SarahWest.com, Author of “The Search for the Beloved”
“Shutting away of a story because of not wanting a character to change and become seen in a very, very human light (funny antonym) with the flaws they most fear is a true denial from which this whole problem of racism is born.” – Sarah West, review
Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
Originally published July 7th, 2015 a few days before the book release.
My commentary on the buzz of Harper Lee’s new soon–to–be released book Go Set A Watchman
To Kill a Watchman or Not To Kill A Watchman. This is the question!
I love how direct a commentator is discussing one of the Great Controversies of 2015 over Harper Lee’s new book Go Set A Watchman set to be released globally this Tuesday, July 14. The strictest security has been in place to preserve secrecy till then. Passions, still, are mounting with polarization abounding having not even read the book! Defendants of the one–and–only To Kill A Mockingbird are a plenty with many a viewpoints lashing about online with every reader chomping at the bit to commit murder themselves on this very new, old book of Lee’s, her original story Go Set A Watchmen – the parent to To Kill a Mockingbird!
Some already have at once closed the book forever before even before opening it simply by reading the opinion of the New York Times front page online review by Michiko Kakutani. One commentator unabashedly acclaims they will never, ever read Watchman. Another exalts defiantly their clinging to the “old” Atticus and nothing will tarnish his godly perfection.
Is a hero ever perfect? What hero was ever perfect? I guess Atticus was – at least in their minds – these barnacles of idealism. What world do they live in? The infamous “they”?
But, how deeply do these idealists read Harper Lee’s second generation uber revised, utterly altered expression: her second book, To Kill A Mockingbird? First published but second creation. First child to survive birth with many operations. But, who was this child before its ginormous make–over rivaling those plastic surgeries in Hollywood today? Made archetypal, sculpted into an epic tale, stripped of its complex humanity and messy real opinions. Smoothed like a well–oiled machine. A perfect story. Not like a perfect storm. Not like an imperfect humanity: messy, coiled and rampant with contradiction.
In To Kill A Mockingbird, published in 1960, her one and only until now, where she does more than hint at the deep seeded inconsistencies of character of our so–called hero? Is a hero a hero when one is simply, he says, “doing what’s right” by the way? Colored by prejudices so rampant in the human mind. What are the underlying motivations? But, I digress. That’s a whole other question…!
I believe – and I LOVE how this new release is building all of these opinions from every direction and pointing out the amazing diversity in human opinion! Reading the New York Times “review” – its waaaaayyyy too revealing by the way – a major spoiler alert it is.
SUGGESTION: Go straight to the comments if you like, and read the review part after you read Watchman.
The COMMENTS are extraordinary! I’m telling you. The comments are such an exquisite cross–section of American and some global weigh–ins. You see wondrous intelligence, deep perceptivity and in my humble or arrogant opinion, you see a lot of judgment and radical denial – head–in–the sand at its best.
I have read many people stating, shockingly in my opinion, that they are refusing to read this new release of Lee’s because it destroys the “perfect hero” of their dreams! I’m serious! There are quite a few comments where people flat–out are trashing the book before they even read it just from reading this New York Times Book review set in bold letters on the front page today! Now, THAT’S obscene to me. This kind of shutting away of a story because of not wanting a character to change and become seen in a very, very human light (funny antonym) with the flaws they most fear is a true denial from which this whole problem of racism is born.
There I said it.
I’m scared of the lash–back from saying that but I don’t see any of those kind of blinders on in other comments so I feel safe that all we humans do have an openness in us for hearing and seeing from varying opinions. And, there is safety in numbers…?
I’m tempted to say it’s as if some are burning the great Library of Alexandria all over again!!!
There is more than one opinion in this world and this is the beauty of our existence. Diversity. Its what creates this exceptional ball spinning in space. How enlightening to have a forum where people feel free to comment though. I find people’s opinions/comments as fascinating as the books themselves… I LOVE that we have the opportunity to hear/read the inner workings of others psyches through the miracle of the internet.
For good or for bad, we humans are filled with a great variety, a great complexity that is at the same time a cookie cutter of one another. We’re a funny blend of unique and seemingly unchanged repeating forms… this magnificent mystery of contradiction is only superseded by the profound mystery of our Love.
Capote or Not Capote
To veer off taking a sharp right – or left turn, thank goodness someone has the genius sense to speak up about the authorship controversy over To Kill A Mockingbird!
There have been rumors abounding for decades about how much Truman Capote, Lee’s childhood friend and character in Mockingbird, may have contributed to its final revelation. Some surmise on the extreme, that only through Capote’s efforts did Mockingbird become the masterpiece now voted as the greatest book of the 20th Century.
A commentator who brings to light this issue quotes succinctly about Capote’s well–known character as a braggart to say the least. I never met Capote – do I even need to say? (but how we judge don’t we!) – but, I have listened to him in interviews and through documentaries. Arrogant or not, I think this commentator I’m referring to is quite right that just about anybody would, finally, burst at the seams to report and reveal their contribution to such a liberally acclaimed work of art! And, their description of his character certainly hits this point home through and through.
One thing we do know, Capote had no shame at all about revealing all the secrets of others he knew like those of the high–society folk who saddled up to him after his fame from In Cold Blood. Look for the infamous roman à clef Esquire Magazine article from 1975: “La Côte Basque 1965.”
At rest in his New York Apartment
I don’t believe he could keep a secret of someone else’s though he closeted away many of his own hording more and more, confounding those that dropped away one by one like flies to a foul light more clever than instinct to run from that which can kill leaving those former devotees and prideful clinger–on’ers wondering which secrets were lies and which were truths.
I love, too, that a commentator, honors the truth of Harper Lee’s essential contribution to Truman Capote’s own greatest novel, In Cold Blood. A very real, identifiable, inarguable fact, that it is her research, her personality that so gracefully acclimated to those she interviewed for Capote’s book (those same people who completely rejected Capote on the other hand), etc. without which, there would be no In Cold Blood as we know it.
And, I must mention, Lee edited In Cold Blood and some say contributed greatly to its writing. So which is it?
Many people are prone to gossip exposing of other’s deep, dark frailties/crimes while they themselves shy away from their fears sealing from sight their own pain. Who wants to look at themselves when they can while away the time being a shill for their own seeming good at the cost of trusting, naïve, arrogant and mournful and not–so–mournful souls. How much did Capote (I just, finally, let myself be conscious of a disturbing similarity of words in his name) create a foil for his own pain with the horrible betrayal of, in–fact, false friends by exposing those deepest held secrets of people who he had let think were his closest friends.
Out of revenge for feeling used himself by those high–society epps, for feeling like a dog–n–pony show was he motivated? Yet, how did he use them? begs the question.
And, too, I have to ask, how did his psyche fair to bear four years of immersion into the minds and entire lives of two… known, ultimately convicted horrendous murderers? I’m scared just to write that word especially in association with the facts that we know from his book. Can you imagine being him? He who delved so deeply into these two’s lives for the benefit, entertainment, education, demonstration, enlightenment of the public, the curious – ever curious at any cost public – the reader?
He who became so close to these two to have ingested, digested, gestated and birthed this baby of a book – his greatest novel? At what cost to him was this fruit of his loins? This named Frankensteinian by–product? He chose it. And, still, I ask, “At what cost?”
What did he think, decide to do in the aftermath of everything? Of the culmination of witnessing the inhumane murdering of two murderers he had come to know so deeply. Twisted. Intimacy with the devil? All for the good of a great story ever told?
Was this his To Kill A Mockingbird? Was this his version of the tyranny of the Deep South’s patriarchal prejudice? Was he commenting on the horrors of two humans or the society which birthed what they became? Was it satire in the end? Was it all a commentary on the horrors of abandoning children? Of neglect and abuse turning into greater abuse, incomprehensible terminal abuse?
How much could Capote bear? How much could he who suffered ridicule and harsher, still, ostracization?
Was he trying to heal a wound, correct a social imbalance, point out the insane hypocrisy of the ruling class who rule and out–weigh others even in their true minority? Was he trying to balance the scales through opening the secret door to the slave owners’ windowless, lightless basement bed–chamber filled with sharp, metal devises of torture?
Is this what Harper Lee efforted to do in her first novel? What some call a first draft? Is the core of Watchman? A “first draft” or the first and final story? It is the final story now? It is the one we will be left with. Indelibly. Like it or not. Read it or not. Watchman is in the air and in our consciousness, utterly, already. Here to stay it is. She has done her work. Prepared the way. For this time. For this work. For our minds to receive her final mission, her first transmission.
Who is this hero? Who is this bigot? Who is this slave owner? Who is this tyrant? Who is this father? Who is this murderer? Who is this policeman, police state? Who is this protector? Who is this betrayer? Who is this Watchman?
She is the opposite of Truman. She kept all the secrets…. other’s and hers… until now.
And, she has opened her door… after all these years.
We may walk in… or not.
PART III: Hers or Not Hers
PS: I can’t wait to read Go Set A Watchman! I’m just – to quote myself – “bursting at the seams” to read it!
Who will ever know what this book was when she first submitted it and how much of it is revision of hers, suggestion from editors, publishers, etc. and how much of it is those business builders fingers plying at her original creation; we’ll never, never, ever know.
But, what rings true for me, is this book’s worth on its own along with its inseparable off–spring Mockingbird. And, Watchman may, even – actually, bear the fruit of a deeper, long called for conscious transformation that Mockingbird only hinted at. Who was distracted by that “heroism?”
