Book review: ‘Go Set a Watchman’

Hannah Ditzenberger

Go Set a Watchman

I read this book because I loved “To Kill a Mockingbird.” For that exact same reason, I was disappointed in “Go Set a Watchman.”

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Mockingbird was a well-written, interesting novel that addressed compelling social issues in a coming-of-age story. Contrary to this, Watchman is dry, filled with clichés and unheroic characters.

Scout has grown up.

No longer the child from Harper Lee’s beloved first novel, 26-year-old Jean Louise returns to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit Atticus, her elderly father with arthritis.

The action in “Go Set a Watchman” does not begin until about 30 percent into the book. Here, we learn Atticus is not the progressive man we believed he was in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Jean Louise discovers her father’s segregationist pamphlets. The audience is just as shocked as she is to learn that Atticus believes whites are mentally superior to blacks.

Just like Lee’s audience, Scout learns that her idealized father from Mockingbird is not a god. He is a man with faults, but she still loves him. Scout embodies how I felt: upset, but still understanding of Atticus’s humanity. However, my emotions toward his actions would not be nearly as extreme without MockingbirdOnly in context of Lee’s other work am I able to feel the same emotions as Jean Louise.

The majority of the book focuses on descriptions of the town and character relations. This background information is interesting purely because of its relation to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I enjoyed reading about Jem and Scout as adults because I related to their mischievous childhoods in Mockingbird. Maycomb was fascinating only because I knew of its Southern charm and overt racism from Lee’s famous novel. However, by its own merit, Watchman drags on with over-used clichés and stereotypical characters.

I do not blame Lee for this, though. Watchman was meant as a first draft and she did not intend to publish the book. This is obvious in the writing. Much of the book harkens back to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” There is substantial overlap between the two books, making me believe that this book simply led to Lee’s successful novel.

For example, in chapter four of WatchmanLee describes the family dynamics between the Cunninghams and the Coninghams. She writes, “Jeems Cunningham testified that his mother spelled it Cunningham occasionally on deeds and things but she was really a Coningham, she was an uncertain speller, and she was given to looking far away sometimes when she sat on the front porch.” She writes nearly the exact same description in Mockingbird in chapter 16. 

These are the main similarities between the books. Compared to Mockingbird, the writing in Watchman is weaker, the characters are disappointing and the children we loved are adults.

Scout is now Jean Louise. She has matured and, as an audience, we are forced to mature as well. The growing pains, however, are found amidst poor plot development and verbose writing. Read the book simply for nostalgic purposes, but do not expect Lee’s second novel to be another “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

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Collegian News Editor Hannah Ditzenberger can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter at @h_ditzenberger