I remember reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee back in high school. I am pretty sure it was in Grade 10, although it may have been Grade 11. While I do not remember many of the intricate details of the book, I do remember the overall story and that I enjoyed reading it. This actually set it apart from most of the books I read throughout my high school career, save for the Shakespeare plays.
I did not enjoy Go Set A Watchman. I know exactly why.
The publication of Go Set A Watchman, as you most likely know, was fraught with controversy. Frankly, I think that it still is, although the chaos has died down a little bit. Harper Lee, now 89 years old, is living in the United States and some reports indicate she is also deaf and blind. While many news articles theorized that Harper Lee was in no state of mind to consent to Go Set A Watchman’s publication, let’s assume for a moment that she was (and still is) perfectly capable of doing so.
The publisher initially marketed this book as a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird. At first glance, this might be easy to understand, since Scout is older in Go Set A Watchman than she is in To Kill A Mockingbird. However, the book has all the hallmarks of an earlier draft of To Kill A Mockingbird, something I noticed while reading it. I have also noticed that other reports now agree that it must be an earlier draft, possibly a first draft.
Go Set A Watchman details rough versions of the characters we are familiar with, including Calpurnia, as well as Atticus and Jean-Louise (Scout) Finch. You can also see Tom Robinson (Mockingbird) in Frank (Watchman).
The story of To Kill A Mockingbird is clearly represented in Go Set A Watchman. There is a crime and Atticus Finch is the lawyer. In both instances, the real crime is that the accused is a black male. However, the major difference in the book to me was that Atticus was reluctant to take the case in Go Set A Watchman and that, to my shock and horror, he had racist tendencies. I know that racism was everywhere during the time described in the book, and it still is in today’s society, but I was used to a good image of Atticus Finch. I was used to him being a good person, and it was very uncomfortable to me to read this version of him.
I do think that Go Set A Watchman does have a good merit. I do think that it would be useful for people to read it, but with one caveat. Read To Kill A Mockingbird as well. By reading both books, you can think critically about the editing process. Since you know that Watchman is an earlier draft, you can examine the changes and theorize why Harper Lee and her editor made them. I think that writers could learn a lot by doing this. It is not often that we get to read an early draft of a bestselling novel from an amazing author.
Title: Go Set A Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: Harper (Imprint of HarperCollins)