Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman

Harper Lee’s Sequel to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is OUT!!!


Just a reminder to all book lovers out there that Harper Lee’s long-lost manuscript, Go Set a Watchman,  is now out on bookshelves and in e-book stores all over the world.  The story takes place after To Kill a Mockingbird and features Scout and Atticus Finch, but was actually written before Lee’s masterpiece.  The publishers wanted something set when Scout was younger and that’s when Lee wrote Mockingbird.  She had hand-written the manuscript for Watchman and had thought it lost for decades until it was found last year.

As far as book events go, this is a Star Wars movie, so read it yourself and don’t let positive or negative reviews sway you.  This is a publishing event the likes of which there really is no comparison for.  Mockingbird is considered by most literary critics (with a brain) to be one of the greatest novels of all-time.  It’s almost like a lost Shakespeare play turned up (and don’t think that hasn’t “happened” over the centuries), but this is the real deal.  Lee’s prose isn’t something you rip through.  Half of the enjoyment of her writing is in her phrasing, so even if you read a paragraph a day, there’s a new Harper Lee book out!

The event is not without controversy, through, primarily because the character of Atticus Finch is not the moral paragon of racial equality the book originally indicates and Gregory Peck’s classic performance in the movie hammered into icon status.  This story, which takes place in the 1950’s, has Finch revealed to be pro-segregationist and deeply afraid of what giving full civil rights to African-Americans (which are called “Negroes” in the novel, which is setting off a PC firestorm though it is consistent with Mockingbird and the nomenclature of the fifties ); he’s even have revealed to have attended a Klan meeting once.  Having only just downloaded the book, my take is this: Atticus took Tom’s case in To Kill a Mockingbird not because he was really super happy to do it, but because he believed that everyone, no matter the color of their skin, deserved a fair trial.  Living in the south at the time he did, I don’t think it’s scandalous he attended a Klan meeting.  I think it’s telling he did so ONCE.  And Finch’s fears that a new Civil War might arise from giving African-Americans full civil rights and his fleshed out views don’t make him a racist so much as they make him a man from the South who grew up in the early half of the twentieth century.  It adds more nuance to the character, in my opinion, that despite being that product of his times-as a lawyer who believed absolutely in the law-he still knew wrong when he saw it in Mockingbird.  It comes down to whether you want a moral paragon without blemish or a more realistic product of those times and that place able to rise above the climate to do right when put to the test and still spent the rest of his life still struggling with his ingrained upbringing.

Either way, I don’t believe it diminishes Atticus, and you have to remember that Lee wrote both books and this is how she saw the character.  That, Harper Lee, now 89 and living in an assisted living facility, declined all her life to discuss the book, may have prevented us from being more prepared for Atticus as a more torn man on the subject of race.  At this time, though, when we are all STILL struggling with a gaping racial wound in this country, it seems more comforting that Atticus Finch struggled and had his downfalls as well.  It makes him more the Atticus we need right now for a more complex. racially divided America.  Maybe that’s why the book had to wait to now to be published.

PS – Don’t think Hollywood is already scrambling for rights and actors a chance to play Atticus Finch, despite the controversy.

7 thoughts on “Harper Lee’s Sequel to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is OUT!!!”

  1. Have you read the book yet? Because I have a few questions.

    Does it feel to you like an actual sequel, or is it closer to a rough draft? Everyone says it’s in-between, but I’d like your take. It took Lee two years to get from Watchman to Mockingbird, so if this is a rough draft, it’s really, really rough. And I’m far from alone in wondering whether she wanted this manuscript to see the light of day. I’m a little concerned that she has dementia (it’s been reported that she does) and that she’s being manipulated by her lawyer and other parties who might profit. She is an unbelievably private person, and this new manuscript seems like it opens a window into her creative process, and from what I know about Lee it would be out of character for her to want that.

    But I have a bigger question: if you’ve read the book now, do you still stand by what you wrote about the book’s more complex treatment of Atticus? Because he’s always been one of my favorite literary (not to mention cinematic) characters, and I am afraid he’ll be forever ruined.

    More to the point, is the book a sequel in the true sense of the word, or is it more of an alternate world with the same (older) characters? There is no way I’m not reading this, I just want to be prepared going in.


    1. I’ve read the first chapter then got distracted by Ernest Cline’s Armada, but I’ll get back to it. We just meet 72 year old Atticus at the point I’m at. I’ll report more later.


      1. Thanks. Maybe I’ll have read it by then. I’ve been waiting most of my life for another novel from Harper Lee, but now I’m having second thoughts. Go Set A Watchman pretty much zeroes in on the only thing that could have possibly disappointed me. I am utterly thrown.


      2. If all the scandal is over him not being a superhuman paragon of virtue out of time and place, then I don’t really have any patience for it. Nothing changes that when he had to do the right thing, he did it and did it at peril to his life and the life of his family. A white man in Alabama in the 1950’s having fears that integration might spark a Civil War, especially one who is 72, is not a character destroying opinion. I’ve read the quotes and I need to read them in context, but if they’re stated in fear of the consequences of how the south will react, well quite frankly I’m never sure even today if South Carolina is going to bolt the nation. We don’t know if Lee wanted this published, but we don’t NOT know for the same reason that we’ve never known more about Atticus: Harper Lee didn’t want to talk about it. That’s let the readers completely define the character and settings and built up a mythos around the whole book and author, but it’s also robbed us of any insight into her views on things like this.


      3. I hear what you’re saying, but from what I’ve read about this novel, the central theme is Scout coming to terms with disillusionment after she learns that her father does not hold the ideals she always thought he did. However I’m obviously going to wait until I’ve actually read it before I pass judgement.


      4. I should mention the reason I’m not reading it actively is because I’m ripping through Armada by Ernest Cline which came out the same day. It and his first book (Ready Player One, which Spielberg is adapting) are some of the best science fiction I’ve read in recent years.


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