Go Set A Watchman was written in the mid-1950s and was actually a first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. Would Lee have published it? We don’t know. In books like The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee and The Harper Lee I Knew, the authors suggest that Lee would never have published it and was not of sound mind to consent to it’s publication so it’s release is somewhat controversial.
Go Set A Watchman is set some twenty years after when To Kill A Mockingbird takes place. A 26-year-old Scout is returning as an adult from New York to visit her ageing father in Maycomb. The novel alludes to Scout’s view of Atticus as the moral compass of Maycomb and explores Scout’s struggle with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitudes and her own feelings towards her childhood town. Scout is the same, personality wise as she is in To Kill A Mockingbird. She returns home from New York and becomes aware of the racial tension in her town during the period of the civil rights movement in America. She questions what is right and what is wrong. She is forced to confront and re-examine her values and the assumptions that she held about her childhood and her family because the political turmoil and conflict surrounding the civil rights movement have changed not only her home town but also the people that she loves. You feel Scout’s pain and anger and frustration as you read the novel and that is why this book is heartbreaking. It smashes and tears apart everything you love about To Kill A Mockingbird. Atticus, who is such a strong moral centre in To Kill A Mockingbird is, in Go Set A Watchman, revealed to be just as racist and prejudice as everyone else, he just can’t abide injustice when it comes to the law. The reader is just as devastated as Scout. The point her uncle makes: that she has to separate her own conscience from that of her father, rather than relying on him to always show her what to do is a valid one. Scout relys on Atticus to be a moral guide and puts him on a pedestal. It is a tale of 1950s bigotry and a young woman coping with the revelation that her father is not the hero she thought he was.
I did enjoy it. It is weird to think that of it as a first draft. That this could have been published instead of To Kill A Mockingbird. It is a reflection of America at the time. The book has attracted both criticism (as a first draft, should it have been published?) and confusion (wait, Atticus is racist!). It seemed a bit dis-jointed at first but half-way through it starts to come together. There are a few passages that overlap between the books. Some parts are the exact same as in To Kill A Mockingbird. But you have to remember as you are reading it that this isn’t a finished product, it’s a draft so it’s acceptable. Go Set A Watchman was submitted by Lee in the 1950s and her editor asked her to revise it with a focus on Scout’s childhood. Two years later To Kill A Mockingbird was complete with the Atticus we all know and love. It needs to be read as a completely separate novel – not as a sequel.
I think if you are a fan of To Kill A Mockingbird you have to read Go Set A Watchman. You might not like it. But you have to read it.