10 Things You Need to Know About Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

In early February, an announcement shocked the literary world. Another novel by Harper Lee was set to be published by HarperCollins on July 14, 2015. Go Set a Watchman was written in 1957, three years before To Kill a Mockingbird was written.

This summary is for those who aren't familiar with the 1961Pulitzer-winning To Kill a Mockingbird: Two white children, Scout and Jem, experience the fallout of their lawyer father defending an innocent black man accused of rape in the 1930's.

Go Set a Watchman is different, yet just as compelling. Jean Louise (Scout) returns to Maycomb as an adult. She questions all she holds dear when she learns her father supports segregation.
With this news, the media and fans began to talk. Fans faced a conundrum on many levels. Did Nelle Harper Lee approve of the book's publication? Will they be disappointed? Will their hero, Atticus, fall from the perfection?

Now that I've read the book, I've been asked to share my opinion of Go Set a Watchman.

10 Things You Need to Know About Go Set a Watchman

  1. Nelle Harper Lee, now age 89, does not want attention. Though she is not a recluse like Boo Radley, she has removed herself from all spotlights. She does not grant interviews and has not for decades. This makes it hard to know her wishes regarding publication. (I highly recommend the Harper Lee biography, Mockingbird to help you understand this.) Harper Lee is nearly blind and is very hard of hearing. Communication is difficult. Yet, in this 13-minute video we see a glimpse of Lee's reaction to publication.
  2. Watchman was published 58 years after it was written.
  3. Apparently a few knew about this book, but Lee didn't want it published until after her death according to this article. Her sister and legal advisor, Alice, died in November 2014, two months after the manuscript was found. Some say this book would never have been published under Alice's watch. This article seems to offer the most hope that Harper Lee approved of its publication. 
  4. Go Set a Watchman was published as it was written. It was not edited. Readers with a critical eye may notice; most will not. It is similar to Mockingbird's style, yet its flow is not as strong. (At this point, I think it was wise of HarperCollins to publish it as is; otherwise reviewers and fans would blame the editors for the book being anything but perfect.)
  5. Watchman was written for adults. (Mockingbird was written for an adult audience, as well. Readers changed it to the young adult market.) 
  6. Go Set a Watchman was written three years prior to Mockingbird's publication but is set 20 years after. Publishers initially rejected it.
  7. Go Set a Watchman wouldn't be significant without Mockingbird. It is an excellent companion book though I understand why publishers weren't interested initially. A wise editor told her to use the flashbacks in Watchman to write another novel. Obviously, she did.
  8. Jean Louise, as she is now called in Watchman, is still Scout. She has a temper, swears, and smokes. More than that, she is loyal and passionate.
  9. Atticus Finch is a hero in Mockingbird. He does the right thing when no one else would. Watchman reminds readers he is a man. (This is many people's biggest difficulty in reading this book or wondering if they should. For me, I had to stop wondering and just read it.)
  10. Watchman proves to be an eye-opener about segregation, especially for northerners regarding southerners' attitudes, as noted in the video above.
  11. Fans may not get what they want in Watchman. It will satisfy some and disappoint others. Yet I still recommend it for fans of the book To Kill a Mockingbird. It will make you think deeply- even more than Mockingbird.
  12. And a warning. The "n" word is used heavily throughout the book.
To Kill a Mockingbird  has influenced me greatly. I've read it more than a dozen times. As a work of fiction, it speaks new truths to me each time I read it. 

Yesterday I spent the day with a dear, old friend as I read Go Set a Watchman. I do not regret it. In fact, I'm thankful for the time together because I got to read more about the lives of Jem and Scout.. Jean Louise is rather different from me, but it's sometimes good to have friends who think and act differently. They make you think and grow as a person.

Feel free to stop reading now. In fact, it may be best if you do. What I say below and the quotes I share may prevent you from wanting to read Go Set a Watchman. It's not my intention. However, I will not share spoilers either. 

Go Set a Watchman Review

At her father, Atticus's encouragement, Jean Louise (Scout) went away to college and then moved to New York City. She returned home to Maycomb at the age of 26 to visit her aging father.

