My Top Three Reactions
Go Set a Watchmen
Having seen many others’ take on this controversy / book, I wanted to clarify a few things that seemed to bother me about the whole hoopla. But first, I felt I had to—not to mention wanted to—read Harper Lee’s new book, and this is what I have to say about it.
1) There is no controversy
Most people are up in arms about the fact that her long trusted literary agent quite possibly coerced a less than sound Ms. Lee into publishing this book despite her prior wishes against it. From a publishing standpoint, yes, it will make a lot of money and this is probably the driving impetus behind it. But in no way is Ms. Lee alone.
Many authors have had their works published without permission—posthumously—for ages. To name a few: Albert Camus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and even Michael Crichton. True, they were dead before publishers started scraping the body for whatever’s left, but I see little difference. If her agent didn’t do it now, in a couple of years when she does pass, the same thing would happen. I wonder greatly if many feathers would be ruffled at that point.
2) A lack of editing = no novel
Another argument against it is that Harper Lee did not vet this book with the proper editing and therefore it should not be a book, or at least given the name ‘novel’—as one Michigan bookstore claims. Proper editing does not make a book a novel or not. A novel is a form of writing, like a poem, play and so on. Go Set a Watchman is definitely a novel.
On top of this, using my examples above, Michael Crichton’s last novel—Pirate Latitudes—was found by someone other than his family on his computer after his death before being published. It has even been noted that Crichton wasn’t able to put this novel through his normal rigorous editing, and yet no one seemed to raise any questions. In fact, Steven Spielberg is already vying to make it into a movie. This makes me begin to think that maybe it’s not the poor practice of publishers that is in question but the content in the book that is fueling this fire. So let’s get to it.
3) The True Intent of Harper Lee’s Book
Before the book was even released, the fact that Atticus had turned racist was blasted across the Internet. People were shocked and hurt. They saw Atticus as a symbol of something great, something as a role model and, if this rumor were true, their once moral, guiding light would be gone. The reaction to hate the book is natural. But let’s think about it for a second.
The original manuscript Harper Lee gave to her editor was this story. It is from this that a sharp and understanding editor told her to reshape it to produce what we now know as To Kill a Mockingbird. What this means is that Harper Lee’s original vision is Go Set a Watchmen, and what is the underlying goal of the book? Simple—to show how Scout is shocked and hurt at seeing Atticus—a symbol of greatness for her and a role model—end up a flawed, imperfect man; or, in essence, to lose her moral, guiding light. Sound familiar?
In this way, this second book is phenomenal. Her editor must’ve seen that if she had published this book first, nobody would’ve cared about how shocked Scout was seeing this different person in her father. In order to make people feel this, Harper Lee had to first make the world fall in love and praise Atticus like Scout did. Did To Kill a Mockingbird not achieve exactly that?
On top of this, it is a story of growing up—which makes entire sense. To Kill a Mockingbird was in the extremely personal first person like all childhood memories are, while Go Set a Watchmen is in the deep POV of third person much like we have grown to be as adults.
In the end, anyone who reads Go Set a Watchman will experience just that—the harsh, cold division that resides between our childhood world and our adult world, a world where the heroes of our youth—Bill Cosby?—may not be as great as we’ve convinced ourselves to believe them to be.