This website use cookies and similar technologies to improve the site and to provide customised content and advertising. By using this site, you agree to this use. To learn more, including how to change your cookie settings, please view our Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
AU
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the Australia version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Digital Subscriptions >  Latest Articles > Who’s reading the Watchman?

Who’s reading the Watchman?
Writing Magazine

Who’s reading the Watchman?

Posted Friday, 14 August 2015   |   7301 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (0) We assess whether Go Set a Watchman, published more than 50 years after its famous predecessor, stands up against Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Go Set a Watchman is more complex, but To Kill a Mockingbird is – by some distance – the more powerful novel. We have an identical theme – racial inequality – but its treatment is very different. It’s a strong, emotionally gripping subject, and at the time of Mockingbird’s publication in 1960 it was hugely topical – constantly in the news. In both books we have two strong, clearly drawn central characters – Atticus and Scout/Jean Louise. Their names are the same but, as we have seen, they are very different people.

In Mockingbird we have a strong supporting cast of memorable characters. There’s Dill, a boy a year older than Scout, who spends his summers in Maycomb and becomes obsessed by the need to make the reclusive Boo Radley come out of his house. Boo is a constant presence, though we meet him in the flesh only at the very end of the story. Jem, Scout’s loving brother, is a principled mini-Atticus. We also have some vivid minor characters, such as Sheriff Tate, Dolphus Raymond (who prefers the company of blacks and likes to make people think that the coca cola he constantly sips is whiskey), Mr Cunningham (‘basically a good man,’ says Atticus, though he’s been part of a lynching mob), nice Miss Maudie, morphine-addicted Mrs Dubose, and villainous, despicable Bob Ewell. Harper Lee pokes gentle fun at Aunt Alexandra’s Missionary Society: ladies of Maycomb who support efforts not only to spread their version of Christianity but also to combat poverty and injustice in Africa – but are blind to the very same problems on their own doorstep.
The supporting cast of Watchman is less impressive, but there are fine portrayals of Jean Louise’s uncle, Dr Finch, and her Aunt Alexandra. The latter was the last of her kind: she had river-boat, boarding-school manners; let any moral come along and she would uphold it; she was a disapprover; she was an incurable gossip. We have a nicely worked set piece – Aunt Alexandra’s coffee morning, where Jean Louise struggles to make polite conversation with smug newlyweds talking only about their husbands, the Light Brigade (ladies in their early/mid-thirties who devoted most of their time to the Amanuensis Club, bridge and getting one-up on each other in the matter of electrical appliances) and three Perennial Hopefuls (jolly Maycomb girls of excellent character who had never made the grade).

An undercurrent of racial prejudice runs through much of the coffee morning conversation.   

Watchman’s third-person voice is conventional and uninvolving; it occasionally slips, rather confusingly, into the first or second person. The cleverness of Mockingbird lies in Lee’s ability to retain an adult perspective while telling Scout’s story in the voice of the child. Mockingbird is also a much pacier novel. The first mention of the Tom Robinson case which Atticus is to defend comes in chapter 9, and as we follow the court case the pace gradually quickens. Watchman is less well-written, with no clear structure, and at times reads more like a series of autobiographical anecdotes than a purposeful novel. It culminates in the three discursive debates Jean Louise has, in turn, with Hank, Dr Finch and Atticus. This is where the manuscript would have particularly benefitted from some judicious editing. Given that Watchman, Harper Lee’s first attempt at a novel, almost certainly had no input from an editor who advised her to set it aside and to concentrate on what was to become Mockingbird, it is understandable that the quality of the writing is not as good.
The greatest contrast between the two books is the character of Atticus. What should we make of his brutal metamorphosis from saintly lawyer to racist bigot? Should we go painstakingly through the Mockingbird text, searching for signs of his incipient racism? Or should we attribute his changed attitudes to the increase in racial tension in the South during the period between 1935, when Mockingbird is set, and the late fifties of Watchman? Neither suggestion stands up to scrutiny. We must remember that Watchman was written before Mockingbird. The explanation for his changed character is surely very simple: that in the process of working on the manuscript, and turning what was essentially the first draft of a rather rambling first novel into the masterpiece that is Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s conception of Atticus’s character fundamentally changed.

