This article examines the function of Anglo-Saxon racial kinship in Harper Lee’s 2015 novel Go Set a Watchman, arguing that it obscures the relationship between personal family dynamics and national struggle over desegregation in the late 1950s. For Lee, psychological maturity and political liberty constitute the core features of a mythologized Anglo-Saxon racial inheritance, one shared by her novel’s white characters, and over the course of the novel, as its protagonist Jean Louise Finch rejects psychologically stunted and politically naive colorblind liberalism, she learns to “think racially” and embrace the virtues of massive resistance to integration. The novel’s equation of psychological maturity and white supremacy is key to Jean Louise consistent denial of the centrality of anti-Black violence and oppression throughout the long history of Anglo-Saxon and southern US culture the novel uncritically offers as the true nature of Jim Crow society. By emphasizing Lee’s self-conscious deployment of literary history in her construction of an Anglo-Saxon racial essence, the article distinguishes between the novel’s reactionary critiques of colorblind liberalism and progressive ones traditionally made by Lee’s critics.
“A Dirty Word These Days”: Anglo-Saxonism, Race, and Kinship in Go Set a Watchman
Garrett Bridger Gilmore is an instructor in the Departments of English and Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama. His research interrogates the impact of the historical memory of slavery on twentieth-century political and literary formations, and his writing has appeared in Mississippi Quarterly and North Carolina Literary Review.
Garrett Bridger Gilmore; “A Dirty Word These Days”: Anglo-Saxonism, Race, and Kinship in Go Set a Watchman. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 June 2022; 68 (2): 151–178. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-9808091
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