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On Learning to Love the New Scout and Atticus

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

go set a watchman cover

Months ago, I wrote about how nervous I was that I wouldn’t like Go Set a Watchman. After reading Kakutani’s New York Times review, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to read the book. But this morning, I dutifully got up at 4:15 and was at my bookstore by 5:10am, more than ready for their 7am opening. Sure enough, I was first in line and first at that store to buy the book. I have approximately 50 pages left of the book, and I am surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it.

Scout – or Jean Louise, as she’s called here – is a nuanced character, although I do think some of her mannerisms and attitudes with her boyfriend are a bit incongruous. Atticus, for all his faults in this book, is more complex and nuanced then the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird, which makes for a more realistic, human story, in my opinion. My brow furrowed quite a lot while reading this, and it was hard to read many times. Scout and I were both grappling with coming to terms with the hateful attitudes shown, and the scene where she goes to visit her old housekeeper, Calpurnia, was one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the entire book for me. Scout confronts her childish ideals and beliefs that she’s hung onto for so long.

To Kill a Mockingbird School Edition

Watchman lacks some of the lyricism found in Mockingbird, but it stands on its own as an independent book. I haven’t even begun to think about the revising and journey from this book to the classic we know today. Getting to know the new Scout and Atticus is enough for today. Are they deeply flawed, layered people? Yes — but this is what makes them so human and so relatable. Just as Scout had to reevaluate and reconcile her memories with the present, I have had to do that in my reading of this book. Scout, Jem, Dill, and Atticus have all held a special place in my heart since reading Harper Lee in high school, and after reading the preview of the first chapter this past weekend, I was kicking and screaming and fighting the new material.

I haven’t finished the book yet – I expect to finish later tonight – but I don’t think I will be disappointed. People change. In this case, some of my favorite fictional characters have evolved, as well. How often do you get to say that about your favorite books?