Perhaps her editor had suggested that a decent, morally impeccable Atticus would appeal much more to the American public?  

For more great articles like this get the September 2015 issue of Writing Magazine below or subscribe and save.

Single Issue - July 2018 Replica & Mobile Edition included
$7.99
Or 799 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 5.25 per issue
SAVE
34%
$62.99
Or 6299 points
6 Month Digital Subscription
Only $ 5.83 per issue
SAVE
27%
$34.99
Or 3499 points
Monthly Digital Subscription
Only $ 5.99 per issue
SAVE
25%
$5.99
Or 599 points

View Issues

About Writing Magazine

Writing Magazine is the UK’s biggest and bestselling magazine for ALL writers. Whether you write for pleasure or publication, whatever your style or genre, this magazine has something to help you.

More great content like this...

For more great articles like this subscribe to Writing Magazine today.

Most read articles this month


ALEX HILDRED: MARY ROSE DIVER

ALEX HILDRED: MARY ROSE DIVER

When she took up scuba 40 years ago, Alexandra Hildred had no idea that her life would become inextricably linked with a Tudor warship. Now the Mary Rose Trust’s Head of Research and Curator of Ordnance & Human Remains, she tells STEVE WEINMAN about the lead-up to the raising of the iconic wreck, still one of the biggest such operations ever attempted. More...
WHEN THE MUSE GOES MISSING!

WHEN THE MUSE GOES MISSING!

Nashville songwriter Mark Cawley shares some tactics for reviving those elusive creative juices when you’ve lost the flow More...
3 Free Reads for the New Year

3 Free Reads for the New Year

Spend all your money in December? Us too. We’ve pulled together our 3 favourite free reads available for you on Pocketmags. Everyone loves a free read! More...
5 Digital Magazines for Spring

5 Digital Magazines for Spring

Here at Pocketmags, we simply cannot wait to welcome in a new season of bloom and blossom. Jumpstart your motivation with our selection of 5 digital magazines for spring. More...
The 5 Best Arts & Crafts Magazines

The 5 Best Arts & Crafts Magazines

From the early days of digging our hands into playdough and getting messy with paper mache, to growing up and learning how to meticulously operate a needle and thread for the very first time, we will always have the wonderful movement of arts and crafts to thank for these simple pleasures of life. More...
3 Fitness Trends You Haven’t Tried

3 Fitness Trends You Haven’t Tried

We’ve all heard of the crazy exercises people are trying - from animal yoga to orange theory. But if one of your New Year's resolutions is to get fit and find some sort of exercise you’ll enjoy then maybe you will love one of these… More...
How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day Without a Valentine

How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day Without a Valentine

It’s been hitting you in the face since the 1st of February, from the red and pink hues occupying every storefront window, to the heart-shaped boxes of chocolate taking over your local supermarket, there is simply no escaping the mushy romantic vibes of Valentine’s Day. More...
5 Free Ways to Celebrate Valentine's Day

5 Free Ways to Celebrate Valentine's Day

It’s the one, and the only day of the year that is devoted to a crazy, little thing called love. Where all you need are three words, eight letters and twenty-four hours to steal the heart of the one you most desire. More...
The 5 Best Gardening Magazines

The 5 Best Gardening Magazines

It’s time to literally stop and smell the roses and grow a patch of paradise that you can not only enjoy but also, be the proud owner of. Give the birds and butterflies a reason to mingle amongst the tulips and a chance for your garden to be the best it can be. More...
New to Pocketmags: True Crime Library

New to Pocketmags: True Crime Library

Pocketmags is eager to announce the adoption of a range of new and thrilling titles - ones that are sure to fascinate or spook you to your core - we introduce you to, True Crime Library. More...
Vouchers Gift Cards A magazine subscription is the perfect gift but you'll need something to show on the big day. View All
Ways to Pay Pocketmags Payment Types
At Pocketmags you get Secure Billing Great Offers HTML Reader Gifting options Loyalty Points