Acclaimed author Harper Lee is well known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was her only published work until the lost manuscript “Go Set a Watchman” was discovered and subsequently published this July.
It would be a miracle if the only two novels an author had ever written were equally brilliant, but unfortunately we live in an imperfect world. “Watchman” is not “Mockingbird.”
But it is still a good book.
According to HarperCollins Publishers, “Watchman” was actually submitted to publishers first, and “Mockingbird” was written on recommendation of the publishers, who wanted to see Jean Louise “Scout” Finch’s perspective as a child.
However, “Watchman” is so vague at times I don’t believe there is any possible way to read it without having first read “Mockingbird.” So good call, publishers.
Though it is necessary to read “Mockingbird” first, the new novel should not be compared to the original. Rather, it should be used as an insightful guide to better appreciate and understand “Mockingbird.”
“Watchman” follows Jean Louise Finch as she returns to her hometown of Maycomb, Ala., nearly 20 years after “Mockingbird” is set to find her town and loved ones much changed during the social and political turmoil of the 1950s.
The most wonderful thing about “Watchman” may simply be its classic Harper Lee style. Though the writing may not be as finely honed as in “Mockingbird,” it still has the slow, Southern approach to it that makes you take a deep breath and smile. It is like striking up a conversation with an old friend.
“Watchman” creates much nostalgia through flashbacks, allusions and old characters, but also introduces new characters as complex as the originals.
Among classic characters like Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra, Jean Louise’s Uncle Jack takes on a whole new life from his portrayal in the first book, becoming a much greater influence and–some would argue–the new Atticus.
The greatest critique of the novel is that Atticus, Scout’s father, is portrayed as a racist, since in “Mockingbird” he is seen as a champion for equality. Although it is true that the former label may be more accurate in “Watchman,” one cannot help but still care for Atticus, even when one wishes to despise him and his repugnant views. He is just far more human than previously thought.
In spite of what seems like a 180-degree change in opinion, Atticus has not changed. The only thing that has changed is Jean Louise’s perception of him.
In order to really enjoy “Watchman,” you must reserve judgment until the end. Otherwise, you may become so angry with much-beloved characters—Atticus—that it may be hard to continue reading.
However, unlike the first novel, the story is not centered on Atticus. This story is solely about Jean Louise and the new watchman for Maycomb.
So, for the people who want Jean Louise to remain Scout and Atticus to remain a saint: do not read this book. But for those willing to take a chance, it is worth the risk to outgrow the idealistic child and step into the shoes of the realistic adult.