To Kill a Mockingbird was written and edited after Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman. Ms. Lee’s publisher asked her to rewrite Watchman from a child’s perspective. Two years later in 1960, the book was published with the Mockingbird title. No edits were made the the Watchman manuscript before it was published this week. I intentionally read the books in the order they were written to discern Ms. Lee’s literary intent versus the changes she was encouraged to make by her editor and publisher.
Several scenes from Watchman appeared in Mockingbird almost verbatim. I was poignantly aware how adroitly Scout had projected her conscience and color blind perspective onto her father Atticus while putting the reader on notice early that he wasn’t thrilled about being called upon to represent Tom Robinson in a rape trial:
I’d hoped to get through life without a case of this kind, but John Taylor [the local judge] pointed at me and said, “You’re It.”
. . .many years later I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said.
Atticus was deeply committed to building a solid foundation for his children and seized every opportunity to build their character and hone their sense of integrity and empathy:
If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ~
. . .until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
Before the trial of Mr. Robinson, a mob came to the jail. Scout implemented her father’s wisdom to diffuse the volatility.
Scout was obsessed with discerning which local citizens were racists and was vigilant in her quest to ferret out hypocrisy:
Miss Gates. . .hates Hitler. . .not right to persecute anybody.
. . .coming out of the courthouse. . .talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it’s time somebody taught ’em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ turn around and be ugly about folks right at home ~
One way in this country in which
all men are created equal. . .
is a court.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Ms. Lee studied law before going to Oxford and shrewdly revealed our “justice” system’s flaw in Atticus’ closing argument:
A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.
In Watchman, Jean Louise recalls Mr. Robinson’s acquittal. He was found guilty in Mockingbird. I think this exchange between Jem and Atticus expresses Ms. Lee’s displeasure with her editor:
It ain’t right, Atticus. . .No son, it’s not right.
I was similarly intrigued by the bounty of food Atticus received to thank him for his passive-aggressive, lukewarm representation of Mr. Robinson as well as his acknowledgement that he probably didn’t deserve it:
Tell them I’m very grateful. . .they must never do this again. Times are too hard. . .
The dynamic between Scout and Dill [Charles Baker Harris] spiked the narrative and gave frequent comic relief. The characters were based on Ms. Lee’s friendship with Truman Capote. Dill received a brief mention in Watchman, and I wonder how intently the editor of Mockingbird urged Ms. Lee to reveal details of the famous author’s private life:
. . .he just gets passed around from relative to relative. . .
He told me havin’ a gun around’s
an invitation to somebody to shoot you.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Scout was stunned to discover that her father was an excellent marksman. The book’s title springs from an admonishment he gave his children when they received air rifles for Christmas. I hope everyone who owns a gun will take a moment to ponder Atticus’ wisdom.
Book Review: Go Set a Watchman, 7/15/15