I say “hinted” because I am talking about the quieter truth in Mockingbird that has not been trampled upon and all but washed out (pun intended –––) in this new release of what’s old and original – the Watchman who observes. She observes. Is the Watchman a judger? Is the Watchman a notator. Is the Watchman a Judas? Is the Watchman a savior? It this Watchman a reporter to offer us the change gazing in the shiny looking glass to see what we will see? Are we the Watchman?
This author is a woman. She is a daughter born in the south in an era wrought with injustice long held strong by the male dominated domain called This World. Bigger, broader than the South but, colloquial or global, tyranny of all sorts breeds its poisons and engenders its mutants – malformed, aberrant to create something new and beneficial or, torturing and evil all depending on that unique thing called free-will and the strength there of.
SHE wrote this book. This pair – two sides of the same coin. SHE wrote this dueling effort that flanks her past and future as she stands in the center gazing from her perspective in adulthood turning back to her fears, confusions and will to survive her own childhood as she saw other humans NOT survive.
SHE gazes forward to her future by looking at the man who helped make her: her father. The man whom she idolized as a god, a man who she feared and loathed as she discovered his fallibility and inability to be the hero of her own dreams. A man whose hand bound others and broke them.
Is the dominator always the one who wins? Can he change? Can he open to humility?
PART IV: To Grow Up or Not to Grow Up / To Speak or Not To Speak
Reckoning ones own flaws is something we all must do to grow up and move on in life fulfilling the destinies toward which our hearts and souls propel us. As we do this, we inevitably face the perceptions and misperceptions of the humanity of our parents.
Because of their imperfections, we may blame for our own or, we may see them, react and grow with awareness and acceptance using it all for fodder in addition to inspiration for the fulfillment of our own lives. Its up to us from moment to moment.
This, to me, is the purpose of Watchman. Though there are many levels, of course, this is one of them.
And, another, to ultimately – simultaneously – call out the horrors of the inhumanity of humanity. Racism is but one. One that has fueled the greatest of crimes. These crimes honed rich and passed on and on until we cannot live in denial and as a product of the sickness of brainwashing whether our own hand is used or we turn away from the truth.
“Don’t Turn Away” this book says, to me. “Don’t turn away.”
Harper Lee says, “Look, now. Look!”
“Look deeper! Take a second look! I cannot die without this truth of mine that is yours being seen… heard.”
“Listen to me, my story that is YOUR story! This is OUR story!”
“I cannot die without trying. I cannot die without you listening.”
“Please listen to my story. Please listen to me!”
“Please listen to your story. Please listen to you.”
“Please listen to each of you!”
PART V: To Save or To Kill
Racism which burns at the very soul of those who suffered for millennia to etch fear into those who remain… to sear powerlessness into the fabric of consciousness like a psychic branding more effective than any chains or iron bars could be.
My prayer is that “Go Set A Watchman” is an ever deeper eye–opener to the truth of our dualistic nature of goodness/greatness/heroism and selfish/small–minded/cruelty/vile violence–beyond–belief that lies in the potential of the human psyche.
What group mentality can engender in those whom we like to see as good. But, turn the corner and what do they do when you are not looking? What power/dominion/dominance/control do “they” still hold over those they see as their progeny?
Is slavery of a race any different from slavery of women? Slavery of children? Slavery of all kinds? Slavery of other? Slavery of ourselves?
Our desperate need to control?
“SPEAK OUT” is what Watchman is SAYING.
Harper Lee is speaking out.
And, THIS is why she was “rejected”. SHE was rejected. HER voice. HER words. HER perspective. HER ORIGINAL STORY was disallowed. HER true story.
I believe Watchman is a true story. It is what she intended to share. It is personal. Deeply personal. It is her perspective on the environment she grew up in. The contradiction of life and of death. The POWER TO SAVE and the POWER TO KILL.
The contradiction of a man saving her life and a man killed out of racism. The contradiction of a man who raised her and a man who dominated others. A contradiction of black and of white. The contradiction of men vs. woman, children vs. adults, humans vs. all others.
Of witnessing the human fight over what is yours and mine. Of what is perceived as pure and impure. Over what is bigotry and hatred, and fear and reprisal, and shame and guilt, and a cycle that cannot free itself without being seen for what it is and then for what it isn’t and then… for what it is again… What it really is… What we all really are….
And this is how the book ends…. opening us, the reader, again, as we were before, but in a new way, to a deeper truth, to look within… to really see. And, hopefully, prayerfully, beggingly and, so too, it is a detached offering, part hopeless, despondent at this point and containing that grain of faith, planting that seed, yet again – This is the hope of all writers, isn’t it? – that, perhaps, we are to really, really change, finally. We have this opportunity.
What will we choose now?
Sarah West is a composer & presenter of Celestial Mystical Opera and has performed and taught throughout the world for over 15 years. She has 9 CD’s available and numerous transformational books including her newest release, the 15 Year Anniversary Edition of “The Search for the Beloved”.