Like many, I have been a longstanding fan of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. I used to wish that Atticus Finch could be my father — he seemed so kind and wise, and when I saw Gregory Peck on screen as Atticus, I was instantly enthralled with my hero. To Kill A Mockingbird became one of my favorite works from the time it was assigned reading back in my Grade 10 Academic English class, and the movie one of my favorites. I was, therefore, eager to read Go Set A Watchman, hailed by some as a sequel to Mockingbird because, as most know by now, it features a grown Scout Finch, who visits her childhood town to check on an ailing Atticus.
The problem with how Go Set A Watchman is being received is that many were convinced that this novel, which was left unpublished many years, apparently by Lee’s behest, is indeed a sequel to one of the most loved American novels to date. However, Go Set A Watchman needs to be looked at as something of a first draft to a work that went on to become the To Kill A Mockingbird we are all familiar with. Writers change up storylines and characters all the time, and if what Lee said in an interview is true — that she changed her original manuscript because her editor thought a view of Scout Finch’s childhood might be a more compelling story (it was) — then the tenor of Watchman changes.
That does not take away from the complexity of Go Set A Watchman, however. There is a sense as you are reading the novel of the potential of the characters, that there is a story behind the story. Hank, Scout’s love interest in Go Set A Watchman, is a lovely addition to the cast of Maycomb players, as is a more well-rounded Alexandra and Uncle Jack. It would have been interesting to see these same characters further fleshed out in the manuscript that became To Kill A Mockingbird, particularly since it was stated in Go Set A Watchman that Hank and Scout grew up together, and that Hank did not come from the same loving family that Scout did.
There are important messages about the power of heroes and the dangers of pedestals peppered throughout the novel, and this is what makes Go Set A Watchman so good. The Finch family — Aunt Alexandra, Uncle Jack, Atticus, Scout and even Jem — and their strong family ties are perhaps even more evident throughout this novel than with To Kill A Mockingbird. There is a sense that no matter what happens in the family, Scout always has someone she can turn to, and it should be noted that a grown-up Scout Finch is just as entertaining as the childhood one.
So, for those of you who are considering picking up Go Set A Watchman but are leery about doing so because the characters you loved so well are different — try and forget To Kill A Mockingbird as you are reading, even for a few minutes. Go Set A Watchman is neither a prequel or sequel, and while we may never know the real truth behind how and why this novel was published, Watchman is still a thoughtful novel worth your time.
[Photo courtesy of MyEgo.org]