Harper Lee’s long-anticipated second novel, Go Set a Watchman continues to top best-seller lists weeks after its release. Critics and fans have loudly voiced their opinions on the controversy surrounding the publication of what appears to be an earlier draft of Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. Dr. Christopher Stuart, head of UTC’s English Department joins the conversation with his take on the novel.
The Atticus of Lee’s recently published novel is not the admirable, moral Atticus of Mockingbird. His racist tendencies make him a much less favorable role model than the Atticus published more than fifty years ago. Critics and fans mourn the loss of their respect for Atticus by this tainted version of the character; but, Stuart says that shouldn’t be the case.
“From what I have read, these are truly different characters. I think wise editors helped her [Lee] to reshape her materials in the earlier novel, to make a better, different novel … this ‘second’ novel seems to have been written as an early draft of Mockingbird, and simply has Atticus imagined differently,” said Stuart.
Stuart added that due to Lee’s decline in health, the timing of her publication is suspicious. Good artists know the worth of their work. “My favorite song writer, Warren Zevon, died some years ago, and after he died they released an album of recordings that he had refused to release in his lifetime. Basically, it was drafts of songs that had not made the cut in his opinion. Turned out, he knew what he was doing; they weren’t very good, and there was a reason he had left this unfinished or second-rate work in the can.”
Even if this publication is a lesser work of literature, its release is still beneficial for students studying literature and writing. Watchman provides a new platform for teaching Lee’s work in the classroom.
“From a teaching perspective it will make an interesting pairing, and to be frank, I have never heard of anyone teaching Mockingbird at the college level … I think, however, one can now teach them together, discuss differences, discuss what led to the second book’s publication, and have interesting conversations about the value of publication and the issue of authorial intent,” said Stuart. “The publication of the latter book and the attendant controversy probably mean that Mockingbird will now be taught more often in college.”