Story by Abigale Racine
Many are required to read Harper Lee’s 1960 classic To Kill a Mockingbird during high school English class, and I’ve heard many people say that it was one of the few books they were forced to read that they had thoroughly enjoyed. Fifty years after its original publication, it remains a timeless coming-of-age story unlike any other.
Earlier this spring, HarperCollins Publishing announced that a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird was going to be released in the summer, inducing book lovers everywhere into a state of frenzy. Author Harper Lee, 89, is known for being a social recluse, and has not given a full interview in over 50 years. She once famously announced to the world that she would never publish another novel after Mockingbird, given its great success as a Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller and an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck as the beloved and honorable Atticus Finch.
The manuscript was discovered by Lee’s lawyer and good friend Tonja Carter. Many have questioned if publishers have taken advantage of the handicapped, elderly Lee and forced her into publishing the sequel. Lee had originally intended Go Set a Watchman to be her first published novel, but was advised to tell the story through a child’s perspective, and the phenomenon of To Kill a Mockingbird was born.
The reason it has remained so relevant is not solely based on its eloquence of words, but because it is a relatable tale of childhood. Scout narrates her childhood memories with a sense of discovery and wonder, describing small moments that built her personal identity. I’m sure we can all recall a seemingly-insignificant moment that clearly shaped us into the individuals we are today. I for one will laugh out loud each time I read about Jem losing his pants at the Radley place.
Six-year-old Scout also addresses social problems and fragments that still exist today; although she may not have understood the implications of these situations. It is so innocent when she defends her father’s honor when her cousin refers to Atticus as a “Nigger-lover.” Despite her youth and naivety, even Scout understood that this was not a favorable term and it is offensive to vocalize.
With exhibits of racial tensions in our present history, it is evident that prejudices still exist. The recently-released sequel Go Set a Watchman addresses a challenge we all will have to face; as we will notice the defiant beliefs and differences between us and those who raised us.
Of course Go Set a Watchman is told through a darker perspective, Scout is no longer the overall-donning youngster we know and love. Jean Louise (Scout) has aged, and so as her father, who is now 77 years old. With age comes realizations and actualizations, especially in terms with one’s family.
As soon as I had preordered the much-anticipated novel and heard of the controversy of Atticus being portrayed as a racist, I was just as hesitant as the rest of society. I cited Atticus Finch as a role model for equality and humility as well. Hell, I gone as far to say that I intend on naming my first born son Atticus; that’s how much love I possess for these characters in this storyline. After reading the sequel, I view Atticus as a more complex character. I can hope other readers identify him as multidimensional individual as well, instead of focusing on bigotry.
It is important to keep in mind the time in which the novel is set, which is in the 1950’s, twenty years after Mockingbird. Yes, Atticus admits that he attends Klu Klux Klan meetings regularly, and I’m not entirely bewildered.
The Finches live in a small Southern town where the social stratification is evident. Maycomb, like most places, is torn by racial and class injustices and is unwilling to break from its traditions. Atticus finds himself in an odd position in his profession as a lawyer, where he has to associate and represent people from all walks of life.
Atticus has his own intentions for his association with the organization- you’ll just have to read it for yourself. I believe that if he was still alive during our time, he would have been a strong advocate for equality. As the old adages go, don’t believe in everything you hear and don’t judge a book by its cover.
I will say, upon first reading, that the sequel is not as beautifully written as To Kill a Mockingbird. Had Lee intended on publishing this book when she was younger, it may have been more polished material. It is still worth taking your time to read.
I hope Go Set a Watchman will be taught in classrooms, like its predecessor. We will need to know how to treat our aging parents and their prejudices when they conflict with our own, as I am sure that my future son Atticus will have to do for me, glorified in my own disappointment and stubbornness.
Although it may alter your perception of your favorite literary moral compass, set aside your own preconceived notions and enjoy the story as Harper Lee intended it to be told. Go Set a Watchman, like Mockingbird, is still a story of love and acceptance- Scout’s honor.
Abigale Racine is a senior studying English, with a focus in journalism. She is the Culture Editor of The Saint and does some freelance work on the side, when she isn’t soaking up the scene that is Grand Rapids.