|July 14, 2015 (US & UK)|
|Preceded by||To Kill a Mockingbird|
Go Set a Watchman is a novel by Harper Lee published on July 14, 2015 by HarperCollins, United States and William Heinemann, United Kingdom. Although written before her first and only other published novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird—and initially promoted by its publisher as a sequel—it is now more widely accepted as being a first draft of the famous novel. The title comes from Isaiah 21:6: “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” It alludes to Jean Louise Finch’s view of her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral compass (“watchman”) of Maycomb, and has a theme of disillusionment, as she discovers the extent of the bigotry in her home community.
The book’s unexpected and controversial discovery, decades after it was written, together with the status of the author’s only other book—an American classic—caused its publication to be highly anticipated; Amazon stated that it was their “most pre-ordered book” since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007, and stores arranged all-night openings beginning at midnight to cope with expected demand.
Go Set a Watchman tackles the racial tensions brewing in the South in the 1950s and delves into the complex relationship between father and daughter. It includes treatments of many of the characters who appear in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, 26, returns to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama, from New York. While on this two week annual visit to home, she is met by her childhood sweetheart Henry “Hank” Clinton. Clinton works for her father Atticus, who is a lawyer and former state legislator. Jack, Atticus’s brother and retired doctor is Scout’s mentor. Their sister Alexandria runs the house and took Calpurnia’s place when she retired. The Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are introduced as sources of controversy in the community.
Returning from a trip to Finch’s Landing, Jean Louise and Henry are passed by a car of black men travelling dangerously at high speed. Henry mentions that the black people in the county now have money for cars but neglect to get licenses and insurance. The next day is spent dealing with the minor scandal the previous evening has caused, and there are sequences during Jean Louise’s youth, spent with “Dill” Harris, and her older brother Jeremy “Jem” Finch, who has since died of a heart condition which also killed her mother.
When Jean Louise finds a pamphlet titled “The Black Plague” among her father’s papers, she follows him to a Citizens’ Council meeting where Atticus introduces a man who delivers a racist speech. Jean Louise watches in secret from the balcony and is horrified. She is unable to forgive him for betraying her and flees from the hall. After dreaming about her black family maid, Calpurnia, whom she sees as a mother figure, Jean Louise has breakfast with her father. They soon learn that Calpurnia’s grandson killed a drunk pedestrian the previous night while speeding in his car. Atticus agrees to take the case in order to stop the NAACP from getting involved. Jean Louise visits Calpurnia and is treated politely but coldly, causing her to leave, devastated.
While at lunch with her Uncle Jack, Jean Louise asks Atticus why he was at the meeting. Jack says that Atticus hasn’t suddenly become racist but is trying to slow federal government intervention into state politics. Her uncle lectures her on the complexity of history, race, and politics in the South, in an attempt to get Jean Louise to come to a conclusion, which she struggles to grasp. She then has a flashback to when she was a teenager and recalls an incident where Atticus planted the seed for an idea in Henry’s brain, then let him come to the right conclusion on his own.
While having coffee with Henry, Jean Louise tells him she doesn’t love him and will never marry him. She expresses her disgust at seeing him and her father at the council meeting. Henry explains that sometimes people have to do things they don’t want to do. Henry then defends his own case by saying that the reason that he is still part of the Citizens’ Council is because he wants to use his intelligence to make an impact on his hometown of Maycomb and to make money to raise a family. She screams that she could never live with a hypocrite, only to notice that Atticus is standing behind them, smiling.
During a discussion with his daughter, Atticus argues that the blacks of the South are not ready for full civil rights, and the Supreme Court’s decision was unconstitutional and irresponsible. Although Jean Louise agrees that the South is not ready to be fully integrated, she says the court was pushed into a corner by the NAACP and had to act. She is confused and devastated by her father’s positions as they are contrary to everything he has ever taught her. She returns to the family home furious and packs her things. As she is about to leave town, her uncle comes home. She angrily complains to him, and her uncle slaps her across the face. He tells her to think of all the things that have happened over the past two days and how she has processed them. When she says she can now stand them, he tells her it is bearable because she is her own person. He says that at one point she had fastened her conscience to her father’s, assuming that her answers would always be his answers. Her uncle tells her that Atticus was letting her break her idols so that she could reduce him to the status of a human being.
Jean Louise returns to the office and makes a date with Henry for the evening. She reflects that Maycomb has taught him things she had never known and rendered her useless to him except as his oldest friend. She goes to apologize to Atticus, but he tells her how proud of her he is. He hoped that she would stand for what she thinks is right. She reflects that she didn’t want her world disturbed but that she tried to crush the man who is trying to preserve it for her. She tells him that she thinks she loves him very much. As she follows him to the car, she silently welcomes him to the human race, seeing him as just a man for the first time.
Nelle Harper Lee (April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016), better known by her pen name Harper Lee, was an American novelist widely known for To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. Immediately successful, it won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has become a classic of modern American literature. Though Lee had only published this single book, in 2007 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. Additionally, Lee received numerous honorary degrees, though she declined to speak on those occasions. She was also known for assisting her close friend Truman Capote in his research for the book In Cold Blood (1966). Capote was the basis for the character Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird.
The plot and characters of To Kill a Mockingbird are loosely based on Lee’s observations of her family and neighbors, as well as an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old. The novel deals with the irrationality of adult attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s, as depicted through the eyes of two children. The novel was inspired by racist attitudes in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.