltered from that. I didn’t have any black friends growing up; my high school barely had any non-white students. But I have gone to church with people who tout the line “Hate the sin, not the sinner” regarding LGBT people. The more I talk to my gay friends, and the more I learn about homosexuality as an intricate part of someone’s given sexuality, the more I realize how much “separate but equal” feelings permeated my previous church groups and bible studies. In many ways, the anti-gay sentiments doused in “love” are a lot like veiled racism: laced within social niceties are condescending, “I know better than you” attitudes that don’t just offend, but belittle the recipient, giving them the impression that they deserve kindness because there is something wrong with them; something they cannot see or fix on their own. Because they are sick, stupid, or in denial.

Such is the attitude towards black people within the Finch family: they are an infant group struggling to grow up fast so they can sit at the White Big Kid table. And like infants learning to walk, they clearly need a hand from the white people, who know better. But this is talked about with such good intentions, so the Finches – most heartbreakingly, Atticus Finch – aren’t the bad guys. In fact, Atticus is one of the “nice racists” because even though he sees blacks as inferior, he still wants to help them, and gets frustrated when that help is refused, because like toddlers, they don’t want to learn.

At least the people wearing the white hoods, waving the Confederate flags, and holding up signs make it clear where they stand. I actually prefer that kind of prejudice – there’s no bullshit, just raw honesty.

As far as literature goes, Watchman suffers from a lack of continuity with its plot: mainly, I couldn’t figure out what the plot was supposed to be, exactly. It’s a book driven by characters and dialogue more than anything else, and the shifts between first and third person with Jean Louise were distracting. If nothing else, Watchman shows how very little has changed within the last fifty years. People like Atticus Finch were the “good guys” of his time, and in 2015, it seems they still are.

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2 thoughts on ““Go Set a Watchman” shows how little has changed in 50 years

  1. lovessiamese says:

    Hi, Beth. I’ve been wanting to read this book, and will eventually. Thank you for your insight and review. I can appreciate your viewpoint. But please don’t think that all Christians who believe in kindness to the LGBT community are being kind because we think they are inferior. We believe in being kind to them because Christ would be and we want to be His embassadors. Jesus didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery. He did forgive her and tell her to go and sin no more. We are all sinners (even those who have asked Jesus to be their Lord and Savior), but the Christian way of life means trying to follow Christ’s example. It means be a disciple, to love people as He does, and treat them they way He would. It doesn’t negate or change scripture when it says that adultery, fornication, lying, stealing, homosexuality, etc. is sin. People are only able to change when they know the truth. God’s word is truth, and it doesn’t change with the times, or circumstances, or the generation we live in. We can trust God and His word because “thy word, Oh Lord, is forever settled in heaven.” I don’t judge or criticize any sinner (well, I try not to. It’s hard not to judge pedophiles and rapists). I’m still a sinner myself. The difference is I have the Holy Spirit of God working in me to help me be more like Him. We are all works in progress.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth Caplin says:

      Of course not all Christians feel that way – but admittedly, sometimes it’s very hard to tell. And I also have to admit that I still don’t understand the harm of being gay. It’s on my list of things to ask God about someday, though it’s not a very high concern on that list.

      Like

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