Gail Godwin’s The Watcher at the Gate offers a personal reflection on the myriad manifestation of the critical voice, a voice that typically blocks any and all creative endeavor before the implementation stage. Godwin’s essay recounts the effect of the critical voice on novelists specifically, however her “watcher” refers to the critical voice present in any creative person in pursuit of any form of creative work, from architect to video game designer.
The critical reader relates to Gail Godwin’s writing as a personal exploration of the profoundly universal human penchant for procrastination. The Watcher at the Gate employs an arresting, bracingly direct tone to address issues of self sabotage. This somewhat esoteric subject matter becomes more accessible through Godwin’s charming use of humor.
A critical response to Godwin’s The Watcher at the Gate begins with an appreciation of the fervent and inspiring tone Godwin applies to her subject matter. The tone of The Watcher at the Gate feels “led by the characteristic self-examination necessary to the Godwin protagonist” (Giles 3). Self sabotage, usually relegated to the self help realm, receives an honest and unapologetic treatment in Godwin’s hands.
The Watcher at the Gate continues Godwin’s tradition of “courageously show[ing] things as they are, even when they’re ambiguous” (Allen 4). Similarly, The Watcher at the Gate “reflects Godwin’s ongoing concern with the process of self-creation” (Pelzer 155).
The essay also contains Godwin’s signature literary conceit of analytical, self reflective characters. The voice of the essay feels compelled to ponder those aspects of the self that frustrate creativity and squelch creation in its nascent stage. Any reader prone to procrastination and self doubt immediately feels kinship with Godwin as a result.
Godwin opens her writing process up to the reader, and readily owns her insecurities.
“I was writing a novel, and my heroine was in the middle of a dream, and then I lost faith in my own invention and rushed to “an authority” to check whether she could have such a dream” (Godwin 1) Godwin’s self deprecating yet compassionate tone allows the reader to recognize his or her own inner critic through Godwin’s struggles. Godwin’s willingness to confront all obstacles in her path toward the goal of creative expression inspires the reader with the courage to investigate the extent to which he or she might share Godwin’s watcher.
Humor factors significantly in The Watcher at the Gate, and functions as a means to purvey the subject matter in a wry and comical way that makes it engaging, attractive and informative for the reader. “It is amazing the lengths a Watcher will go to keep you from pursuing the flow of your imagination” Godwin observes. “Watchers are notorious pencil sharpeners, ribbon changers, plant waterers, home repairers and abhorrers of messy rooms or messy pages. They are compulsive looker-uppers.
They are superstitious scaredy-cats. They cultivate self-important eccentricities they think are suitable for “writers” (Godwin 1). Humor also allows Godwin to offer advice to the reader in a light hearted, playful way: “There are various ways to outsmart, pacify, or coexist with your Watcher” (Godwin 1).
Godwin’s use of humor promotes an impish yet authentic response to self sabotage: “If he’s really ruining your whole working day, sit down, as Jung did with his personal demons, and write him a letter. “Dear Watcher,” I wrote, “What is it you’re so afraid I’ll do?” Then I held his pen for him, and he replied instantly with a candor that has kept me from truly despising him. “Fail,” he wrote back” (Godwin 2).
In lesser hands the topic of self sabotage might appear dry as dust or worse, self aggrandizing. Godwin’s The Watcher at the Gate communes with the reader on an engaging level to discuss the issue of self sabotage in an open, direct and empathetic manner.
Allen, John Alexander. “Researching her Salvation: The Fiction of Gail Godwin.” Hollins Critic 25.2 (1988): 1-5. Web.
Giles, Wanda H. “Gail Godwin.” Twenty-First-Century American Novelists: Second Series. Ed. Wanda H. Giles and James R. Giles. Detroit: Gale, 2009. Web.
Godwin, Gail. “The Watcher at the Gates.” California State University Northridge. Web.
Pelzer, Linda C. “Visions and Versions of Self: The Other/Women in A Mother and Two Daughters.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 34.3 (1993): 155-163. Web.