I am very up-front about my knowledge gap when it comes to American history. It’s my academic blindspot; it didn’t get much attention in elementary school, and then in university my History undergrad focused primarily on Canadian and European history.
So for me, reading books like To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman are also whole new worlds of historical context for me to explore. This book (Go Set A Watchman) is so rich with historical references, it is not only a pleasure to read, but also incredibly educational, if you take the time to research the references being made in the book.
For example, before this I didn’t know that it was in 1954 that the Supreme Court ruled that state-sanctioned segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. I didn’t know that the NAACP stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and that it was founded in 1909 and still stands today. I didn’t know that it was Scipio that burned Carthage to ground, and that Hannibal was one of the greatest military strategists of all time. Although I already knew Gilbert and Sullivan were hilarious, I was introduced to new G&S pieces I wasn’t familiar with before. I didn’t know that fig trees were poisonous, what a Coffee was, and that ‘Pounding the Pastor’ does not mean beating the crap out of the leader of your congregation.
You should know that few things in this world bring me greater joy than a book filled with annotations (my own annotations – I’m very particular about that, I don’t want other people’s notes). In high-school I lent my annotated copy of 1984 to someone, and he never returned it; I still mourn its loss. The act of annotation takes reading to a whole new level of engagement and interaction that you just don’t get if you let all the intricacies of the book pass you by. That is passive reading, and if you’re reading passively, why are you reading at all?
For example, Scout (ahum, sorry, Jean Louise) exclaims repeatedly that she doesn’t understand men throughout the novel. First, I hear you, sister. Men are exhaustingly complicated creatures trying to pass themselves off as just the opposite. But they’re not fooling anyone. Scout’s frustration at her inability to understand men, however, is a little bit deeper than that. Because she is a tomboy, and never quite identified as a girl, one would assume Scout would feel more at home in the company of men, and have some insights in to their psyches. One would be completely wrong. Scout’s character exists in this limbo between the prototypical mid-twentieth century woman and the prototypical man of the same century. Not quite fitting in with either group. Sound familiar, anyone? Just as easily as Scout screams out that she doesn’t understand men, she could yell the same about women.
BUT THERE’S MORE. It goes even deeper than that. When Scout says she doesn’t understand men, she means so much more. She means she doesn’t understand racism, sexism, she doesn’t understand social norms and double standards. She doesn’t understand politics and pride. She doesn’t understand expectations and the world around her. That’s some deep stuff, Scout.
I could go on. Uncle Jack is a gift to readers and history buffs everywhere. He is a treasure and we should cherish him.
My sacrosanct view of Atticus was shaken, but not completely shattered. After everything I heard and read before picking up this book I expected much more damage.
Go Set A Watchman is a definite re-read for me, and an immediate classic. I highly recommend it. If you do read it, do yourself a favour and take the time to look up those references you don’t understand. It will make all the difference.