My original review of To Kill a Mockingbird
Updated review: It was all a dream, Atticus NEVER read Word Up Magazine.
So in case you haven't heard, and of course you have, Harper Lee has a "new" book out. It reads as a sequel to her classic 'To Kill a Mockingbird', showing us an adult Scout and a very much changed Atticus. The lawyer with a heart of gold who championed the cause of justice in a racist society is now a bitter, garden variety bigot. You probably also already know that Go Set a Watchman was not written as a sequel to Mockingbird, but is actually its first draft. At editorial suggestion Harper Lee focused on a flashback to Scout's childhood, and from that piece of advice the book we all read in school was born.
Harper Lee famously said that she did not want to publish another book. So why at age 89 would she decide to let Mockingbird's first draft be published as a book in its own right after the missing manuscript was supposedly discovered by her lawyer? Your guess is as good as mine. The purpose of this post is not conjecture about whether Harper Lee had a late in life change of heart or is being taken advantage of by a publishing giant. Let others shout "Liar Liar - pants on fire" if they wish. I'll buy this version of the story until/unless someone proves it to be false: From Mockingbird to Watchman
And perhaps there is more to come, for here is A New Account of ‘Watchman’s’ Origin and Hints of a Third Book
See Where ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Overlaps with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Word-for-Word http://t.co/1XlfNV0gfG pic.twitter.com/oBweho1MTa— Publishers Weekly (@PublishersWkly) July 15, 2015
Some readers are conflicted:
I am not at all tempted to read 'Go Set a Watchman'. 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was a significant book in my journey... http://t.co/kBQi5R8k3e— Susan Whelan (@ReadUpsideDown) July 14, 2015
Reasonable. I'm torn. Will likely read it as a writer doing research on the draft revision process > as a reader. https://t.co/4OBEx5Fifx— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 14, 2015
But perhaps we should simply read Watchman and judge it on its own merits. Doing so without comparison to Mockingbird is of course pretty much impossible. Harper Lee's 'Watchman' Is A Mess That Makes Us Reconsider A Masterpiece
Not that this is preventing it from selling like hotcakes. Go Set a Watchman Breaks Book Selling Records
The release of Watchman has people re-examining Mockingbird with new eyes. In the #BlackLivesMatter era does Atticus Finch still come across as a civil rights hero?
Namely, it never crossed my mind that Atticus was any kind of hero.— Monica Odom (@modomodom) July 16, 2015
Probably because I was focused on the black characters and how they were portrayed and what that meant for me and my family in present day— Monica Odom (@modomodom) July 16, 2015
Can't say I felt the same. Anyone willing to oppose popular commonly held opinions that are WRONG, to stand alone in being RIGHT, is heroic— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 16, 2015
But I do agree that the point of a narrative is not necessarily who the hero is, but the cause they are being heroic for. Equality. Justice.— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 16, 2015
@AuthorofPatches But also, justice is his job, that he was getting paid to do. The complexity of it all is very much with exploring!— Monica Odom (@modomodom) July 16, 2015
@modomodom I always saw the point as being if 1 generation (Atticus) simply did its job, next generation (Scout) would actually be > humane.— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 16, 2015
It's also tough to think about Mockingbird the book without comparing it to Mockingbird the movie.
@AuthorofPatches Good way to put it. I think there's also a discussion about realism vs. idealism to be had here.— Monica Odom (@modomodom) July 16, 2015
Yep. The book (especially 1st draft it now seems) featured more realism, movie won hearts with more idealism https://t.co/lmcC1zkXW8— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 16, 2015
My favorite thing about release of Go Set a Watchman by far is that the main topic of conversation in publishing right now is a BOOK.— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 16, 2015
I'm tired of print vs ebook debate, could care less that soccer moms are into poorly written fan fic erotica & definitely sick of downsizing— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 16, 2015
A "new" Harper Lee title with Mockingbird characters comes out & for a few days at least book news isn't what bookstore/publisher went under— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 16, 2015
For the past couple days a portion of my timeline has been a ginormous bookclub discussion and that's A-OK with me.— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 16, 2015
A search for more hidden gems may now be underway as result of the discovery of Watchman:
What's the Next 'Go Set a Watchman'? Lost works of Joan Didion, Marilynne Robinson and other writers | New Republic http://t.co/VbdhGnl6EL— Publishers Weekly (@PublishersWkly) July 17, 2015
Instead of publishing books by established authors that they did not want to see light of day, perhaps pub something worthy by an unknown?— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 17, 2015
Just a thought— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 17, 2015
After all, if an author chose to stick manuscript in a drawer rather than sending to agent, maybe there was a good reason we should respect.— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 17, 2015
LOLNumber of times people in the store this week have referred to "To Kill A Mockingjay" - more than you'd expect— Josh Christie (@jchristie) July 17, 2015
Why Brilliant Books is offering refunds to customers who purchased Go Set A Watchman. #books http://t.co/qQHzv0aPeh— Books I Love (@booksilove) July 31, 2015
Watch the critics clobber GO SET A WATCHMAN. "Thou shalt not monkey with our scared literary cows." For the rest of us: you go, girl!— Stephen King (@StephenKing) July 11, 2015
"MOCKINGBIRD is racism for children." http://t.co/4gcn6UVhGs— Amanda Nelson (@ImAmandaNelson) July 28, 2015
The Great Divide: Novels Exploring Race Relations From Slavery to Present Day - https://t.co/KBLwvPFvtk pic.twitter.com/PdAQWYtmV9— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 28, 2015
Chapter One of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My review of Go Set a Watchman:
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"I looked up to you, Atticus, like I never looked up to anybody in my life and never will again. If you had only given me some hint, if you had only broken your word with me a couple of times, if you had been bad-tempered or impatient with me---if you had been a lesser man, maybe I could have taken what I saw you doing. If once or twice you'd let me catch you doing something vile, then I would have understood yesterday. Then I'd have said that's just His Way, that's My Old Man, because I'd have been prepared for it somewhere along the line."
