Digging deeper into Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”

Forecasting WatchmanI am always a little amazed at the way certain books bridge generations. I love To Kill a Mockingbird and a select handful of other books that were considered classics even when I was first introduced to them at the distinctly Southern preparatory academy I attended in my youth. As un-cool as it might have been to read such titles voraciously, the truth is that many of us did, and the lessons of these books follow us still. Ask any adult who was once a child reared in the South his or her favorite book and there’s a very good chance that you’ll get one of two answers: the Bible, or To Kill a Mockingbird.

For those of us who are fans of To Kill a Mockingbird—or the Bible, for that matterthere’s good news on the horizon. Set to be published on July 14, 2015, the only other book known to have been written by the author of Mockingbird, Harper Lee, will make its debut. It is entitled, Go Set a Watchman.

Go Set a Watchman isn’t just any book. It’s Harper Lee’s first book. Penned in the 1950s, it is the story of Mockingbird’s narrator, Scout Finch, in adult life. Now, Scout is living in New York, twenty years after the first novel’s timeline. Watchman follows her back home to Maycomb, AL, the fictional version of Lee’s real hometown, Monroeville. In Maycomb, Scout deals with her feelings concerning personal issues and the day’s politics, along with her loyalties to the place she called home as a child. She struggles to reconcile her upbringing and father’s attitude towards society with the world where she currently resides as she revisits the past and many of the characters with whom we are all so familiar from To Kill a Mockingbird.

About the Title

The book’s moniker may seem a little unorthodox, but Go Set a Watchman is the name that Harper Lee originally intended for her tale. It comes from the biblical Isaiah 21:6, “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth,” and is a tribute to Harper Lee’s real-life father, Amasa Coleman Lee, paralleled in the work by Atticus Finch. Harper regards her father as protector and defender of good and right—in essence, a moral compass. He was, in Harper’s eyes, what Atticus Finch is: a voice in the community that would not waver when it came down to true integrity.

The verse also offers some insight into Lee’s thought process about the town she called home. It’s important to know that this verse in Isaiah was prophesying the fall of Babylon during his time as a prophet in the Kingdom of Judah. For Lee, there was a parallel between Monroeville/Maycomb and the biblical Babylon: they were societies out of control with a need for someone to become their ethical centers. Isaiah was appointed by God for the Hebrew people as a guard, a watchman, and a moral compass, just like Atticus Finch, and–perhaps more importantly—just like Amasa Lee were for their respective fictional and real-life Alabama communities.

Go Set a Watchman’s History

While many have referred to Go Set a Watchman as To Kill a Mockingbird’s sequel, it was actually written well before the story we know and love. It was on the advice of her publisher that Harper Lee changed the narrative to that of a child telling the story of Tom Robinson as it unfolded in Maycomb. The resulting To Kill a Mockingbird has been taught in classrooms and loved by readers ever since, and Go Set a Watchman was thought lost until recently. Found by Harper Lee’s attorney and finally approved by the author for publication, it will be printed without revision.

We won’t know what happened to Scout and Jem and Atticus until July 14. For those of us who first read To Kill a Mockingbird years ago, that doesn’t seem like such a long time to wait. Perhaps the students of tomorrow are about to be blessed with another lesson concerning truth and integrity, one that will stand easily alongside the masterpiece that so many of us related to as we were growing up in the deep South. The publishers promise a novel that can certainly stand alone.  I—for one—am hoping that Go Set a Watchman lives up to the standard of To Kill a Mockingbird, which I will forever consider among the best books ever written.

Make sure you check out Go Set a Watchman and pre-order the book here.

Where do you think Scout, Jem, and Atticus will end up? Leave your comments below and let us know your thoughts.

 

Comments

  1. joe ·

    Scout and Jem are running a bed and breakfast now on the outskirts of town. Boo Radley helps by doing yard work and making sure the camelias that are planted all around the front of the house are watered and we’ll cared for. A crisis begins to unfold now as the story begins. Tom Robinsons son has been the sheriff of Maycomb Alabama for 15 years and an unsettling madness is fomenting between the townsfolk over the distribution of entitlements, racial tensions and the health crisis that has been linked to a group of homosexual men and women in the red light district of town. An incurable strain of bacteria has not yet responded to treatments and this strain has been shown to be highly contageous. So much so, the Mayor Walter Cunningham has issued a public health emergency. Charles Baker Harris, an attorney for two homosexual men has filed a law suit against The Finch and The Mockingbird… the name of Jem and Scout’s bed and breakfast for their refusal to rent a room to the two homosexual men who are claiming to be a husband and wife on their honeymoon. They are claiming that Jem and Scout Finch are discriminating against them because of their homosexuality yet Jem and Scout claim that they have a responsibility to their clientele to guarantee a pristine and sanitary room be provided to those who come to their door and that they reserve the right to refuse service to anyone at their own disgression. That the health crisis has affected the cost of their business and that this law suit could ruin them financially, should they be forced to provide their rooms to people who identify themselves as members in solidarity with the group from where this virulent strain of infectious disease has originated…..
    The plot thickens as the Truman Capote center for poverty and law has called for a massive boycott of all businesses in the town of Maycomb. A madness has taken hold of the people of this once peaceful town..Violence looms on the horizon……………
    where will it end?

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