Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” falls short as a sequel


Many a student has had the pleasure of having Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a part of their high school curriculum. A novel that promotes acceptance, tolerance, and persistence, it has acted as a tour-de-force for decades. However, Lee’s follow-up novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” fails to match up to the standards of her previous piece.

Initially written before “Mockingbird,” “Go Set a Watchman” was a piece thrust away for years and just recently published. It focuses in on an adult Scout, now going by Jean Louise, and the perils that follow being a supporter of civil rights in the deeply racist South. Now the edited final product succeeds in literary style and panache, but has a spotty storyline.

Acting as a sequel to her first novel, it is peculiar that Lee does not draw many ties from the prior novel. Several iconic characters, like Boo Radley and Miss Maudie Atkinson, are not even a part of the piece. The main focus of “Watchman” is Atticus Finch — and his racist tendencies. Atticus, a character who was such a champion for civil rights in “To Kill a Mockingbird” is portrayed as a crabby old white supremacist for the majority of the novel. While the focus of Jean Louise and her story of developing moral ideals stays in tune with her character, many scenes of this book are inconsistent with the characterization of Maycomb County in “Mockingbird.”

A truly disturbing chapter of the piece shows Jean Louise finding a pamphlet called “The Black Plague” and spying on her father attending an extremely racist hate speech. The Atticus Finch we have all grown to know and love as a truly objective and open-minded individual has been reduced to a Southern stereotype with little dimension. Yes, Jean Louise is the main character of the novel, but Atticus helped shape her into who she is.

Alone, “Go Set a Watchman” is beautifully written, telling the story of a young woman learning to deal with a racist neighborhood after coming back from living in New York City, but as a sequel, it is disjointed and confusing. As a fan of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I can say I was disappointed. Even though “Watchman” is a fantastically written piece, the plot had holes that did not match up to Lee’s initial goal with the books.