Title: Go Set a Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Genre: Historical/ Coming of Age
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” This famous line by Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird pretty much sums up the entire point of Harper Lee’s informal sequel to her masterpiece. Go Set a Watchman is a novel about conflicting points of view on racism and Southern society. And yet, it has none of the whit and charm that generations of readers have come to love in Mockingbird.
When I first heard about Go Set a Watchman, I was filled with reservations and for a good reason. To Kill a Mockingbird is, arguably, the most important American novel ever written. Published in 1960, the novel’s theme of race is still relevant in today’s hateful society. Any sequel would never live up to the beauty of Harper Lee’s first book.
Go Set a Watchman was marketed as a continuation of To Kill a Mockingbird when in fact, it was more of rough draft of the classic. Lee had stated many times throughout her career that she had no desire to publish another book. So why, less than a year before her death, did Lee green light Watchman? There are many people who believe that the novel was published without Lee’s permission. After all, what author alive would want the rough draft of their most popular work published? Watchman is filled with inconsistency and tense changes that making for a jarring reading experience. I know for a fact I would want my rough drafts to stay hidden forever.
Whatever the case, Go Set a Watchman is an average book. Told from the point of view of Scout, who now goes by her full name Jean Louise, the novel doesn’t have a strong plot like Mockingbird, but at times, it acts as a semi-interesting coming of age novel. Like Scout, many readers have come to view Atticus Finch as this untouchable paragon. Watchman sheds a different, more flawed light on him, forcing Scout and the readers to “kill” their heroes/Gods and learn to view them as humans. There are a few moments when Scout flashes back to her youth that echo the charm of Mockingbird, but they are few and far between.
There isn’t much to love in this novel. As a writer, I enjoy watching the evolution of the characters and themes from Watchman to Mockingbird. If you do decide to pick up Watchman, it is best to view it as a separate entity or a companion novel. Not a sequel.
Years from now, people will still be reading and talking about To Kill a Mockingbird. Go Set a Watchman will be more of a footnote in the conversation and that’s where it should stay.