Go Set a Watchman: 5 Haunting Quotes

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman has stirred emotions from the moment it was announced the book had been found, and now that it’s been published and consumed by so many who have eagerly awaited its presence. The content between the covers continues to poke and prod readers along a path that isn’t so easily trod.

To put it simply, there are moments in Go Set a Watchman that make one’s stomach drop, that leave serious readers at a loss for words for a few moments, that make bibliophiles reel with an uneasy feeling that the words are a bit too much to take in at once.

What are the most haunting quotations from Go Set a Watchman? Here are my top five.

“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.” – Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman

Perhaps the most pivotal truth of Go Set a Watchman is that sometimes reasonable men (and women) do not abide by reason. Emotion dictates lives in a way that sets reason completely aside, whether for the good or for the bad. Scout Finch must navigate rising waters where racism is the order of the day and her childhood hero seems to have gone completely under in the current. Prejudice and Faith—yes, they have something in common.

“Recorded history’s version does not coincide with the truth, but these are the facts, because they were passed down by word of mouth through the years, and every Maycombian knows them.” – Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman

Every citizen of small-town America, who is at least a single generation removed from others who have lived in the same vicinity, knows about not only their own kin, but everyone else’s and a good deal about the dirt of them all. From who showed up at church last week, to which child is not legitimate, to who drinks behind closed shutters, as a local, your history is on the table in a small town, as is your daddy’s and your daddy’s daddy’s.

“As she welcomed him silently to the human race, the stab of discovery made her tremble a little.” – Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman

This line encompasses the moment when Scout Finch realizes that her father is not perfect, and that the image she’s held onto since childhood has evaporated. It’s discomforting. It’s hard. It’s also an accurate representation of the way things happen between fathers and daughters as they grow up, and how those daughters see their fathers as real, live people.

“The time your friends need you is when you’re wrong.”- Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman

An admonition from Uncle Jack—he’s absolutely right, you know, but it’s a hard pill to swallow. Shedding light on the shortcomings of people you love is never easy, but it’s often extremely necessary—especially when you love them.

“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.” – Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman

I have thought long and hard about this particular piece of content. It’s not a soft truth. It’s nothing short of striking. Love is an all or nothing proposition, whether you’re speaking of a lover, a friend, or a father. You love someone, or you don’t, and that is that. Sometimes, though, telling the truth is harder than offering a half-hearted, “I love you.”

What quotation did you find most compelling or unsettling from Go Set a Watchman and why? Let us know!


  1. Virginia Baysden ·

    I should post these quotes for handy reference. I do very much appreciate “PREJUDICE, A DIRTY WORD, AND FAITH, A CLEAN ONE, HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON: THEY BOTH BEGIN WHERE REASON ENDS.”

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