With questions of integration and segregation at hand, her hometown shocked Jean Louise. All those she holds dear crush her with their ideas about negroes. Worst of all, Atticus is not the man she knew.
"The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, 'He is a gentleman, in his heat he is a gentleman,' had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly."
Harper Lee weaves in and out of the past. We chuckle as Jean Louise remembers her teenage years. 

Go Set a Watchman reunites us with Scout. We don't meet Jem and Dill as adults. One thing is certain. You can never, truly, go home once you've left. You return to find your friends and family have changed. And so have you. 
"Now she was aware of a sharp apartness, a separation, not from Atticus and Henry merely. All of Maycomb and Maycomb County were leaving her as the hours passed, and she atuomatically blamed herself."
I'm still digesting it, but suffice it to say Jean Louise church experience makes me uncomfortbable. Not that any Christian experience is perfect, but hers seems filled with inconsistencies and misunderstandings. Much of the book discusses Jean Louise's experiences with things related to God. Even the title comes from a verse in the Bible.
"For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth."    ~ Isaiah 21: 6 (KJV)
I appreciated how the conclusion addressed part of this problem. That's all I can say. (I will state it had nothing to do with a conversion or faith acknowledgement.)

But you should know, the "n" word a lot. It was hard for me.

I had great reservations about reading Go Set a Watchman. Now, I'm glad I did. It made me think.

I was disappointed that no foreword was included. Nothing within the book tells the reader of its history.


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In addition to To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, I also recommend Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles Shields and The Mockingbird Parables: Transforming Lives Through the Power of Story by Matt Litton.

Your Thoughts

Have you read Go Set a Watchman, To Kill a Mockingbird, or any other related books? How did they impact you? If your opinion is different than mine, I still want to hear it!
~ Annette
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  1. Thanks for writing this review, Annette. After I read the book, my head was spinning because honestly I couldn't believe what I was reading about Atticus and I desperately wanted someone else to either confirm my suspicions or tell me I had missed something very important. I am a HUGE fan of "To Kill A Mockingbird" due in large part to Atticus. He was my hero...

    I, like you, just got ahold of the book yesterday, and I devoured it in one sitting. I want to say that I regret reading it, that I would rather have just stayed happy with "To Kill A Mockingbird" but I don't know if that is entirely true. The flashbacks were my favorite part, though:) I am so glad that the editor encouraged her to write "To Kill A Mockingbird"!

    Thanks for the review!

    1. I had skimmed enough of one review to know what might happen. It was still hard though.

  2. Besides this review, I have only read one from a friend who didn't like it and thinks it may even be a hoax (in part because she feels some of Scout's attitudes seem more modern than the times), or at least that Lee may have been taken advantage of and urged to publish it when she would not have if she were more lucid. I have not read it yet and probably will at some point just to do so.

    Some Blogger blogs aren't letting me comment with my Wordpress account, so I am having to use my Google account, but it links to my blog).

    1. Yes, some attitudes ARE more modern, but I think TKAM was incredibly ahead of its time. I had decided when I heard about Watchman I would read it if I saw real evidence of Nelle Harper Lee not wanting it published instead of just speculation.

      It's interesting you say that about Blogger blogs...bc Wordpress isn't letting me comment on WP blogs! :(

  3. I've been ambivelent about reading Go Set a Watchman, mostly because of the potential of elder abuse. The PBS video does help set my mind at ease regarding that. Even so, I expect it'll be a while before I read it, mostly because I don't buy books until I've read them first and the line at the library is Oh-so-long!

    1. I was shocked to see the wait list was 289 for this book at the library! WOW! I thought long and hard about reading it...

    2. That's funny cuz I placed hold on it before it was even published and apparently I was first on the list, because I was notified the day it was published that I could come and get it!

  4. I, too, have been rather ambivalent about reading it. I think I'm mostly not interested. TKAM isn't my all-time favorite (although I did like it) and I've read it twice but I just don't feel as connected to it. There does seem like a lot of controversy surrounding this book and I appreciated that you tried to help us see around and through it a bit. Thank you for that!

    Overall, I guess it's just that I am ambivalent about it.


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