There was much hype this summer about Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which has been positioned in relation to To Kill a Mockingbird many times with varying degrees of accuracy. First it was the sequel, then we realized it was a prequel, then we started talking about it as the first draft. There has been discussion about whether or not Lee wants it published, and a lot of people have already told you how they felt about it. I am by no means the first to this conversation. I wanted to do right by such a highly anticipated book, so I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird this summer in anticipation of Go Set a Watchman.
First, let me remind everyone why all of us who grew up in US schools have read To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a great book. I hadn’t read it since the 8th grade, so there was a lot I didn’t remember. Lee’s writing is tight, and it’s a keen depiction of kindness, compassion, and innocence juxtaposed with hate. If you haven’t read it lately it is well worth a revisit.We see many of the same To Kill a Mockingbird characters in Go Set a Watchman with a few notable exceptions that you’ll just have to read about. I’m trying not to spoil this one. In Watchman, Jean Louise, “Scout,” Finch is all grown up and has moved away from Maycomb, but she comes back to visit her aging father Atticus. Like the Scout we know in Mockingbird, she idolizes Atticus, but on this visit home she sees a side of her father she doesn’t like. She has to wrestle with this new found feeling of disagreement and figure out what it means to have her own ideas instead of thinking and doing only as her father does.A lot of people were disappointed in Go Set a Watchman, and I’m afraid it’s because they totally missed the point. They, like Scout, saw Atticus Finch, their moral rock, crumble and didn’t know what to do with the human that remained. That says a lot about the power of Go Set a Watchman, that Lee could make us feel exactly what Scout felt. This book was not written as tightly as To Kill a Mockingbird, but I think we owe that to the fact that Lee wasn’t planning on publishing the novel. So the fact that she wrote a really great book before she reworked it to become the even greater book that we all know and love is a testament to Lee’s talent.
I have combined these books in my review because I couldn’t figure out how to talk about Go Set a Watchman without bringing up the elephant in the room. But, if you take only one from this post let it be that Go Set a Watchman stands on its own as a great book from which I think we can all find something to take away.
Were you one of the disappointed, or did you enjoy Go Set a Watchman as much as I did? Let me know in the comments!