Go Set a Watchman | The classic through adult eyes
Scout grows up with the millennial generation
Harper Lee shocked the world with the unexpected publication of her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, the continuation of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. I was amongst the crowd who was astonished and ecstatic about the release of Lee’s book. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the two books on my high schools’ reading list that made me bawl, the second being Flowers for Algernon. According to reviews and hearsay, the book took on a completely different mindset from her first novel, destroying purified and idealized portrayals of beloved characters. Now, this made my ears perk up immediately. Do tell, Harper…
However, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this novel, given that there was plenty of controversy about the legalities of the publication – Lee is living in a care home and, due to her age and other health complications, isn’t always capable of making legal decisions alone. According to speculations, Go Set a Watchman was the original draft of the classic American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was subject to censoring due to the prejudiced mentalities of the 1960s. So, Lee should be thrilled about finally being able to publish the story she initially wanted to tell so many years ago. What made the public suspicious was that a certain allotment of the royalties from Go Set a Watchman was given to Lee’s lawyer. Again, this is all speculation, but there were rumours that Lee in fact didn’t want this novel to be published, but was persuaded to do so by her lawyer. These rumours were enough to put me on edge when it came to reading Lee’s newest book.
Against the unease I felt surrounding the mystery of its publication, I read the book, like so many others, out of curiosity. Despite the underlying guilt I felt thumbing through the pages, Go Set a Watchman was far from what I expected, but at the same time, I wasn’t surprised. The rumours of the book being denied publication due to “controversial themes” seems entirely plausible as it discusses racism and white privilege in a way more blatant and adult manner than her first novel ever did. While To Kill a Mockingbird will obviously continue to be nothing short of a masterpiece, the agency with which white privilege was addressed was an impressive calling out of the ignorance of privileged groups.
I don’t always give away spoilers, but Go Set a Watchman has been out for a while and, like Star Wars, spoilers can be fair game. I just need to make this known because it was the most shocking and important aspect of the story – Atticus is a dick. I was as shocked as you are. I’m not going to tell you guys how and when he’s a dick, but Lee does a phenomenal job of paralleling her first novel in themes of childhood innocence. Nobody is perfect, and while Scout idolized her father in her youth, as you age, you realize that everyone has their demons, and sometimes privilege will get to your head, especially if there is a substantial generational gap.
In short, I feel that Lee’s latest book, scandals aside, is a great read for millennial kids, because Scout grows up right beside you. If the rumours are true, it’s sad to think that it had to be 2015 for Lee to get her message across as boldly as she would’ve liked. But, luckily, Bob Dylan was right: times, they are a-changing.