The words above are spoken to Atticus by his daughter Scout towards the end of Go Set a Watchman. They basically sum up the entire book. As you may already know, or in case you didn't until landing upon this review, Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird quite a few years later. Jean Louise (aka Scout) is now a grown woman contemplating marriage to Henry, whom she has known since childhood. Henry has remained in their hometown of Maycomb, Alabama and followed the footsteps of Atticus into the law profession. If Scout wishes to marry a father figure, she's all set. Yet apparently she wants more out of life than Maycomb has to offer, because she now lives in New York City, which is about as different from the small southern town she grew up in as a planet in another galaxy. Maycomb holds many ties on her though. The narrative of Go Set a Watchman takes place during a visit to the place where her identity was formed in the earliest of her 26 years.
Much has changed in America from the years Mockingbird are set in to the 1950's. A considerable amount of the change has to do with race relations. People who were once blatant bigots continue to be so. Some things never change. But those who were closet bigots with enough good manners not to let it show in polite society now feel free to express hostility openly. Turns out they were only able to give the appearance of open minded respect for their fellow man when scales of opportunity were tilted heavily in their favor. As the scales became more balanced, the truth beneath southern hospitality was revealed. Count Henry and even our hero Atticus among those in Maycomb more willing to hear out the KKK than the NAACP. Changing times to them means time to put up a more aggressive fight against progress.
Amazingly Scout has been clueless about her father's true social/political views until he is about 70 years old. Once she is finally in the know, of course she feels betrayed. Her father was a lie. Her childhood was a lie. Her life has been a giant deception and she must get through the devastation and figure out how to come to terms with this.
I did not like Go Set a Watchman much. Not enough happening in the plot (no cool subplot like the one Boo Radley presented in Mockingbird). Too many long speeches that did not ring true to how people speak off the page of a novel. A domestic violence scene (I realize this was a far different time than 2016 but still) that was jarring and felt unnecessary and plain weird to me. Last but not least, I just didn't buy that it would take an intelligent woman so long to obtain an inkling of how the people closest to her feel about topics of such importance to her. It's not as if anybody was trying to hide anything from her. But somehow she only saw nobility in her father without catching a whiff of the stench of the rotten core that lay beneath his principles. Those of us who read To Kill a Mockingbird and/or saw the movie adaptation were also duped. This isn't the Atticus we thought we knew. How had that guy actually been this guy all along? Did we not read the book closely enough, all subtext going over our head? Or was Atticus given a complete personality transplant, which means not only did Atticus betray Scout, but Harper Lee betrayed us?
I could choose to contemplate Watchman in a vacuum, pretending I have no awareness of Mockingbird, that I'm meeting these characters and examining their motives for the very first time. If I do, I don't think it changes my opinions much. I still see the same flaws regarding lack of an attention holding plot, too many wandering speeches, etc. Sense of betrayal would be lessened, but I would still find it odd that it took Scout so long to finally wander into a room and learn what type of people she has been surrounded by her entire life.
Maybe that last part is unfair of me. After all, I know a thing or two about racist views remaining undetectable for a long period of time until the right situation brings them out from hiding. I've known parents who showed no overt sign of bigotry until their child became romantically involved with someone of another race. Prior to then, from their words and deeds and even choice of friends, few if any clues of intolerance were given.
There are things we don't know about those who are closest to us. There are things we don't yet know about ourselves because the circumstances to unearth them still lay in the future. There are cowards who believe they are brave, timid people who don't realize their potential to be adventurers, and friends who do not yet know that they consider you to be their enemy.
Unintentional deception is an intriguing premise for a novel. I don't feel that Go Set a Watchman examined it particularly well, but merely brushed up against the surface. I suppose that's why Lee's editor advised her to put Watchman aside and craft a new book based on an incident referenced in what turned out to be a first draft several decades before emerging as a sequel. That sound piece of advice (or so the legend goes) led to the creation of the vastly superior To Kill a Mockingbird.
Then again, perhaps the beloved Atticus Finch of the time tested Mockingbird is simply too good to be true. Maybe Atticus of Watchman is the more realistic depiction of a flesh and blood man, because the fact that he is a hypocrite is made plain. The shattering of illusions we depended on always goes down hard.
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p.s. Turns out there are way more than #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter