Go Set the Watchman is Harper Lee’s first draft of her all-time classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. The draft was written in 1957, and the prospective publisher didn’t think it was ready for publication, but liked its flashback scenes so much that Lee was guided into writing a new/revised story that flashed back even further – 20 years.
Mockingbird was published in 1960, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and was made into a Best Picture-nominated movie in 1962 starring Oscar-winning Gregory Peck and Oscar-nominated Mary Badham. Lee became a bit of a recluse and never published another novel until this first draft was recently discovered.
The setting of Go Set the Watchman is Macomb, Alabama in 1954, shortly after the Supreme Court’s controversial mandate for integration in the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The protagonist remains Jean Louise Finch (Scout), but instead of the six-year-old girl in Mockingbird, she is now a 26-year-old woman who works in New York City and returns annually to Macomb for a two-week vacation.
The entire book transpires in those two weeks and primarily concerns two storylines:
- Racism. Scout is dismayed to learn that her lawyer dad, 72-year-old Atticus Finch, feels strongly that the Brown decision will be a disaster and should be actively resisted by white Southerners.
- Classism. Scout is pursued romantically by Henry (Hank) Clinton, who was her older brother Jem’s best friend until Jem died two years earlier. Although Hank is Atticus’s legal protégé and by all accounts a fine young man, Scout’s aunt Alexandra considers him to be white trash unsuitable to marry Scout.
Scout is a fascinating person in Watchman; the other characters not so much. Now I need to read Mockingbird and compare the two.