My Thoughts on ‘Go Set A Watchman’

Before I start, I just want to warn that there are mild spoilers in this – no big ones, but if you want to avoid everything before you read the book, then probably don’t read this until you’re finished!
Atticus Finch.
                Saint. Hero. Fictional father.
Yesterday, I ran out of the house at 10am to get my copy of Go Set A Watchman. I had a long discussion with the lovely lady on the checkout in Waterstones (sorry for holding you up by the way!) about my nerves about the book. I didn’t want the book that perfectly envisaged a simple, uncomplicated way of understanding the world and how you should see it to become tainted and spoiled by these new, grown up, complicated characters.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
This is just one of the quotes that has stuck with me since fourth year of high school, when I first picked up a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. A lesson which I had already been taught by own parents. Maybe that’s why it struck a chord with me, and why Atticus became so much of role model to me, and probably to so many other people. Atticus was patient, understanding, loving, and he taught his children lessons in an all-knowing way. He always seemed to know what his children were up to before they did it, and they idolised him because he always knew exactly what they needed to hear.
When I was young, that’s what my parents were to me. They knew when I was going to jump on the bed. They knew when I was upset without me needing to say anything. They knew when I’d taken haribo from the sweet box when I wasn’t supposed to. And Atticus is exactly the same as that, the perfect parent.
Scout loves her dad, and idolises him in the way we all do if we have parents like Atticus growing up. They are perfect, they are loving, they are amazing in every way. It’s when you begin to grow up that you realise they’re not perfect, no matter how amazing they still are. You understand that a lot of what they do is guess work. You begin to question the things they tell you because that’s just part of growing up.
I opened Go Set A Watchman, after having read reviews hailing Atticus as a ‘racist old man’. There was so much anxiety in my stomach I didn’t know if I could bear starting it. (Especially with that Jem bombshell in chapter one!) Every page I turned I was absolutely terrified because I was waiting for racist Atticus to appear and start yelling obscenities at me.
However, halfway through the book, Atticus was still the same. The sensible man, older now, but still wise, still thoughtful, still clever.
And then the court scene came.
I cried, I’m not going to lie. Something in my head was screaming: ‘This isn’t you, Atticus! What are you doing! You don’t belong here!’
But then I realised – that is precisely what Scout (aka Jean Louise) was screaming in her own head. She was horrified, physically sick, because that’s what she was seeing as well. Her perfect father was not so perfect anymore.
I started to feel a bit better because I suddenly realised how clever this book had been. By revealing this part of Atticus to us in this way, we understood exactly what Scout was going through. We became Scout. I’ve honestly never felt so much a part of a book before.
When the confrontation between Scout and Atticus came, I felt such a deep sense of relief, even though Scout didn’t.
Because we are reading the scene from a biased point of view. Scout assumed the worst. She saw her father in a situation which was such a shock, she assumed the worst.
To understand what was happening, I had to google a lot about American politics – but I understood eventually. Atticus didn’t think that equality was wrong…he just thought that the way they were going about it was wrong. Which was what Scout, and ultimately the reader, was disagreeing with.
The press describing Atticus as an old racist is the perfect example of the way we feel while reading the book. Atticus, for us, is our father, and everyone, while reading this book, assumed the worst of him because of our preconceived notions of him as the perfect character.
Growing up is about questioning things. But it is also about realising that there are opinions which oppose your own. And that is exactly what Atticus teaches Scout in this book.
Surely, then, this is the same Atticus who taught Scout that everyone deserves their point of view to be seen? That everyone deserves a fair trial? That everyone is equal? He is doing the same thing he has done again and again because that is who he is. The lessons are more complex now because Scout is older now – she is Jean Louise, no longer a young girl obsessed with the scary man across the road.
For us, too, the lesson becomes more complex. We learn that people are complex, and that just because we don’t agree with something, Atticus’ views on this Supreme Court ruling in this case, it doesn’t mean that he is a bad person. It seems almost humorous that the majority of the press coverage is so shocked about the apparent change in Atticus that they completely avoid what we are supposed to be learning.
To Kill A Mockingbird was a book from a young child’s perspective, with a simple lesson fit for a child. Sometimes the simplicity of a child is exactly what we need to understand parts of life.  
Go Set A Watchman, however, teaches a much more complicated lesson of understanding the complexity of life and being your own person. And, for me, again I saw the threads of what Atticus told Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird – if we had only stepped into Atticus’ skin, or Hank’s, then we might have been more understanding, even if we had not agreed.

