To Kill A Mockingbird needs hardly any introduction, firmly holding its place amongst American literary classics nearly six decades after its timely release. In the midst of the civil rights movement, author Harper Lee addressed racial tension through the eyes of the stubborn, inquisitive Scout Finch.
Now, with the release of Go Set A Watchman, the story resumes two decades later, with a multitude of characters new and old.
Most notable amongst the returning cast are the aforementioned protagonist and her father, widely regarded by audiences literary and cinematic alike as a masterfully developed character, immortalized in the film adaptation in a devoted portrayal by Gregory Peck.
Atticus embodied many of the values that had made Mockingbird so memorable, making a considerable effort to defend in a court of law Tom Robinson, a young black man falsely accused of raping a white girl.
His efforts were noble, his motives virtuous; as a character Atticus was all these things and yet believable at the same time.
I mention this to help explain the shock many readers—myself included—felt after discovering the main conflict of Watchman to be centered around Scout’s following Atticus to a Klan meeting, in which he denounces the notion that blacks should be allowed to freely integrate into society.
“Do you want them in our world?” he asks.
While Scout is plunged into an identity crisis, the majority of her values being derived from her father, it’s undoubtable many Mockingbird fans feel the same.
And so a popular response to the novel has been that of disgust and vilification.
However, I find myself afflicted with a much more disfavorable response: boredom.
Go Set A Watchman was never actually intended to be the sequel of To Kill A Mockingbird, it was essentially that book’s first draft.
When Harper Lee brought Watchman in to her editor, they (wisely) suggested she shift her focus to the events that had transpired twenty years earlier, events which she had previously only detailed through flashbacks.
Thus Mockingbird was written and received near-universal praise.
Which raises the question: why was Watchman ever published? The characters are less developed and the message is less timely.
Even without the comparison to the first book, Watchman is paced poorly.
I often had to force myself through back-to-back chapters of trivial character interaction, filled with stunted, inhuman dialogue.
It’s no surprise that controversy surrounds the publication of this novel.
Harper Lee, who had answered quite consistently in interviews that she would never write nor release another novel, has seen a steady decline in her mental health as of late.
Her recently deceased sister, Alice, is rumored by a close friend to have been her sister’s “gatekeeper, advisor, protector.”
Now, in her absence, the book has been published by her attorney.
‘Suspicious’ isn’t a strong enough word to describe these circumstances.
Whatever the case, Go Set A Watchman exists in all its mediocrity.
In its conclusion Scout accepts her father once more, finally perceiving him as the flawed human being he always was.
Readers, I think, will probably be forced to do much the same with regards to author Harper Lee.
If anything very fortunate resulted from this book’s widespread release, it’s a message of hope to aspiring writers everywhere.
If you ever write anything as tedious or bland as Watchman, don’t fret. Enough editing, and you may write the next great American classic.