Sequel falls short

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While “Go Set a Watchman” falls far from the literary mastery embodied within “To Kill a Mockingbird”, its importance as a sequel and a continued discussion of the tensions prevalent half a century ago allow for it to retain its interest. Photo taken from HarperCollins

Harper Lee’s Novel, Go Set a Watchman, serves as a sequel to her earlier novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as well as an answer to the civil strife common among southern communities during the civil rights movement. This sequel focuses once again on the varied opinions and heated arguments surrounding civil rights issues. However, this time around, Lee lacks the classic and straightforward plot line which had enabled her poignant and level headed discussion in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Twenty years after the events of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Jean Louise Finch, Scout, the former school child and protagonist, returns as an energetic New Yorker, excited to reunite with her family and hometown. The harrowing events which take place upon Scout’s return emulate drastic changes which only come to fruition in the third part of the book. Unfortunately, the first two parts, making up a third of the book’s length, contain primarily exposition in the form of flashbacks and conversations with the newly introduced love interest. While we do learn a few key pieces of information during this time, no events progress the story. Things pick up after the one third mark, but the extended exposition encourages unfortunate references to “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Often devoid of true meaning outside petty remembrances, these distract heavily from the plot as a whole.

Stylistically, Lee wrote a very different novel than her earlier masterwork. Instead of employing a simple, forward moving plot line to elaborate upon her beliefs, she uses a series of flashbacks which constitute around half of the story. This causes a firm dilution in Jean Louise’s storyline within Maycomb County as an adult. That said, the dialogue that speckles the novel still emanates the warm charisma which Lee previously endowed to “To Kill A Mockingbird.” While the big picture lacked introspection, the finer points and minor details often shined like diamonds in the rough.

Rhetorically, rather than allowing dialogue and action to present an argument, Lee forces almost every character to expound upon their own set of ideals through long winded speeches and over dramatized debates. This style of rhetoric, especially when contrasted with her earlier work, de-humanizes many of the characters, thus removing the audience’s immersion.  

However, Lee may not be blamed for the creation of such a lackluster book. Controversy surrounds the release of the novel as Lee never intended to publish the book. Rather, it was brought to HarperCollins, the publishing firm, by Lee’s current protector and guardian Tonja Carter. Lee, now 89, had no control over the publication and had previously stated her adversity to finalizing another book under her name.

While “Go Set a Watchman” falls far from the literary mastery embodied within “To Kill a Mockingbird,” its importance as a sequel and a continued discussion of the tensions prevalent half a century ago allow for it to retain its interest.

By Brian Stephenson

stephenson.brian@oakwoodschools.org

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