Monday, August 10, 2015

     Go Set a Watchman, 
A Rehearsal for To Kill a Mockingbird

     I would like to say thank you to Harper Lee for sharing her manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, with us, her reading public.  How lucky we are to be given a rare glimpse at the beginning of her literary brilliance.  The sharp, Pulitzer Prize winning prose of Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was born here, in Go Set a Watchman.
     Lee's characters have grown, changed and in some cases, become more real. Scout and Atticus live on opposite ends of the Eastern seaboard and are poles apart on segregation, racial equality, all things Southern and life in general.  "Scout", now known by her given name, Jean Louise Finch, lives in New York City and is returning home by train to Maycomb County for a visit.  Determined to remain true to herself, bound to speak her mind, Jean Louise is torn between her love of family, her affection for her childhood friend Hank and the disturbing revelation of bigotry in tiny Macomb, Alabama.
     Once Jean Louise arrives at her childhood home, no one behaves the way she expects them to behave and nothing is as she remembers it.  The same can be said for the reader's impression of Maycomb County in the early 1960's.  Nothing is the same.  But go beyond your disappointment in the characters and read on.  Remember that Go Set a Watchman was the foundation for To Kill a Mockingbird and enjoy the discovery of Mockingbird's basic structure, its bones, its blood and its muscle.
     And although the reasons behind the original editor's reluctance to publish Watchman become clear later in the book, the story's potential is also evident.  Many passages exist in Watchman that reappear verbatim in Mockingbird.  Some even draw conclusions that are opposite from the ones Lee drew in the childhood stories of Scout.
     Certainly a good editior would have tightened Lee's prose in Watchman, eliminating a few examples of wordiness and repetition.  It is, after all, an unedited first draft.  But I understand why Go Set a Watchman was published "as is." Ms. Lee did not wish to rewrite the book nor do we need her to do that.  The book stands alone as a rehearsal for To Kill a Mockingbird, a story that began and now ends with the wisdom of Scout Finch.

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