By Thomas Saccente – Staff Writer

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is considered by many to be the seminal American novel. Written in 1960, the novel juxtaposes growing up in a small southern town during the Great Depression with the tense racial prejudice prevalent both in the 1930’s and the year in which it was published.

In addition, the novel was adapted into a well-received film in 1962 and today is considered by many to be a great film on its own merits. It includes an Academy Award-winning performance by Gregory Peck, and is also one of the best adaptations in cinematic history.

However, despite the novel’s massive success and clear audience interest in receiving additional work by Lee, she never capitalized on her fame.

Aside from a few sporadically published essays and helping Truman Capote write the 1966 nonfiction book, In Cold Blood, Lee remained closed off to both the press and the public at large, refusing to publish any more material or give interviews in the decades following To Kill a Mockingbird’s success.

Harper Lee’s first novel To Kill a Mockingbird became an icon of American literature. Go Set a Watchman hopes for similar success.

Harper Lee’s first novel To Kill a Mockingbird became an icon of American literature. Go Set a Watchman hopes for similar success.

During this time, there were rumors of other potential projects in the works, but these were all eventually shelved and have yet to be released. Now, 55 years after its initial publication, fans of To Kill a Mockingbird will get a chance to see an official continuation of the story, a manuscript that was thought to be lost for decades but will now finally see the light of day: Go Set a Watchman.

Since it was first announced earlier this month, the public was informed of many details concerning the conception and plot of Go Set a Watchman by way of interviews with Harper Lee and her publisher HarperCollins.

According to The New York Times, the manuscript was originally drafted before To Kill a Mockingbird and told from the point of view of an adult Scout, who came back to her hometown of Maycomb, AL, to visit her elderly father, Atticus Finch, during the 1950’s.

In this draft of the story, according to the HarperCollins, “[Scout] 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.”

This indicates that a large portion of the book would deal with the then ongoing Civil Rights Movement, which was a nationwide phenomenon that left a major impact on Alabama at the time. The flashbacks to Scout’s childhood in the draft of this version eventually became the published To Kill a Mockingbird.

This draft of Go Set a Watchman was completed in 1958. However, when Lee submitted the manuscript to her editor, she was told that it would be a much better idea for the story to revolve entirely around Scout’s childhood memories.

Since Lee was a new writer, she edited the manuscript accordingly, and in 1960 the final product, now entitled To Kill a Mockingbird, was published and went on to become the cornerstone of American literature it was meant to be.

However, the original manuscript for the story was thought to be lost for decades. Lee forgot that she wrote it in the following years.

It was not until the fall of 2014 that the original manuscript was rediscovered by Tonja B. Carter, Lee’s close friend and lawyer, who then persuaded Lee to publish it as both her second novel and as an official, unedited extension of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman was met with widespread anticipation. News concerning the book made countless headlines around the world and pre-orders for it continue to flood in to numerous booksellers.

The novel is currently the number one selling book on Amazon, and publisher HarperCollins stated that the initial printing for the book would be two million copies.

And who can blame them for taking such optimistic measures?

This is a continuation of one of the most beloved novels of all time, one that cemented itself firmly into the American consciousness and whose characters are near and dear to millions of people.

Alfred P. and Katherine B. Jobson Professor of English Dr. Mark Lucas is very enthusiastic about the book and sees its release as a great way to see how the original story came about.

I’m glad to hear that the Go Set a Watchman manuscript had been found and will be made available,” Dr. Lucas said. “It will be of interest to critics and historians no matter what its artistic merits prove to be … I look forward to learning what Lee’s first ideas about these characters were. There’s a time capsule element about the release of this old manuscript that’s intriguing.”

Regardless of the quality of the book, the demand for it is great and it is sure to make a profit for everyone involved.

Although there is a great deal of audience anticipation surrounding the release of Go Set a Watchman, news of its coming publication is not free of controversy. A major part of this stems from the 55-year dearth of material that has defined Lee’s career after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lee previously stated that she said all she wanted to say with To Kill a Mockingbird and did not feel the need to write any more stories after it. With this in mind, many people have questions. Why, if the book is truly of the same quality as its predecessor, did Lee wait until now to publish it?

And, if the book was worth publishing before the extensive re-edits took place, why wasn’t it published as it was originally written in the first place?

All of these questions and others have led many people to wonder if reading the book would be worth the decades-long wait.

An even more pressing issue in the minds of many people is the alleged moral ambiguity on the part of HarperCollins throughout this entire process. Currently, Lee is living in assisted living facility after a combination of old age and a recent stroke has rendered her partially blind, deaf, and confined to a wheelchair.

She reportedly suffers from memory problems, ongoing for some time now. The author was previously looked after by her sister Alice Lee, who shielded her from unwanted public attention for decades until her death in Nov. 2014.

This, in addition to news that Lee was taken advantage of by her former literary agent and the Monroe County Heritage Museum over the royalties and copyright to the original To Kill a Mockingbird in the past respectively, led many to accuse HarperCollins of wanting to tarnish the reputation of a classic American novel for the sake of personal gain.

Critiques believe that, with Alice Lee now passed away, the publisher is forcing Lee or manipulating her in some way to release the story when it is uncertain that she is able to give proper consent, a theory that led many people, including writer Jacqueline Sahagian of National Public Radio (NPR), to boycott the release of the book while encouraging others to do the same.

However, despite all of these controversies there are still millions of people who want to read the book in order to see the continuation of a beloved classic.

Junior Charlie Courtney remains enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing this book in print and believes that the final result will be worth reading no matter the decades-long delays or any speculation of what may or may not have happened behind the scenes.

There are authors out there who have enormous backlogs of things they never published, all of which are probably competent and well written that they personally chose not to publish,” Charlie said. “I’m not terribly concerned with this delay of publication.”

Go Set a Watchman is set to be released on July 14 of this year. Although the controversy surrounding the book does warrant a skeptical outlook on the whole outing, it is nonetheless a major literary event, and one that should not be overlooked by any enthusiasts of American literature.

True, the expectations are astonishingly high (and deservedly so), but at worst, this book will be an average continuation of a classic that has already established itself in American culture until the end of time. As with anything that is highly anticipated, a true consensus on the quality of the material can only be determined when the hype dies down and it can finally be judged on its own merits.

However, no matter what happens, the original will always be around for anybody wanting to read a true classic in American literature.

Skip to toolbar