Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” isn’t just an excellent piece of American literature, it’s required reading for most middle or high school students.
“Go Set A Watchman,” another novel by Lee, tells of the events that came 20 years after “Mockingbird.” Since it’s release in July 2015, it has caused much controversy and conversation.
Critics and reviewers have questioned many aspects of the recently released novel. Among the questions are Is “Watchman” worth the read? And does it ruin the honorable characters from “Mockingbird?”
“Having taught ‘Mockingbird’ for many years, it was easy to feel at home while reading the book,” said Shawn Burke, and English teacher at Williamsville North High School. “But at the same time, you could clearly see how it was a much different narrative. It left me with sort of an unsatisfied feeling.”
“Watchman” begins with Jean Louise Finch, a 26-year-old woman, heading from her current home in New York City to her home town in Maycomb County, Ala., on a train. As the book continues, we see the familiar world and characters from “Mockingbird” portrayed in a different light.
Whereas “Mockingbird” is lighter and told from a child’s perspective, “Watchman” is much more solemn. And although it expresses some of the same ideas as “Mockingbird,” “Watchman” is not as empowering, some readers say.
“ ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is such a rich story,” Burke said. “It’s a narrative about something that is so deeply ingrained in our national culture. It’s easily relatable to what kids and people see in the news, and it really lends itself to being a classic piece of literature.”
“Watchman,” he said, lacks the sentimentality of “Mockingbird.”
“When you read ‘Mockingbird,’ you’re almost seeing it through a Vaseline-smeared camera lens. It just feels like the warm, fuzzy kind of days of your youth, whereas ‘Watchman’ has a much sharper tone to it.”
Although “Mockingbird” and “Watchman” take place in the same world with the same characters, the two novels do not depend on each other to convey Lee’s full message.
“Watchman” shows readers the origins of Lee’s world, and “Mockingbird” gives readers more well-thought out messages and lessons.
“I’m going to consider (‘Watchman’) as what it is, which is a draft that was originally never published,” said Susan Calandra, an eighth grade English teacher at Heim Middle School in Williamsville. “Mockingbird,” on the other hand, shows the way Lee “wanted, in a calculated way, to portray those characters,” she said.
“I look at ‘Go Set A Watchman’ more as a rough draft,” said Burke. “I set it apart as almost a different story. It’s some other realm, I guess, some other universe where these similar characters are having a different experience,”
Reading “Watchman” might make some people appreciate “Mockingbird” more, because it enables them to understand the development of Lee’s story and realize the process Lee went through while writing.
Many critics have said that “Watchman” ruins beloved characters from “Mockingbird,” especially Atticus Finch.
Calandra said reading “Watchman” didn’t ruin the characters for her, “only because I won’t let it. But it could. I’m not going to let it affect my perception of the characters and the text of ‘Mockingbird.’ ”
The differences between “Mockingbird” and “Watchman” might not be appealing to some readers, but people who can appreciate history will get a lot out of this book.
Because Harper Lee wrote “Watchman” during the 1950s, in middle of the Civil Rights Movement, it offers an interesting view and an interesting voice from that time period.
“It’s really interesting to see the perspective of the Civil Rights Movement at that time,” said Calandra.
“There’s so much that’s been written later, but this was written right after Brown v. Board of Education. So now, to look back on this in 2015, and to look back on something that was written right in the middle of the hotbed of that, I think is super valuable.”
When asked if he would recommend that students read “Watchman” if they enjoyed “Mockingbird,” Burke said, “I think that if they were looking for some other work by Harper Lee, if they’re looking for maybe some idea of where she was going with (the characters) past the time period of the book, they could.
“But I would say that if you were really satisfied with ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and really felt like that was a good closed narrative on it’s own, then it’s really pointless to read (‘Watchman’).”
Calandra feels differently.
“I don’t regret reading it. I absolutely think it’s worth the read for anyone,” she said.
Even though “Watchman” has many flaws, in the right light, it can be considered an invaluable resource.
Annabeth Collis is a freshman at Williamsville North High School.
“Watchman, lacks the sentimentality of “Mockingbird.” – Shawn Burke, Williamsville North High School English teacher