Posted in American Literature, Book review, Literature, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: Go Set A Watchman – Harper Lee

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Hello Lovelies!

May is gifting us with some glorious sunshine right now so I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you the book I read for the Reading Challenge: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. This book was perfect for the focus of this month: Read a book about hope and growth. Feel free to remind yourself of the different themes for each month here. Harper Lee was an exceptional writer. Like many others, To Kill A Mockingbird was a book I read for GCSE and it has stayed with me ever since. I’ve had the privilege of teaching this too which provides another way of looking at things. I remember when this book came out and the hype and media attention around it. You are probably aware that it was initially promoted as a sequel to TKAM but it is now being seen as a first draft. Regardless, being older now, obviously, I wanted to see whether my opinions changed on the characters and themes being presented. It’s left me thinking I need to read TKAM again really! Let’s see how it goes!

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What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Jean Louise Finch, or “Scout” as we also know her, the novel opens with her arrival to her hometown Maycomb, Alabama from New York. This is her annual fortnight long visit to see her father Atticus her Uncle Jay and Aunt Alexandra, the latter replacing Calpurnia’s place following her retirement. We learn that Jem, her brother, died of a heart condition which also killed their mother. Jean Louise is met by her childhood sweetheart, Henry “Hank” Clinton who is working for her father.

“She was almost in love with him. No, that’s impossible, she thought: either you are or you aren’t. Love’s the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There are different kinds of love, certainly, but it’s a you-do or you-don’t proposition with them all.”

When returning from Finch’s Landing, Jean Louise and Henry are overtaken by a car full of black men, travelling at a frantic speed. This example of dangerous driving leads Hank to tell Jean Louise that many black people now are driving around without insurance and licences. As a result, this leads to Jean Louise reflecting upon this and dealing with the minor scandal that it causes in the community.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are introduced as sources of great controversy in the community. Whilst at home, Jean Louise finds a leaflet entitled “The Black Plague” among her father’s papers. Naturally outraged, Jean Louise decides to follow her father to a Citizens’ Council meeting. Here, Atticus introduces a man who delivers an incredible racist speech. Horrified from the balcony, Jean Louise listens, outraged. She’s unable to forgive her father for betraying her and flees the hall.

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”

That night, Jean Louise dreams of Calpurnia, her family’s black maid and mother figure to her and Jem for most of their lives. Over breakfast with her father, Jean Louise learns that Calpurnia’s grandson killed a drunk pedestrian the previous night whilst speeding in his car. Atticus agrees to take the legal case to prevent the NAACP from getting involved. It is following this that Jean Louise decides to visit Calpurnia. Whilst retaining their manners, Calpurnia and her family are polite but cold. As a result, Jean Louise leaves utterly devastated.

Deep down this is eating away at Jean Louise. She has to know what her father was doing at that meeting. Uncle Jack tells her that that Atticus hasn’t become a racist but he is trying to slow down federal government interaction into state politics. Following this, Jean Louise receives a lengthy lecture about race, politics and the history of the South. His aim is to get her to reach a conclusion that she struggles to grasp.

Jean Louise then has a flashback to her teenage years and recalls an incident where Atticus plants the seed for an idea in Henry’s brain and left him to come to the right conclusion independently. Jean Louise exclaims that she doesn’t love Henry and won’t ever marry him. She’s incredibly vocal at her disgust at seeing him and her father at that council meeting. In reaction to this, Henry explains that sometimes people have to do things that they just don’t want to. This is a fact of life that we can all relate to!

“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.”

Henry defends his case by saying that the reason he is part of the Citizens’ Council is because he wants to use his intelligence to make an impact and a difference on Maycomb, the hometown where he wants to make money and raise a family. Jean Louise screams that she could never live with a hypocrite, only to then notice her father standing behind her, smiling.

During a heated discussion with Jean Louise, Atticus argues that the blacks of the South are not ready for full civil rights and the Supreme Court’s decision was unconstitutional and irresponsible. Reluctantly, Jean Louise does agree that the South is not ready to be fully integrated, she believes that the court was pushed into a corner by the NAACP and had to act. Jean Louise is confused and still devastated by her father. He is behaving in a way that is contrasting to how she was brought up and what he has taught her growing up. She returns to the family home and furiously packs her things. Just as she was about to leave, her uncle comes home.

“The only thing I’m afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in.”

Angrily, she complains to him and he slaps her around the face. He wants her to consider what has happened over the last two days and how she has processed them. Slowly, slowly, she decides that she can stand them. It is bearable because she is absolutely her own person. As a youngster, she fastened her conscience to her father’s, assuming that her answers would be his answers. Atticus wanted to break her idols so she could reduce him to the status of human being – a very difficult lesson to learn and experience.

Jean Louise then goes back to the office and makes a date with Henry. She reflects that Maycomb has taught him things she had never known. She goes to apologise to her father, but he tells her of his pride for her. As a father, he wants her to stand up for what she thinks is right. Jean Louise didn’t want her world disturbed but she tried to crush the man who was trying to preserve it for her. Telling him that she loves him, she silently welcomes him to the human race. For the first time ever, she sees him as literally, just a man. Not an idol.

