Go Set a Watchman (Lee)

Go Set a Watchman 
Harper Lee, 2015
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062409867

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—"Scout"—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her.

Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one's own conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision—a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times.

It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—April 28, 1926
Where—Monroeville, Alabama, USA
Education—B.A. (later studied law), University of Alabama
Awards—Pulitzer Prize, 1961; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2007
Currently—Monroeville, Alabama

Harper Lee, known to friends and family as Nelle, was born in the small southwestern Alabama town of Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926, the youngest of four children. Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who also served on the state legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and a precocious reader, and enjoyed the friendship of her schoolmate and neighbor, the young Truman Capote.

While pursuing a law degree at the University of Alabama, she wrote for several student publications and spent a year as editor of the campus humor magazine, Ramma-Jamma. Though she did not complete the law degree, she pursued studies for a summer in Oxford, England, before moving to New York in 1950, where she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines and BOAC in New York City. Lee continued working as a reservation clerk until the late 50s, when she resolved to devote herself to writing.

She lived a frugal lifestyle, traveling between her cold-water-only apartment in New York to her family home in Alabama to care for her ailing father. Having written several long stories, Harper Lee located an agent in November 1956. The following month at the East 50th townhouse of her friends writer Michael Brown and Joy Williams Brown, she received a gift of a year's wages with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." Within a year, she had a first draft. Working closely with J. B. Lippincott & Co. editor Tay Hohoff, she completed To Kill a Mockingbird in the summer of 1959.

Published July 11, 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was an immediate bestseller and won her great critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. It remains a bestseller today, with over 30 million copies in print. In 1999, it was voted "Best Novel of the Century" in a poll conducted by the Library Journal.

After completing To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee accompanied Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, to assist him in researching what they thought would be an article on a small town's response to the murder of a farmer and his family. Capote expanded the material into his best-selling book, In Cold Blood (1966). The experiences of Capote and Lee in Holcomb were depicted in two different films, Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006).

Lee said of the 1962 Academy Award–winning screenplay adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird by Horton Foote: "If the integrity of a film adaptation can be measured by the degree to which the novelist's intent is preserved, Mr. Foote's sceen-play should be studied as a classic." She also became a close friend of Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, the father of the novel's narrator, Scout. She remains close to the actor's family. Peck's grandson, Harper Peck Voll, is named after her.

Later honors and recognition
In June 1966, Lee was one of two persons named by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the National Council on the Arts. On May 21, 2006, she accepted an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. To honor her, the graduating seniors were given copies of Mockingbird before the ceremony and held them up when she received her degree. In a letter published in Oprah Winfrey's magazine O (May 2006), Lee wrote about her early love of books as a child and her steadfast dedication to the written word: "Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books." In 2007 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

Go Set a Watchman
According to Lee's lawyer Tonja Carter, following an initial meeting to appraise Lee's assets in 2011, she re-examined Lee's safe-deposit box in 2014 and found the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman. After contacting Lee and reading the manuscript, she passed it on to Lee’s agent Andrew Nurnberg.

On February 3, 2015, it was announced that HarperCollins would publish Go Set a Watchman, which includes versions of many of the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird. According to a HarperCollins press release, it was originally thought that the Watchman manuscript was lost. According to Nurnberg, Mockingbird was originally intended to be the first book of a trilogy: "They discussed publishing Mockingbird first, Watchman last, and a shorter connecting novel between the two."

Jonathan Mahlers account of how Watchman was only ever really considered to be the first draft of Mockingbird, however, makes this assertion seem unlikely at best. Evidence where the same passages exist in both books, in many cases word for word, also further refutes this assertion.

The book was published to controversy in July, 2015, as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, though it has been confirmed to be only the first draft of the latter, with many narrative incongruities, repackaged and released as a completely separate work.

The book is set some 20 years after the time period depicted in Mockingbird, when Scout returns as an adult from New York to visit her father in Maycomb, Alabama. It alludes to Scout's view of her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral compass ("watchman") of Maycomb, and, according to the publisher, how she finds upon her return to Maycomb, that she...

is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father's attitude toward society and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.

The publication of the novel (announced by her lawyer) raised concerns over why Lee, who for 55 years had maintained that she would never write another book, would suddenly choose to publish again.

In February 2015, the State of Alabama, through its Human Resources Department, launched an investigation into whether Lee was competent enough to consent to the publishing of Go Set a Watchman. The investigation found that the claims of coercion and elder abuse were unfounded,  and, according to Lee's laywer, Lee is "happy as hell" with the publication.

This characterisation, however, has been contested by many friends of Lee. Marja Mills, author of, The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, a friend and former neighbor of Lee and her older sister Alice, paints a very different picture. In her piece for The Washington Post, "The Harper Lee I Knew," she quotes Lee's sister Alice, whom she describes as "gatekeeper, advisor, protector" for most of Lee's adult life, as saying...

Poor Nelle Harper can't see and can't hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.

She makes note that Watchman was announced just two and a half months after Alice's death and that all correspondence to and from Lee goes through her new attorney. She describes Lee as...

in a wheelchair in an assisted living center, nearly deaf and blind, with a uniformed guard posted at the door [and visitors] restricted to those on an approved list.

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera supports this argument. He also takes issue with how the book has been promoted by the "Murdoch Empire" as a "newly discovered" novel, attesting that the other people in the Sothebys meeting insist that Lee's attorney Carter was present when the manuscript was first found—in 2011, not 2014—by Lee's former agent (who was subsequently fired) and the Sotheby's specialist. They claim Carter knew full well that it was the same one submitted to Tay Hohoff in the 1950's and reworked into Mockingbird—and that Carter has been sitting on the discovery, waiting for the moment when she, not Harper's sister Alice, would be in charge of Harper Lee's affairs.

Stephen Peck, son of actor Gregory Peck has also expressed concern. Responding to the question of how he thinks his father would have reacted to the book, he says that his father "would have appreciated the discussion the book has prompted, but would have been troubled by the decision to publish it."

Peck notes that his father considered Lee a dear friend. She gave him the pocket watch that had belonged to her father, on whom she modeled Atticus and that Gregory wore it the night he won an Oscar for the role. Stephen, who is president and chief executive of the United States Veterans Initiative, goes on to say, “I think he would have felt very protective of her,” and he believed his father would have counseled Lee not to publish Watchman because it could taint Mockingbird, one of the most beloved novels [in] American history.

Later in the same article, which was posted in The Wall Street Journal, Stephen Peck says,

To me, it was an unedited draft. Do you want to put that early version out there or do you want to put it in the University of Alabama archives for scholars to look at?

(Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/16/2015.)

Book Reviews
Don’t let Go Set a Watchman change the way you think about Atticus Finch…the hard truth is that a man such as Atticus, born barely a decade after Reconstruction to a family of Southern gentry, would have had a complicated and tortuous history with race.
Los Angeles Times

[Go Set a Watchman] contains the familiar pleasures of Ms. Lee’s writing—the easy, drawling rhythms, the flashes of insouciant humor, the love of anecdote.
Wall Street Journal

Watchman is compelling in its timeliness.
Washington Post

A significant aspect of this novel is that it asks us to see Atticus now not merely as a hero, a god, but as a flesh-and-blood man with shortcomings and moral failing, enabling us to see ourselves for all our complexities and contradictions.
Washington Post

The success of Go Set a Watchman... lies both in its depiction of Jean Louise reckoning with her father’s beliefs, and in the manner by which it integrates those beliefs into the Atticus we know.

Go Set a Watchman’s greatest asset may be its role in sparking frank discussion about America’s woeful track record when it comes to racial equality.
San Francisco Chronicle

Go Set a Watchman comes to us at exactly the right moment. All important works of art do. They come when we don’t know how much we need them.
Chicago Tribune

[T]he voice we came to know so well in To Kill a Mockingbird—funny, ornery, rulebreaking—is right here in Go Set a Watchman, too, as exasperating and captivating as ever.
Chicago Tribune

What makes Go Set a Watchman memorable is its sophisticated and even prescient view of the long march for racial justice. Remarkably, a novel written that long ago has a lot to say about our current struggles with race and inequality.
Chicago Tribune

[Go Set a Watchman] captures some of the same small-town Southern humor and preoccupation with America’s great struggle: race.
Columbus Dispatch

Go Set a Watchman’s gorgeous opening is better than we could have expected.
Vanity Fair

Go Set a Watchman is more complex than Harper Lee’s original classic. A satisfying novel… it is, in most respects, a new work, and a pleasure, revelation and genuine literary event.
Guardian (UK)

Lee’s ability with description is evident… with long sentences beautifully rendered and evoking a world long lost to history, but welcoming all the same.

A coming-of-age novel in which Scout becomes her own woman…. Go Set a Watchman’s voice is beguiling and distinctive, and reminiscent of Mockingbird. (It) can’t be dismissed as literary scraps from Lee’s imagination. It has too much integrity for that.
Independent (UK)

Go Set a Watchman provides valuable insight into the generous, complex mind of one of America’s most important authors.
USA Today

Atticus’ complexity makes Go Set a Watchman worth reading. With Mockingbird, Harper Lee made us question what we know and who we think we are. Go Set a Watchman continues in this noble literary tradition.
New York Post

A deftly written tale…there’s something undeniably comforting and familiar about sinking into Lee’s prose once again.

As Faulkner said, the only good stories are the ones about the human heart in conflict with itself. And that’s a pretty good summation of Go Set a Watchman.
Daily Beast

Go Set a Watchman offers a rich and complex story… To make the novel about pinning the right label on Atticus is to miss the point.
Bloomberg View

Harper Lee’s second novel sheds more light on our world than its predecessor did.

[Go Set a Watchman is a] brilliant book that ruthlessly examines race relations.
Denver Post

Go Set a Watchman is such an important book, perhaps the most important novel on race to come out of the white South in decades…
New York Times Opinion Pages: Taking Note

In this powerful newly published story about the Finch family, Lee presents a wider window into the white Southern heart, and tells us it is finally time for us all to shatter the false gods of the past and be free.
NPR's "Code Switch"

[Go Set a Watchman is] filled with the evocative language, realistic dialogue and sense of place that partially explains what made Mockingbird so beloved.
Buffalo News

The editor who rejected Lee's first effort had the right idea. [Watchman] is clearly the work of a novice, with poor characterization (how did the beloved Scout grow up to be such a preachy bore, even as she serves as the book's moral compass?), lengthy exposition, and ultimately not much story, unless you consider Scout thinking she's pregnant because she was French-kissed...compelling.... The temptation to publish another Lee novel was undoubtedly great, but it's a little like finding out there's no Santa Claus.
Publishers Weekly

Scout...[is] returning home from New York to Maycomb Junction, AL, post-Brown v. Board of Education and encountering strongly resistant states'-rights, anti-integrationist forces that include boyfriend Henry and, significantly, her father, Atticus Finch.... Readers shocked by that revelation must remember that...the work in hand is not a sequel but served as source material for Lee's eventual Pulitzer Prize winner, with such reworked characters a natural part of the writing and editing processes. —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal

[Go Set a Watchman] too often reads like a first draft, but Lee's story nonetheless has weight and gravity.... As Scout wanders from porch to porch and parlor to parlor on both the black and white sides of the tracks, she hears stories that complicate her—and our—understanding of her father. To modern eyes, Atticus harbors racist sentiments.... Lee...writes of class, religion, and race, but most affectingly of the clash of generations and traditions.... It's not To Kill a Mockingbird, yes, but it's very much worth reading.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Go Set a Watchman takes place more than twenty years after To Kill a Mockingbird begins. When Wa t c h m a n opens, Jean Louise Finch—now twenty-six and living in the North, in New York City—is returning to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama. Describe the Maycomb of Go Set a Watchman. If you have read Mockingbird, has the town changed in the intervening years? If so, how?

2. Harper Lee writes, “Until comparatively recently in its history, Maycomb County was so cut off from the rest of the nation that some of its citizens, unaware of the South’s political predilections over the past ninety years, still voted Republican.” What are these predilections, and where do they originate? What is Harper Lee telling us about the period and the politics and attitudes of this small Southern town?

3. Maycomb is a town without train service, and its bus service “was erratic and seemed to go nowhere.” How does this lack of connection isolate the citizens of Maycomb, and how does that isolation affect how they see themselves and outsiders? Early in the novel, her longtime friend Henry Clinton tells her “you’re gonna see Maycomb change its face completely in our lifetime.” What does he foresee that Jean Louise cannot—or perhaps does not want to see?

4.Think about the extended Finch family. What is their status in Maycomb? What is the significance of being a Finch in this small Southern town? Does it afford them privileges—as well as expectations of them and responsibilities—that other families do not share? Do the Finches have freedoms that others do not enjoy?

5. Describe the Jean Louise Finch of Watchman. How does this grown-up woman compare to her younger self ? How does Jean Louise conform—or not—to the ideal of womanhood in the 1950s? What was that ideal? Compare her to her Aunt Alexandra and the women of Maycomb. Does she fit in with these women? What did you learn about them at the Coffee social that Aunt Alexandra hosts in Jean Louise’s honor? In both Mockingbird and Watchman, Alexandra tells Jean Louise that she is part of a genteel family and that she must at like a “lady.” How did ladies “act” in the first half of the twentieth century and is there such a thing as a “lady” today?

6. Has living away from Maycomb—and in a place like New York—had an impact on Jean Louise? What does she think about New York and life there? What does the big city offer her that Maycomb does not—and vice versa? Now that Atticus is older and suffering from arthritis, why doesn’t Jean Louise move back to Maycomb permanently? “Maycomb expected every daughter to do her duty. The duty of his only daughter to her widowed father after the death of his only son was clear: Jean Louise would return and make her home with Atticus; that was what a daughter did, and she who did not was no daughter.” What responsibilities do children—especially female children—owe their parents?

7. Describe the relationship between Jean Louise and Atticus at the beginning of the novel. Does Jean Louise idealize her father too much? How does she react when she discovers that her father is a flawed human being? How does this discovery alter her sense of herself, her family, and her world? By the novel’s end, how do father and daughter accommodate each other?

8. Talk about the Atticus portrayed in Go Set a Watchman. If you read Watchman first, how might the novel color your ideas about the Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird? What was your reaction to some of the opinions he voices in Watchman? Do they make him a more realistic—if less heroic—character than that portrayed in Mockingbird? Is Atticus racist? Would he consider himself to be racist?

9. “Integrity, humor, and patience were the three words for Atticus Finch.” After your reading of Watchman, do these three words still hold true? What words would you use to describe him?

10. What are Jean Louise’s feelings toward Henry Clinton? Would he make a good husband for her? Both her aunt and her uncle tell her that Henry isn’t “suitable,” that he “is not her kind.” What do they mean, and what does it mean to Jean Louise? Is it strictly because of Henry’s background or is there something more? What adjectives would you use to describe Henry’s character?

11. Is Henry like Atticus, his mentor and friend? Is Jean Louise’s assessment of Henry later in the novel correct? Are Henry and Atticus good men? Can you be a moral person and hold views that may be unacceptable to most people? How do Atticus’s actions toward the blacks of Maycomb compare with his views about them?

12. Why does Maycomb have a citizens’ council, and why does this upset Jean Louise when she discovers that nearly everyone in town belongs to it? By allowing the likes of a racist segregationist like Grady O’Hanlon to speak at the meeting, are Atticus and Henry defending O’Hanlon’s First Amendment right to free speech—or are they condoning his message?

13. Harper Lee writes, “Had she been able to think, Jean Louise might have prevented events to come by considering the day’s occurrences in terms of a recurring story as old as time: the chapter which concerned her began two hundred years ago and was played out in a proud society the bloodiest war and harshest peace in modern history could not destroy, returning, to be played out again on private ground in the twilight of a civilization no wars and no peace could save.” Why would this realization have helped Jean Louise? Are we still fighting the Civil War today?

14. Harper Lee offers a window into Jean Louise’s turmoil after she attends the citizens’ council meeting. “Had she insight, could she have pierced the barriers of her highly selective, insular world, she may have discovered that all her life she had been with a visual defect which had gone unnoticed and neglected by herself and by those closest to her: she was born color blind.” Why is Jean Louise’s color blindness a “visual defect”? How does being color blind shape who she is and how she sees the world?

15. Trying to reconcile the knowledge Jean Louise has learned with her views of those she loves forces her to confront painful questions. “What was this blight that had come down over the people she loved? Did she see it in stark relief because she had been away from it? Had it percolated gradually through the years until now? Had it always been under her nose for her to see if she had only looked? No, not the last.” What makes her say no to this question? And finally, “What turned ordinary men into screaming dirt at the top of their voices, what made her kind of people harden and say ‘nigger’ when the word had never crossed their lips before?” What answers can you give her?

16. What kind of reception does Jean Louise receive in the Quarters when she visits Calpurnia, the Finches’ retired housekeeper? How does Calpurnia react to seeing Jean Louise, and what is Calpurnia’s response when Jean Louise asks her how she truly felt about her family? Would Calpurnia have answered the same way if asked that question a few years earlier—or if asked a few years later?

17. Near the novel’s end, Jean Louise questions herself. “Everything I have ever taken for right and wrong these people have taught me—these same, these very people. So it’s me, it’s not them. Something has happened to me.” Do you agree with her? Has she changed—or is she truly the person who she was raised to be? Atticus tells her, “I’ve killed you, Scout. I had to.” What does he mean?

18. Do you think that the white community of Maycomb sees itself as being victimized in Go Set a Watchman? How do these people justify this belief—and how does this belief justify their attitude and behavior toward the emerging Civil Rights movement and those who are a part of it, especially the black people of Maycomb?

19. Go Set a Watchman was written three years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. How did that decision impact the nation and especially the South? What is Jean Louise’s opinion of that decision? What about Atticus’s? How do their responses reflect comments about Supreme Court decisions involving minority rights in our own time? What does this tell us about ourselves as Americans and about our views of race today?

20. Consider the novel’s title, Go Set a Watchman. What is its significance? Why do you think Harper Lee chose this as her title for the book? Though it is fiction, the book is a historical document of its time. What does reading it tell us about the modern Civil Rights movement and its effect on the South? What lessons does the book offer us in understanding our own turbulent times?

21. How have our attitudes about race evolved since the 1950s when Watchman was written? In what ways have we progressed? Is the stain of racism indelible in our national character, or can it eventually be erased? Can it be eradicated for good?

22. Late in the novel, Uncle Jack tells his niece, “Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience.” What wisdom is he imparting to her? Uncle Jack also calls Jean Louise a “turnip-sized bigot.” Is she? Why?

23. Did reading Go Set a Watchman deepen your understanding of To Kill a Mockingbird? How are the two books linked thematically? Talk about the experience of reading Go Set a Watchman. Does it stand as a companion to Mockingbird?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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