There’s a saying ‘Never meet your heroes’, but of course, this almost becomes impossible when that hero is your own father.
Like most fans of the treasured novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, I was ecstatic from the moment I heard about Harper Lee’s promising ‘sequel’, right up to its arrival at my doorstep. Although I didn’t expect that ‘Go Set a Watchman’ would entirely compare to its universally praised predecessor; after engulfing its 300 pages (mostly in bewildered scepticism) I can’t help but feel somewhat betrayed.
The first offbeat blow from the novel was delivered in the nonchalant reveal of Jem’s death. But, if Game of Thrones has taught me anything; that is, learning how to cope with sudden and arguably purposeless deaths of beloved characters. What is most dissatisfying about this death, however, is that Jem’s role in Maycomb, and thereby the book itself, is seemingly replaced by the unsung character of Henry Clinton. In fact, the novel describes how Atticus even ‘looked around for another young man.’ in order to virtually replace his son as an assistant and heir to his practise. Thus Lee fires the first arrow to Atticus Finch’s renowned integrity as a caring and admirable father figure.
Though he wasn’t present in To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set A Watchmen retells of Scout and Henry’s childhood adventures and focuses on their current relationship which alludes to an impending marriage between the pair. Yet, there is little to the character of Clinton and his entire purpose seems to be that of persuading Scout to marry him. She doesn’t. Although arguably their relationship is one of romantic cliché, Scout’s ruthless independence is true to her character and certainly one of the few redeeming aspects of the story.
Yet it is the final slap to the reader at the end of the novel which discredits Go Set a Watchmen as a worthy ‘sequel’. In a distressing turn of events, it is revealed that Atticus Finch actually holds a number of racist views; thereby entirely contradicting the respectable character that became one of To Kill a Mockingbird’s cherished heroes. Scout also finds this reveal unforgivable and almost promises never to see her aged father again. In all it begs the question, why would Harper Lee needlessly defame one of the most treasured characters in all of literature?
But of course it becomes entirely relevant that Go Set a Watchmen isn’t in fact a ‘sequel’ at all. Rather, it is the rejected first draft of what would become To Kill a Mockingbird and hence this story has been unknown to the public for 50 years. I abhor its publishers for branding this novel as ‘new’ and giving it the title of a ‘sequel’ when this is just simply not the case. Was the promising cash-draw of Go Set a Watchmen really worth the price of Literature’s acclaimed father figure?