This week’s review is the much anticipated, and controversial, “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee, author of the famous “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
We chose “Watchman” for one reason: This is a rare opportunity to see how an author’s original manuscript and ideas were changed to create a bestseller of its time, and yet see the same original unaltered manuscript become a bestseller in this time.
Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” released in 1960, changed the way generations viewed segregationist behavior which plagued the southern United States. “Go Set a Watchman” was the original manuscript submitted in 1957. At the time, the publishers felt the story itself was not groundbreaking enough, which is why Lee’s editor helped her, over the course of a few years, to reshape the story and characters, altering the original submission into what became “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The editing and suggested rewrites were brilliantly effective to create a hero for the story. Harper Lee did not originally write heroes, but wrote men and women true to their time. One of the key differences between “Mockingbird” and “Watchman” is that “Watchman” is set roughly 20 years after the events in “Mockingbird,” which is why the story is being touted as a sequel.
If you desire to read “Watchman” as a sequel, understand that since it was written before “Mockingbird,” the characters, storyline, and continuity are different in many regards. And yet, if read as a sequel, “Watchman” can remind us that our fictional human heroes, as in real life heroes, are just really human beings that have done something wonderful despite who they are (or aren’t). We suggest, with all issues of continuity and controversy aside, “Go Set a Watchman” should be read and appreciated as the book that it is.
Ed and Cynthia Justus are owners of The Bookstore in Hanapepe.