I’m not sure that this completely sums up what I felt about the book, but I wanted to combat the idea that this book was bad because Atticus had changed – I disagree wholeheartedly, and can’t wait to read the book again…more slowly this time! 

Why it took so long for me to identify as a feminist

I’m a feminist.
For years, the word feminist was something I shied away from – more than that, I was very argumentatively not one. Feminists, to me, were over-sensitive girls who were trying too hard to feel ‘oppressed’, when actually they were just fine.
I thought feminism was girls getting upset over silly little jokes. It was getting opinions about men shoved in my face every other day. It was the idea that because I didn’t feel particularly career minded, I was somehow less of a woman.
                My journey to becoming a feminist was a pretty long one. Mainly due to the fact that I had a complete misconception of what the word meant. I thought all the above things and so ran as far away from it as I could. Laughing at the kitchen jokes, criticising the ‘fact’ that all feminists wanting to be more powerful than men, and scorning the complete idea of the movement.
                So many times I said: “It’s not equality they want – it’s to be in power over men. And besides, I don’t really think girls have it that bad anyway!”
                Then, slowly, I began to listen more to ideas about feminism. And some things hit home. The fact that I can’t walk home alone in town on a Friday night without being hassled by someone. The fact that, as the amazing Always campaign pointed out, being feminine in society is definitely a negative – hit like a girl, run like a girl etc. The fact that if a women in power tells someone off, the criticism against them is a lot more derogatory than it would be if that was a man in power.
                Maybe you’re reading this and you’re thinking I’m ungrateful. And maybe I agree with you – a couple of hundred years ago being a woman in Britain was a lot harder than it is now. But I’m not saying I’m a feminist just because of my experiences. I’m saying this because out of the over 700 million illiterate people in the world, two thirds of them are female. I’m saying this because in many countries, young girls are still forced to marry against their will. I’m saying this as even though I am privileged, I know that many people are not. 
                Things aren’t even close to perfect here, and that makes me really sad. But I am so grateful for how good things are in comparison to other countries or even other areas in Britain. I have the chance to go to university, to make a living if I want, to have children if I want.
                Feminism, for me, is not about being more powerful than men. It’s about raising women to the same level – the same job opportunities, the same expectations. And in the same way, it’s letting men be what they want to be. Things like paternity leave and mental health care are so important, and a false sense of what masculinity is can stop them happening. A lack of equality hurts men in Britain as much as it hurts women.
                Feminism is also not about having to be something. I don’t have to be career-minded because the advancement of women has provided these opportunities. Feminism is a fight trying to allow us to follow the paths we want to, whether that’s creating a career or a family or even both.
                For such a long time, I thought these things but the word still terrified me. I didn’t want to be associated with the idea of misandry that I previously associated it with. But one of my good friends, Lauren, managed to say something that hit home for me.  
                I’m a Christian. I identify as a Christian and I’m happy to call myself a Christian, even though there are many other people who identify as Christians who quite frankly believe and do things that I don’t think are a true representation of what I believe. That doesn’t stop me identifying as one.
                In the same way, I choose to identify as a feminist. Just because there are people out there who misrepresent the name, that doesn’t mean I’m going to not call myself one.
                I am a feminist, and I’m finally at a point in my life when I’m not afraid to admit it. Not because I want to be better than anyone else, or because I’m bitter and angry – but because I’ve (with so much help from other people) identified a problem and want to see it changed.
                This might be stating the obvious for a lot of you, but it’s taken a pretty long time for me to come to this conclusion – I wanted to post this just on the off chance there was someone else who was where I was even a year ago. So yeah, hope you enjoyed and hopefully this made sense! J

(And here is a link to the campaign I mentioned earlier – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjJQBjWYDTs)