‘Go Set A Watchman’: An Unforgiving Return To Scout And Atticus

Fans may be delighted that Harper Lee has finally released a second novel – something she swore she would never do. With Go Set A Watchman, HarperCollins has its biggest pre-ordered book in its history, but fans and readers in general might be shocked to learn about the dark turn much beloved characters from To Kill A Mockingbird have taken.

The innocent and sharply perceptive Scout Finch has returned to Maycomb to visit her now infirm father Atticus, the once beloved town lawyer. Now 72, Atticus is not the saintly lawyer that many loved in Mockingbird. This is an Atticus that attends Klu Klux Klan meetings, an issue which has dismayed both the residents of Maycomb and fans of Lee’s work alike. In Go Set A Watchman, which was written prior to Mockingbird, Scout is now Jean Louise, Jem has died, and 20 years have passed.

Where To Kill A Mockingbird seemed to promise hope for humanity, Go Set A Watchman is much darker in tone, and while Lawrence Hill (The Book Of Negroes) says the shift for these familiar characters was a “brilliant” move, there are others who are not terribly sure if they can embrace an Atticus that is suddenly bigoted.

“I think people will have strong feelings about it because it actually has real relevance, real topicality in its treatment of race. And so I think it will incite incredible conversation and argument,” said senior vice president and publisher at HarperCollins Jonathan Burnham.

Some, however, saw the temperament shift in Atticus as betrayal.

Go Set A Watchman is officially hitting bookstores for sale July 14, and it seems many are bracing for the potential fallout of learning about Atticus Finch‘s racist beliefs. Not only that, there is a major plot twist at the beginning – Chapter One of the novel is widely available online – that will leave readers with heartache. Some may find delight in Jean Louise’s apparent new romance, though.

Go Set A Watchman, according to Harper Lee herself, was written before To Kill A Mockingbird, and Lee said that it was her editor who “persuaded (her) to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. (She) was a first-time writer, so (she) did as (she) was told.” Thus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill A Mockingbird was born. Like with To Kill A Mockingbird, though, there are those who caution that the novel’s context needs to be recalled in Go Set A Watchman. Segregation was still rampant across the southern States, and it would have been rare to find people who were truly free of racism or other prejudice. Nonetheless, it is likely that Go Set A Watchman is far more nuanced a read as its predecessor was. Go Set A Watchman hits bookstores July 14.

[Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images]