In 1960, Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been rightly hailed as one of the greatest American novels of all time. 55 years later, her publisher released Lee's second novel Go Set a Watchman, which included some of the same characters as the first.
Watchman takes place two decades after Mockingbird. 26-year-old Jean Louise "Scout" Finch has returned to her childhood home of Maycomb, Alabama to visit her father Atticus. If you know Jean Louise from the earlier novel, you will not be surprised to learn she has grown into a strong-willed, independent woman during her time in New York. The novel follows Jean Louise as she interacts with the town folks and flashes back occasionally to her teenage years in Maycomb. The story climaxes when JL discovers that Atticus holds racist beliefs inconsistent with her perception of him.
Although originally marketed as a sequel, Watchman is now seen as an early draft of Mockingbird. There is very little overlap in the scenes of the two novels, but Lee did reuse several passages in her final version of Mockingbird.
In addition, the central story of Mockingbird (Atticus defending Tom Robinson - a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman) is mentioned in Watchman, but some of the details are different.
I am happy this is not a sequel, because I disliked this version of Atticus. I grew up knowing Atticus as a hero worthy of admiration. He was open-minded and fighting for the rights of the oppressed negroes of the south; but here, he is transformed in 20 years into one who sees blacks as inferior to whites and unfit to govern themselves. In his 50s, he stood up to the status quo of a racist society; In his 70s, he saw the NAACP as a greater threat than Jim Crow laws.
Here are a few of examples of Atticus's philosophy in Watchman:
"Now think about this. What would happen if all the Negroes in the South were suddenly given full civil rights? I’ll tell you. There’d be another Reconstruction. Would you want your state governments run by people who don’t know how to run ’em?"
"Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?"
"Honey, you do not seem to understand that the Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people. You should know it, you’ve seen it all your life. They’ve made terrific progress in adapting themselves to white ways, but they’re far from it yet. They were coming along fine, traveling at a rate they could absorb, more of ’em voting than ever before. Then the NAACP stepped in with its fantastic demands and shoddy ideas of government—can you blame the South for resenting being told what to do about its own people by people who have no idea of its daily problems?"
"If the scales were tipped over, what would you have? The county won’t keep a full board of registrars, because if the Negro vote edged out the white, you’d have Negroes in every county office."
It is comforting to think this is a different Atticus from an alternate universe and that Ms. Lee discarded him before deciding to publish her masterpiece. I can see hold onto the Atticus I know as the real one.