Go Set A Watchman has been the most anticipated literary release in years. The book was a best seller even before its release. It tops best seller lists and is joined by reprints of Harper Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. Controversy has swirled around this release and a ‘sneak peak’ pre-release revealed that Atticus held racist views and that Jem had died. Although I looked forward to reading this book, I was hesitant, not wanting to tarnish my feelings for To Kill A Mockingbird.
It is interesting to note that Go Set a Watchman is not really a sequel. It is said to be the original novel by Harper Lee, which was declined by the publisher. The author had rewritten the novel from the perspective of the children and the original manuscript had been “found” and released, coincidently only 6 months after the death of her sister who had protected her sister. Go Set A Watchman begins as Scout returns to Maycomb as a young adult.
Scout, or Jean-Louise has returned home from New York for her annual visit. Her brother, Jem as died and she stays with her father Atticus and her Aunt Alexandra. During her stay, she sees a different side of her father an is disillusioned by his racism after witnessing a council meeting. As she struggles to understand what is happening in the South and sees her father’s faults, she dates her childhood friend Hank but can’t seem to commit to his proposals.
“’As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused you father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings – I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes but he makes ‘em like all of us”
Like To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman is a coming of age story. It reflects Jean-Louise’s reconciliation of her own views and adulthood as she returns home to the South. She sees the adults in her life in a different light set against the arrival of the NCAAP and the treatment of black citizens in Maycomb.
Go Set a Watchman was an interesting read. The depth of the story and quality of prose reads as a first attempt, substandard and not as polished as the final product To Kill a Mockingbird. It makes the reader ponder growing up and viewing your parents as human beings who make mistakes and have faults. Although I was hesitant to read it, I am glad that I did. It is best read with the perspective that it was the author’s first attempt which lead to the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird.
In relation to all of the controversy, I hope that Harper Lee can live out her days in peace. She was said to have commented that she wished she had never written To Kill a Mockingbird and reported as very shy and quiet. She is described as living blind and nearly deaf in an assisted living facility ,without her sister who passed away at the age of 103. Her elder sister was known as a female-Atticus and as a lawyer protected her interests until her death, practicing the law until age 100. Harper Lee has impacted generations of individuals and should be revered and respected as she lives out her final days.
“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”