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Palm Coast Friday, Jul. 24, 2015 3 years ago

'Watchman,' chapter 4; plus: Is criticism of Harper Lee's craft fair in his novel?

by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Before I comment on chapter 4, I’d like to take a moment to meta-blog.

As I’ve read the blog posts from the other readers on FlaglerLive, I have been impressed by the thoughtfulness of everyone’s observations. I’m not patronizing when I say that your way with words and your overall intelligence are impressive and even intimidating at times.

I’ve also noticed that, my posts included, many of the observations have focused on the failures of the novel so far. We seem to have reached a consensus that this is not a very well-written novel, and we have ample evidence to back that up.

But something is troubling me. As Pierre put it, the publication of this novel could be considered literary rape: Harper Lee likely had no intention of the novel ever coming to life, and yet others are now profiting by her dementia and publishing it anyway. For that reason, I can sympathize with the people who are boycotting the novel to honor Lee’s memory, and to honor the canonized “Mockingbird.”

By participating in this blog and encouraging others to follow along, however, I have decided not to boycott the novel. Still, I feel that Harper Lee deserves my respect for what she has contributed to American letters. And so, rather than taking every opportunity to criticize the flaws of this story, which is apparently a draft and not a polished masterpiece, I will focus my future efforts on what I can discern as Lee’s storytelling intentions in “Watchman.” After all, I wouldn’t want to judge Michelangelo as an artist based on the merits of his hand-drawn, discarded figure studies. Rather, I would study the discarded drawings, searching for insights into his creative process.

Chapter 4: Two small things stood out to me in chapter 4. First was Jean Louise’s statement to Henry, “I’m so afraid of making a mess of being married to the wrong man — the wrong kind for me, I mean.” I remember when I was an undergraduate at college and going on a lot of chaste dates (Brigham Young University was a lot like the Harper Lee 1950s in that respect), wondering whom I would marry. I used to joke with my friends that I wasn’t going to get married until I was 32, just because I was afraid of marrying someone and then falling out of love with her.

Fortunately, for me, my marriage and my family life have been wonderful. But I talk with my wife Hailey occasionally about how lucky we are that neither of us turned out to be a psychopath. Because no matter how long you date the person (and we didn’t date very long), you still don’t know if a year later they could let their true personality show and actually be cruel or messed up in one way or another.

So, Jean Louise’s fear I think accounts for a lot of her ostentatious personality. She is putting on a show to protect herself from committing to a person. She is young and doesn’t want to take risks, so she jokes and insults instead.

The second moment that stood out to me was how she reacts to this observation of Henry’s: “You never drink more than half your second cup of coffee after supper.” Jean Louise is “surprised” and then “shy” at the thought that Henry has paid so much attention that he noticed such a small thing about her personality.

One of the main threads in the novel so far is Jean Louise’s relationship with Henry, and this could be a major moment. It feels actually like the first true moment of her heart genuinely falling in love with him. It’s a sweet moment, and I feel true to life. Because when you’re in love, these kinds of small things do matter.

The moment also has a complicated side to it, however, and that’s the fact that it’s still inward-pointing. Jean Louise is falling more in love with Henry why? Because he is paying attention to her in excruciating detail, and that pleases her. Her self-centeredness is being excused and rewarded by his adoration. Is this more like worship than love? In her immaturity, does Jean Louise know the difference?


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