The Return Of Harper Lee: Go Set A Watchman

Posted on July 13, 2015 in Culture-Vulture

By Pamela Eapen:

Every reader of Harper Lee’s beloved classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” has been waiting with bated breath in anticipation of its long-awaited sequel, “Go Set a Watchman”, which is set to be released on Tuesday. Pre-orders of the book have made it a best-seller even before its release. It is currently ranked at #2 on Amazon’s bestseller books list.

Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson from the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. Image source: wikimedia commons
Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson from the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. Image source: wikimedia commons

But wait – there’s more: Chapter 1 of the book was released on The Wall Street Journal, as well as The Guardian’s website on 10th July. Talk about all our Christmases coming at once.

The effortlessly lyrical thoughts of our favourite voice of reason, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, gives you just as much a feeling of homecoming as you would imagine. The fact that she is referred to as “Jean Louise” rather than “Scout” reminds us very firmly that she is no longer a child – and yet the spirited personality we were all enchanted by shines through almost unblemished. Reese Witherspoon’s understated narration of the extract adds a gentle touch of whimsicality to the scene; enhancing our nostalgia. The Guardian’s interactive page gives us the option of choosing between her narration, or reading the text set to an ambient track.

The manuscript of “Go Set a Watchman” was released after Harper Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter, discovered it “in a secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.” HarperCollins has since released this statement of Lee’s in February of this year: “In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called ‘Go Set a Watchman’. It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

We’ve been told that the manuscript was written before that of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. After she sent the full manuscript to her publisher, Maurice Crain, he and his wife Annie Laurie Williams, suggested that she rewrite the book focusing on Atticus as a protagonist. She did so, but the husband-wife publisher duo had found themselves so intrigued by Scout’s narration of her childhood, that they again suggested she change the narrator to the younger Scout – and thus we were presented with the Pulitzer-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird”. The title of “Go Set a Watchman” is taken from a Biblical verse, Isaiah 21:6: “Go, set a watchman and let him declare what he seeth.”

Though it’s effectively a sequel, Ms. Lee actually wrote “Go Set a Watchman” first. The 304-page novel takes place in the same fictional town, Maycomb, Alabama, and unfolds as Scout Finch, the feisty child heroine of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, returns to visit her father, Atticus.”

The book hasn’t been without its controversy and suspicions – many have wondered whether the release of this book could be a result of the Lee’s mental and physical vulnerability being taken advantage of, owing to her increasing age and the recent passing of her sister and former lawyer, Alice Lee. Until the announcement was made of the book, the last we had heard from Lee regarding a sequel was that she would never write or release one. On the other hand, there have also been significant reassurances that Lee would not do anything she would not want to do.

As for the actual story of the book: set in southern Alabama in the 1950s, the backdrop is still grim; and the nuanced perspective of an adult Scout is not likely to make the narrative an easy one. And yet, it’s all we as readers can do to sit patiently in our seats for the chance to immerse ourselves, once again, in the trials and tribulations of the citizens of Maycomb County.