TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and GO SET A WATCHMAN
Harper and Row
Recently, Ms. Hen found TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in a used bookstore. She hadn’t read the book since she was a young hen in high school, but she remembered enjoying it, so she bought it. She’d heard about the new novel by Harper Lee, but forgot about the controversy surrounding it, so she got that book out of the library and decided to read the two books consecutively without researching the story behind the new book before she read them.
She was reminded of how TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is beautifully written. The story of Scout and her family in Alabama struck Ms. Hen, and also the innocent but dark times in which they lived. Ms. Hen read this without remembering the outcome of the trial; she knew the novel was brimming with injustice, but she didn’t remember the details. She had no memory of the fact that there were so many chickens mentioned in this novel, which she adored.
Ms. Hen thought the choice of first person worked well in this novel: the reader is in Scout’s mind as a child, but is looking back through adult eyes. This novel made her think of the awkwardness and embarrassment of childhood, which children these days don’t have since they are coddled and made to believe they’re perfect. The aspect of childhood that should be important is that children simply don’t know as much as they do as when they are adults.
When Ms. Hen read GO SET A WATCHMAN, she noticed right away the lack of first person narrative that made MOCKINGBIRD so immediate. The novel is about Scout as a twenty-six year old woman who comes back to visit her family and hometown for her yearly two week vacation.
Ms. Hen thought there were parts of WATCHMAN that were outright slapstick comedy, which she enjoyed. But the thrust of the novel is racism, and how the people Scout knew in her hometown, including her father, are racists. The novel is disjointed in the way that some sections are hilarious, and others, downright frightening. The novel made Ms. Hen uncomfortable, and she had to think long and hard about what she wanted to write about it. She is disappointed that Atticus Finch, a beacon of nobility in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD turns out to be so disgusting in WATCHMAN.
Ms. Hen researched WATCHMAN after she read it, and she discovered that Harper Lee wrote it before she wrote MOCKINGBIRD. She set out to write a novel about race. An editor suggested that she write about the trial that was mentioned briefly in WATCHMAN about a black man accused of raping a white girl. Ms. Lee never intended to publish GO SET A WATCHMAN. One of the rumors surrounding the publication is that her sister who took care of her affairs died, and Ms. Lee was left unprotected. Someone who worked at her sister’s law firm had possession of WATCHMAN and sent it to the publisher.
Ms. Hen thinks it’s tragic that the people at the publishing company exploited Ms. Lee in order to make money. The novel isn’t a bad novel, but it’s not the one that Ms. Lee intended to publish. Ms. Hen is happy that she did not spend money on GO SET A WATCHMAN, so she didn’t give in to the corporate machine.
Ms. Hen thinks everyone should read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD again, and if you haven’t, then hurry up and read it. The subject matter of the novel is still relevant today: injustice surrounding racial issues. Ms. Hen wants to keep the Atticus Finch of MOCKINGBIRD in her mind, instead of the ugly one from the other book. Ms. Hen gives TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD five feathers up, and GO SET A WATCHMAN a big question mark.