Shattering illusions?

Go Set a Watchman Parts I and II

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Hello everyone and welcome back to my blog. In the last few weeks, I have finished The Namesake (as seen by the end of my blog posts) as well as The Great Gatsby (shout out to my teacher for not asking us to write a blog on it). I have currently started reading a new book, Harper Lee’s sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird; Go Set a Watchman. Go Set a Watchman follows the story of Jean Louise, known as Scout in the first novel, as she comes back to visit Maycomb from New York City as an adult. These first few chapters have already begun to shatter many illusions that were created by Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird. Let’s get into that…

Did they really say the N**** word?!

To answer your question avid reader, why yes they did. This new way of addressing blacks was very shocking to me as the “N” word was, in Scout’s time, a derogatory term. On top of addressing them that way, Jean also comes to stereotype them. When she’s riding with her “boyfriend?” Henry, a careless driver swerves beside them.

” “Carload of Negroes” [addressed Henry]

“What do they think they’re doing?” [asked Jean]

[..] “They’re a menace” ” (Lee, 80)

The couple discusses about the negative connotations behind Blacks driving as well as vent on their jobs on the cotton land. Such negative comments were astounding to me as in the first novel, Atticus puts everything on the line to save a black man from being punished from a crime he did not commit. Furthermore, younger Scout even becomes overwhelmed with emotions (mostly sadness and pain) to find about about his verdict. It seems like her younger self was much more open-minded and innocent, and refused to give in to society’s prejudices. As she grew older, she most likely was swallowed into a society who believed that Whites dominated. When she comes back to Maycomb, she does not view individuals based on their character but begins by making judgement on the color of their skin. Moreover, she seems so familiarized with this new concept that she does not even seem bothered in the slightest when she mentions the activities that take part on her land. She explains that:

“It was used for more things than family reunions, however: Negroes played basketball there, the Klan met there in its halcyon days” (72)

….I’m sorry, did you just say Klan?! as in The Klu Klux Klan ?!?!?!. I was bewildered by the casualness of that sentence, as if in her world, meetings between white supremacists whose purpose was to oppose the movement of rights for blacks was…normal? However, these were not the only sections in the first part that shocked me.

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Feminist Lens Mode: ON

As this novel is set in the 1930’s, the era after the Flappers, I was hoping to see more acceptance towards equality between men and women. But I was wrong.

When Jean first arrives in Maycomb from New York City, she arrived in overalls and her aunt scolds her:

“Her aunt sniffled “I wish this time you’d try to dress better while you’re home. Folks in town get the wrong impression of you. They think you are–ah–slumming” ” (21)

Jean’s aunt reinforces the importance of appearance and the male gaze by expecting Jean to put more effort into her appearance to please the townspeople and to appeal to their gaze by abiding to their ideas of beauty.

In addition, when Jean’s boytoy brings up the idea of marriage, she thinks to herself:

“I don’t even know how to run a cook. […] I’d have to wear a hat. I’d drop the babies and kill ’em” (80)

Cooking, taking care of and raising children, as well as attend ladies’ meetings are all expectations of a stay at home mother. Jean’s belief that she is not suitable to be a wife scares her because her time’s society valued domesticity and believed that woman should stay at home and be good wives. Thankfully, Jean does not care much for societal expectations. As domesticity values the idea that women should not be heard, Jean has made it clear already that her stubbornness will not let her keep quiet. She constantly makes comments that are not regarded positively but doesn’t care about what people think of her. Jean refusing to be oppressed by  some of the misogyny in the novel gives me some hope for the rest of the novel.

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Hobby: Role Playing

This first part of the novel is characterized by many flashbacks into Jean’s childhood. I personality like this stylistic device because it allows for greater contrast between past and present Jean’s character. As a child, she would often act out scenes with her brother, Jem, and her friend, Dill. In one scene, they pretend to be pastors and baptize Jean naked in the water. I know this sounds weird, but honestly, this is the only section in these chapters that seems normal to me. Everything else has taken me back, but hey, this is just kids being kids,right?

Connections

As an Algerian girl being raised in a Westernized country, I can definitely feel for Jean when she comes home and is expected to act differently when she comes to visit. Arab countries have pretty strict rules (such as no short/ revealing clothing, not allowed for girls to go out without a man with them, etc) and it is always a weird transition when I make my visits. The weird thing is, my town knows I’m Canadian and act differently when I’m not visiting, so why is it weird to do the expected when I’m there?

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I feel like Hannah Montana, having double identities

I also am a very stubborn girl (LOL) and always speak my mindfucku.gif
. It isn’t seen under a negative light in this day, but many consider swearing as ‘unladylike’ or ‘offending’, which is astounding to me because I don’t see the harm unless I’m making derogatory. sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. comments. I don’t swear in every sentence but I personally won’t go out of my way to not say vulgar words because it is unladylike.

 

Final thoughts

I was pretty surprised so far, I won’t lie. I think that is mainly due to the expectations I had before reading this novel. My English teacher had warned me that this novel would shatter many illusions created in To Kill a Mockingbird. When she told me that, I had expected Jean to be the same as she was when she was younger, but to uncover underlying racism and sexism when she visited. I never thought that Jean herself would have been trapped in that kind of thought process. I am very excited to keep reading and see any more surprises that are to come!

Work Cited

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Shattering illusions?

  1. Hey LL,
    I know you haven’t gotten too far into the novel yet, but was it anything like you expected? I definitely did not expect things to go down as they did. Personally, I found the first two parts a bit slow, with very little explicit plot development. The first five chapters are littered with off-hand comments made by each character that foreshadows the impending “shattering of illusions,”. For example, the comment about the klan, and the Black community being a menace?! Hmmm, I wonder what this novel could be about? It can’t possibly be about breaking the Finch family out of their previous saviour mold, can it? (super sarcastic). Jean Louise doesn’t seem like the naive little girl she once was in TKaM, but I think she might be redeemable (we’ll see).
    I love that you brought up the sexism; it’s ridiculous how some people could be so stuck on gender roles, especially since, as you said, the fight for gender equality in the flappers era had long since passed. Do you think the blatant sexism could be attributed to the general demographic of Maycomb (old, and stuck in their ways)? I thought it was ironic that Aunt Alexandra was the biggest stickler to societal expectations, and domesticity, but she always has been unrelenting when it came to rules.

    Happy reading, and I look forward to your reply,
    JFTG

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi JFTG,

      Thank you for your insight. To begin with, I reassure you that the novel was not at ALL what I expected it to be. In part, this contributes lots of mystery as I am not so sure what is going to happen next and I am very excited to find out.

      It’s very interesting that you bring up the demopgraphics of Maycomb as I hadn’t taken that much into account. As The Great Gatsby wsas my previous novel unit, I found out that the flappers represented a new era of freedom and towards equality. I realize now that this movement was popularized in NY (as TGG is based in those surroundings). I can now see why there is such a contrast between Jean and her aunt as Jean has been living in a forward- NYC society and her opinions and morals were able to grow. As for her aunt, she was raised in a small town with a small town mentality and unfortunately isn’t “up to date” with the latest feminist movement. It is very prominent when she asks Jean to “clean up” when she’s in Maycomb because her and the rest of her town are still stuck in that mysognist and judgemental time.

      Lisa

      Liked by 1 person

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