Okay. So Harper Lee’s long lost novel, Go Set A Watchman, didn’t measure up to the phenomenon that was To Kill A Mockingbird. The language is inferior, the writing leaves much room for editing, the plot is slim, and the image of Atticus Finch carved in our mind may had been arguably obliterated in the way Lee characterized him. I couldn’t agree more with the disappointments of readers and the negative reviews of critics since Watchman’s July publication.
But these may be precisely the reasons why Lee chose to keep the novel from the public in the past five decades. Before Mockingbird, Lee first wrote Watchman, which focuses on the now 26-year old Jean Louise, Scout, and her relationships with Atticus and her racially segregated town of Maycomb in Alabama. Upon the completion of her draft of Watchman, Lee was encouraged to expand the story this time illuminating Scout’s childhood, hence the publication of and subsequent universal acclaim to Mockingbird.
I must say that I am one of the millions who worried about their prospective reaction once they’ve read Watchman. To Kill A Mockingbird is an institution, Atticus might as well be God, and Scout is a character we want ourselves to become should we be zapped back to childhood. We’ve invested so much of ourselves to Mockingbird and we shall not be let down. As I hit 200 of Watchman’s 270-plus pages, I was already restless. My apologies for this spoiler, my friends, but Atticus is portrayed as a segregationist here. Looking back on his defense of Tom Robinson, the Negro in Mockingbird wrongly accused of raping a white woman, would leave you baffled and disappointed.
But the release of Watchman is for me very necessary and if the image of Atticus will now be tainted, so be it. Regrettably, we were just never prepared for the Atticus we met in Watchman. There were speculations if Lee indeed authorized its publication. My thought on this: it would be a disservice to Lee’s greatness if Watchman had remained in its vault.
Watchman expanded our understanding of Atticus – no, he is not God but an upright human being dedicated to the formation of his children and community and the preservation of the spirit of the legal profession.
Watchman is about bigotry inasmuch as Mockingbird was about racism. That regardless of which side we occupy in the political spectrum, we can easily turn into bigots if we blindly prevent reason to challenge our principles.
And Watchman holistically tracked the evolution of Scout as a human being raised in a community swept by social changes. The Scout in Watchman is challenged to take action rather than merely expressing anger towards the Maycomb that sustained yet failed her.
Go Set A Watchman is an indispensable companion to Mockingbird. It deserved to be published. It must be properly understood.