 “You wouldn’t have listened to him. You couldn’t have listened. Our gods are remote from us, Jean Louise. They must never descend to human level.”

Final Thoughts

This book is exceptional in every sense of the word. I loved seeing an older Jean Louise and to watch the lessons she learns at her age. She is inevitably changed by the big city of New York but her lessons clearly are vital for her home background too. I do naturally want to call her Scout, but we must remember she is an adult here! It’s always jarring when reading about race because it’s naturally a difficult subject to discuss. However, it’s representation here is delicate. I said at the start that I think Harper Lee is an excellent writer! This didn’t disappoint but just remind yourself, this is not To Kill A Mockingbird. I found myself naturally trying to make links and connections which is very natural. I missed Jem, but the links Jean Louise made helped with this. Overall, a great book!

Big Love all xx

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Posted in American Literature, Book review

The Great Gatsby Review

Hey guys! 

Happy Bank Holiday Monday! In true British tradition, it’s rained all day. However, I’ve used that to my own advantage and had a bit of a reading day. I finished Into The Water (review in the future, maybe). I also decided to re-read The Great Gatsby. This is one of my favourite books EVER and then I realised I haven’t reviewed it which is insane. 


What’s it all about? 

The novel is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway. Nick, originally from Minnesota, moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to learn about the bond business. He rents a house in the West  Egg district of Long Island. This area is populated by the ‘new rich’, a group who have made their fortunes too recently to have established social connections, who are prone to lavish displays of wealth. Jay Gatsby, his neighbour, who lives in a glorious gothic mansion and throws extravagant parties every Saturday evening. 

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” 

Despite his surroundings, Nick is not like the others of West Egg. He was educated at Yale and has social connections in East Egg, the fashionable area of Long Island home to the upper class. Nick visits East Egg one evening to have dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and we brutish husband, Tom. Whilst there Nick meets Jordan Baker, a beautiful, cynical young woman, who he is quite taken with. It is here where Nick learns about Daisy’s marriage: Jordan reveals he has a lover, Myrtle Wilson, who lives in the valley of ashes, a grey, depressing dumping ground. Soon after, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle. At a vulgar party in the apartment Tom keeps for Myrtle, she begins to taunt Tom about Daisy. He responds by breaking her nose. 

It is during the summer that Nick finally reveals an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. Here he sees Jordan which leads him to meet Gatsby himself. Gatsby is a very charismatic, well spoken with his English accent, a remarkable smile and calls everyone “old sport.” Gatsby requests Jordan’s attention alone. It is here Nick later learns more about his mysterious neighbour. Gatsby tells Jordan that he knew Daisy in Louisville in 1917 and is deeply, passionately in love with her. Gatsby spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dick, across the bay from his mansion. Gatsby’s lifestyle and parties are simply an attempt to impress Daisy and get her attention. 

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

Gatsby asks Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy, but he is afraid that Daisy will refuse him if she knows he still loves her. Nevertheless, Nick invites Daisy round without mentioning Gatsby. Initially, it started awkwardly. However, their love soon rekindled and their connection was re-established. 

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.” 

Over time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Gatsby stares at Daisy with such passion, that Tom soon realises he is in love with her. Tom (the master of double standards) is outraged at the thought of his wife being involved with another man. The group take a trip to New York City. It is here that Tom confronts Gatsby. Tom asserts that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby couldn’t understand or contemplate and he announces that Gatsby is a criminal. It is at this point that Daisy realises that she chooses Tom. Tom sends them back to New York in an act of defiance. 

On the return journey, Nick, Jordan and Tom drive through the valley of ashes. Yet, on this journey, they realise that Gatsby’s car has hit and killed Myrtle. They rush straight back to Long Island, where Nick learns from Gatsby that Daisy was in fact driving the car when it hit Myrtle. Yet, Gatsby wants to take the blame for her. 

The following day, Tom tells Myrtle’s husband, that Gatsby was the driver of the car. George, somewhat naturally concludes that as the driver he must have been a lover. George vows to get revenge so heads towards Gatsby’s house. Gatsby is shot followed by George himself. 

“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

Nick stages a small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan and moves back to the Midwest to escape the absolute disgust he feels for people surrounding Gatsby’s life. He struggles with the moral decay among the wealthy. He reflects that Gatsby’s dream of Daisy and their love is corrupted by money an dishonesty. Fitzgerald’s nod to the American Dream of happiness and individualism. Here it is been tarnished by the pursuit of wealth. Nick’s dream and the American Dream is well and truly over. 

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 

Overview:

I love this book for so many reasons. I even love Gatsby. I wish I had someone who loved me that much. I’d do anything for that green light. Fitzgerald is an incredible writer – I feel like I live and breathe his words. I’m also interested in his relationship with his wife Zelda. He had a fascinating yet tragic life. It was inevitable that this American Dream was going to end – his own American Dream ending was solemn. Yet, I take great hope from this little book. The mixed narration of 1st and 3rd person makes me feel like I personally know these characters and despite it all, I have hope for them. 

I have to say, my copy of this book is beautiful. I was showing my friend today. It was this that made me read it again actually. I cannot stress enough how awesome this little book is. Buy your copy from the Folio Society because all of their books are stunning too. 



Read it. Live it. 

Big love xx