Go Set A Watchman is the unintentional sequel to the classic American novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and has been estimated to have sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Exact totals for Go Set A Watchman are not yet fully known, but has been setting sales records at several book stores since its release on July 14.
To Kill A Mockingbird tells the story of the lives of Scout and her brother, Jem, children growing up in Maycomb, Alabama during the 1930s. Along with their summer friend, Dill, the children become entranced with the idea of getting a glimpse of their reclusive and unseen neighbor, Boo Radley.
Meanwhile, their attorney father, Atticus Finch, has decided to defend Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a local white woman, Mayella Ewell. The children get caught up in the trial, in which Tom is convicted and eventually killed trying to escape from prison.
Jem and Scout become the targets of Bob Ewell, the father of Mayella, who tries to kill them one Halloween night on their way home from school, but Boo Radley, whom the children have never actually seen, shows up to save them, killing Bob in the process.
Go Set A Watchman continues the story found within To Kill a Mockingbird, only that 20 years has elapsed between the two stories. Jean Louise Finch, or Scout, as she was known in Mockingbird, is the person through whom the reader experiences the story. She’s an adult and lives in New York City, but still comes home to Maycomb, Alabama to visit her father, Atticus, regularly.
She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand both her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.
This novel was everything one could expect for a “so called” sequel for To Kill a Mockingbird. Go Set A Watchman was author Lee’s original book until her editor asked her to write from the perspective of the young child, Scout, as opposed to the adult one found in Watchman. The manuscript was found attached to an original typescript of Mockingbird.
Opening Go Set A Watchman and reading it feels like one is returning to someplace familiar. Maycomb, Alabama hasn’t changed much in the 20 years that have elapsed in the story line. Most of the original cast of characters are still there, with the exceptions of Jem and Dill, but their absences are explained and in one case, necessary to the story line. There are some new faces, including Henry, Scout’s longtime boyfriend, who fit right in to the story line without feeling forced.
The one major drawback to this story is Atticus. The father who taught Scout everything she knows about fairness, compassion, and empathy, appears to have become what essentially amounts to a bigot. Fans of the character will find this baffling as the story unfurls, but it does have purpose towards the story as a whole and how it all concludes.
Go Set a Watchman is not quite To Kill A Mockingbird, but it was a worthy follow up to the original story, and one that is very much so worth reading.
In addition to serving as an associate librarian with the Howard County Library, Nicole Tracy has years of experience in literary fields. She writes an exclusive weekly column for The Nashville News.