Please note that portions of this review appear under my review on Goodreads.
In my previous post, I spoke about my new learnings from the To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) audiobook. Click here for a refresher. One of the points I discussed was how the audiobook brought my attention to the book’s multiple-not singular-themes: friendship, injustice, community, loneliness. To Kill a Mockingbird was a great book because it dealt with a wide variety of themes still relevant and relatable to today.
Go Set a Watchman (GSAW), in contrast, is dealing with one central theme: managing/readjusting expectations about family /friends when coming home after long time and not being as you remembered. GSAW written before TKAM (TKAM was taken from childhood memories in GSAW and made into whole book) and deals with Scout returning to hometown after living in New York. Upon her return, Scout is surprised to learn (Spoiler Alert ahead, so please stop reading if you don’t want any information) that Atticus is not as racially sensitive as she thought. In fact, he is a segregationist. While GSAW has one theme dealing with changes in perception while TKAM touches upon multiple themes, I still find it relatable.
Before I go into my full review, I’ll start off by saying that isn’t fair to GSAW any star or to review it in the same manner as TKAM. For one thing, GSAW is unedited, while TKM had the benefit of full editing. Second, I firmly believe this book was never meant to be published. Yes, Ms Lee intended this as the real book when she first submitted her proposal. However, after Lee wrote TKAM (after advice from her editor), she didn’t go back to enhancing/publishing GSAW. I think Ms. Lee’s lawyer took advantage of Lee’s health and led efforts to publish GSAW after Lee’s sister – who had previously protected her sister- passed away and Lee’s mental state was not in best sense.
That being said, I enjoyed comparing GSAW to TKAM. I read GSAW as a draft and comparing how Lee’s style evolved from this book to TKAM. The latter had a lot more emotional connection, both stylistically and also substance wise. If I had just read GSAW and not TKAM, I wouldn’t have cared as much about the characters. In GSAW, the characters are not as fleshed out as in TKAM. I completely understand why the publisher had Lee flesh out the childhood scenes into TKAM; GSAW had several childhood scenes, and those scenes had more heart, comedy, and emotion than other parts of the book. In addition, reading Scout’s narrative in TKAM felt more intimate, while reading GSAW’s third person view didn’t make me feel as connected to Maycomb world.
Despite the fact that TKAM is better written, GSAW does have value in its own right. First, it touches upon a theme that we can all relate to in our lives, which is after leaving home and coming back, we don’t see our town the same way; the town changes or, most likely, we have changed. That idea was the main theme I got out of the book, more than anything regarding Atticus. In addition, Go Set a Watchman touched upon – though it could have gone deeper- into the civil rights movement and the impact on small towns’ attitudes.
Regarding Atticus, I firmly believe that the Atticus in Go Set a Watchman is a completely different character/person from the one in To Kill a Mockingbird. There is such a disconnect between what that Atticus says/does in TKAM than the one GSAW that I had a hard time believing these were the same people. As Lee had not originally intended to write TKAM and not publish GSAW, I can see why she didn’t provide evidence that connected the Atticus of the 30s (TKAM) to the Atticus of the 60s (GSAW). Therefore, I was able to disassociate myself from the negative Atticus and see him as he is portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird. I was able to read the book as a draft and alternate universe. Since the book was never intended to publish, this book’s version wasn’t the real portrayal of the characters. In addition, factual differences between what was published (TKM and GSW), makes it easier to see TKM as the source. For example, in TKM Atticus had only one sister, in GSAW he has two. Frances is Alexandria’s grandson in TKM and is her son in GSAW. The only person that felt the same between the two books was Scout; she retains her same loveable feistiness in GSAW as she had in TKAM.
Overall, while I don’t necessarily think Go Set A Watchman is how the characters would have ended up from To Kill A Mockingbird, I’m glad I read the book just to have visibility into a writer’s writing process. Read Go Set A Watchman and share your thoughts with me in the comments section on whether you agree with my assessment.