Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

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A LITERARY VIEW: How to Have the Difficult Discussions Without Losing Yourself

Fictional writing can often provide excellent examples of healthy (and unhealthy) emotional processing and discourse. “Go Set a Watchman,” a fictional novel by Harper Lee and her unexpected, controversial first draft of her famous novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” shows how someone can positively deal with “negative” emotions without becoming too idealistic or too rigid — a source of emotional problems.

The book explores the racial tensions brewing in the 1950s American South and dives into the complex relationship between father, Atticus, and daughter, Scout. Atticus is a lawyer in Alabama who surprisingly takes on the case of a young African American boy.

In Mockingbird, Lee portrays Atticus as saintly: “I do my best to love everybody,” he says when Scout questions why he’s going out on a limb to defend a black man. Scout knows her father to be racist, while she herself is not. In Watchman, Atticus is more complex and chides Scout for her idealistic views of racial equality: “The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.”

Nevertheless, Scout remains steadfast on her quest to clarify her vision of equality. Her ability to question others, discuss difficult topics and still stay true to her beliefs is a good example of how one should deal with their “negative” emotions. Scout has to first accept that she disagrees or is even angry at her father for not being on the same page as her. If she doesn’t accept her stance, she certainly can’t express it effectively and will more likely bury it and act out on it.

While clearly, racism is abhorrent, the calm banter between Scout and Atticus is the healthy way to grow in one’s beliefs but also in one’s emotional well being (as opposed to what happened between the opposing sides in the Charlottesville incident).

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