Earlier this year came the announcement about a manuscript written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee which had been discovered. Currently it’s number one in several fiction categories on Amazon and it has turned out to be the fastest selling novel ever published by HarperCollins, selling well over one million copies (including pre-orders) during the first week. Was it worth all the hype?
Yes and no. The literary world was waiting on pins and needles for the book to be published, as were fans of Lee’s beloved first book, To Kill a Mockingbird. Just prior to its release, story details were revealed which probably dampened the enthusiasm for some, however. Atticus was a racist we were warned. I’m not so sure, given the historical context, if that was really true or not. A grown-up Jean Louise “Scout” Finch certainly thought he was though.
After reading Go Set a Watchman I realize why editors and publishers advised Harper Lee to change the tone and focus of the book she first submitted years ago. It’s my understanding it was suggested she re-work the book and instead tell it from the perspective of young Scout Finch rather than adult Jean Louise Finch.
Looking back at the story of To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s clear that Scout Finch adored Atticus – perhaps even in awe of him. Thus, I can understand why some are disenchanted and upset about the book’s story line. Yet, I think To Kill a Mockingbird needed to be written first from a child’s perspective, remembering just where the United States was at that time in history.
With the civil rights movement in full swing at the time, To Kill a Mockingbird may have eased some of the tension, if even temporarily. Perhaps that’s why it became such a beloved part of American literary history. Based on the new book’s premise, as it turns out, Atticus Finch wasn’t as perfect as Jean Louise had always thought and the latter part of the book entails Jean Louise’s struggle with the new reality. Ultimately, it perhaps wasn’t that Atticus was a dyed-in-the-wool racist, however.
As the actress who played Scout Finch in the movie adaptation related in a recent interview, at that time in the country’s history it would have been difficult for a white person to stand out among his peers and openly advocate for the civil rights movement. In the South especially it would have meant loss of friendships, perhaps loss of one’s ability to make a decent living if the community decided to shun you or boycott your business. Whether or not we agree today with that premise isn’t the point – that was the reality at the time, shameful though it was.
Some have claimed there is no way this new work was written by Harper Lee – it doesn’t sound like her, etc. I found it a bit “choppy” in the opening chapters especially, sometimes finding myself losing focus as I read. It seemed to me to skip around a lot from one subject or emotion to the next at times.
Still, as I continued reading the book I would catch occasional glimpses of the same type of prose which made To Kill a Mockingbird an unquestionable literary classic and Harper Lee one of America’s most revered literary figures. Is it worth a read? Absolutely, I would recommend it as a good read – just keep an open mind. Given recent headlines of racial tensions, hate crimes and so on, Go Set a Watchman may prove to be as timely as To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, these are just my observations and opinions – others may have an entirely different view.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.