Outside the text of the novel itself, the writing and publication of Go Set a Watchman is just as important as its content. It was written in 1957 and then reworked to become To Kill a Mockingbird, which was published three years later and became a Pulitzer Prize-winning, nationally-beloved novel. Go Set a Watchman was seemingly lost, until (as the story goes) Harper Lee’s lawyer found the manuscript decades later and decided, with Lee’s consent, to publish it unrevised. There was some controversy surrounding this decision—because of Lee’s age, health, and previous declaration that she would never publish another book—whether she was actually capable of fully consenting to the publication of Watchman, but no conclusive proof has been found otherwise. Either way, Watchman is best read as both its own novel and as a first draft, the bones of what would become an American classic.
On one level, the text shows how Lee’s writing developed, as Watchman is scattered, disjointed, and often awkwardly written, compared to the focused and polished Mockingbird. Some passages (mostly descriptions of the citizens of Maycomb) are borrowed word-for-word from Watchman to Mockingbird, while other important facts are changed. The most notable of these is the trial of Tom Robinson. In Mockingbird the trial is the central conflict of the novel, ending with Tom being convicted, while in Watchman the trial is barely mentioned at all, and there it ended with Tom being acquitted.
The biggest changes are in characterization, however, most notably regarding the figure of Atticus. It is implied in the novel that Atticus changes in his old age, but he is also written as a slightly different character in the two novels, and it can be argued that the Atticus of Mockingbird could never have realistically grown into the Atticus of Watchman. The change represents a development of the character (since Mockingbird was written after Watchman) but also a different worldview Lee is expressing. Her portrayal of Atticus in Watchman is more cynical and realistic—he is a good father and a morally principled man, but still supports segregation and holds some racist, condescending views—while the Atticus of Mockingbird is more idealized and unrealistic—a saintlike father seen through the eyes of his young daughter, and written to provide an example of white morality and justice even in the Jim Crow South. This theme doesn’t lead to any cohesive conclusion, but it is vital for an informed reading of the novel, as Go Set a Watchman is almost impossible to read without also taking into account its publication history and the content of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Mockingbird and Watchman ThemeTracker
Mockingbird and Watchman Quotes in Go Set a Watchman
Mr. O’Hanlon was born and bred in the South, went to school there, married a Southern lady, lived all his life there, and his main interest today was to uphold the Southern Way of Life and no niggers and no Supreme Court was going to tell him or anybody else what to do… a race as hammer-headed as… essential inferiority… kinky woolly heads… still in the trees… greasy smelly… marry your daughters… mongrelize the race… mongrelize… save the South… back to Africa…
She heard her father’s voice, a tiny voice talking in the warm comfortable past. Gentlemen, if there’s one slogan in this world I believe, it is this: equal rights for all, special privileges for none.
Atticus took his career in his hands, made good use of a careless indictment, took his stand before a jury, and accomplished what was never before or afterwards done in Maycomb County: he won an acquittal for a colored boy on a rape charge. The chief witness for the prosecution was a white girl.
“Thanks, but Scout’ll run me down later.”
His use of her childhood name crashed on her ears. Don’t you ever call me that again. You who called me Scout are dead and in your grave.
Jean Louise sat in the car, staring at the steering wheel. Why is it that everything I have ever loved on this earth has gone away from me in two days’ time? Would Jem turn his back on me? She loved us, I swear she loved us. She sat there in front of me and she didn’t see me, she saw white folks. She raised me, and she doesn’t care.
It was not always like this, I swear it wasn’t. People used to trust each other for some reason, I’ve forgotten why. They didn’t watch each other like hawks then. I wouldn’t get looks like that going up those steps ten years ago. She never wore her company manners with one of us… when Jem died, her precious Jem, it nearly killed her…
“Have you ever considered that you can’t have a set of backward people living among people advanced in one kind of civilization and have a social Arcadia?”
“…Of course I know that, but I heard something once. I heard a slogan and it stuck in my head. I heard ‘Equal rights for all; special privileges for none,’ and to me it didn’t mean anything but what it said. It didn’t mean one card off the top of the stack for the white man and one off the bottom for the Negro, it—”