Today, Go Set a Watchman, the much-anticipated pair to our beloved To Kill A Mockbird, hit the shelves. And the book, it turns out, well, it might make Boo Radley come out of hiding, simply to shake his head.
Thankfully, for all of us with white-guilt fueled outrage, Scout at least, basically equates her father’s ideas to Hitler. Phew!
But before our dearly held characters are decimated, let’s keep a couple things in mind.
Second, by many accounts, Lee did not want Watchman to see the light of day. It was a draft. If someone found an early draft of Heir & Spares in a safety deposit box and published it, I would change my name and move to Nepal. And I hate being cold. And I’m no Harper Lee.
But HarperCollins is taking this draft, perhaps not even a draft, perhaps merely a long form character sketch she used to write Mockingbird, and publishing it with only a “light copy-edit.” If that doesn't give all you writers out there nightmares, I don’t know what will.
Third: Lee has had a stroke, is partially deaf, can barely see to read, and some claim, is not in her right mind, thus being manipulated. (For more on this, there’s an excellent piece in Vanity Fair on her past legal struggles over the copyright to To Kill A Mockingbird as well as one at Bloomberg). Some claim it was only through some deft handling on the part of those who’d like a license to print money that Watchman is being published. And, with what the first wave of reviewers are saying, I’m inclined to agree with this theory.
But none of this is going to stop people from reading Watchman. So what’s a reader to do?
Take it on it's own merit, unclouded by the years of adulation heaped upon its predecessor.
And try not to fixate on Atticus. These are Scout’s stories after all. And Scout, now Jean Louise, is a woman before her time, heart reaching for the not-yet second wave of feminism, that will still only pay her seventy cents on the dollar to a man, but where she’ll at least she be able to actually hold a job by her own merit. Until she wants to have a family. But let’s not go there right now.
Think of this story as an interesting exploration of the struggles with racism and sexism we still have today, now much more hidden, and perhaps because so, now much more insidious. Use it as a springboard for further change toward reconciliation, restitution, and justice.
But do, please, stop naming your children Atticus.