why I won’t read go set a watchman

Okay, first of all, I totally get that Go Set A Watchman isn’t really a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird.  It actually happens to be the first draft of TKAM, which an editor read and told Harper Lee to polish up and change (in some pretty big ways).  That being said, it’s pretty hard not to view GSAW as a sequel, despite it’s prequel-like origins (and the fact that it’s a first draft), which is where all the trouble begins, and which is the root of my decision not to read it.  Ever.  Even if its publication is the literary event of the century.

July 13th, 2015, was a pretty low day for me – my ranting notebook saw a lot of use.  That was the day that the New York Times published their pre-release review of GSAW, which I eagerly read, and then regretted reading for the rest of the day (now, looking back, I’m glad I did, because it saved me from buying the book in the first place).  I moped around, cried quite a bit, and was generally depressed.  Even a good night’s sleep didn’t totally shake the feeling because, I mean, this was ATTICUS FINCH they were talking about!  My hero.  I’d tried to emulate him, wanted to marry someone like him, even planned on naming one of my children after him…but now?  That review shattered that, and although the pieces have come back together (especially now that I’ve decided not to read GSAW), there’s still a lingering bit of sadness or disappointment or something along those lines.  Everything anyone has ever written about Atticus (or TKAM, for that matter) has been called into question now.

What I think hurt the deepest was that Atticus, who’s always been a symbol of goodness and integrity and courage in the literary world, has suddenly become someone to dislike, perhaps even despise.  Being a pastor’s daughter, I’ve seen first-hand how people can change, sometimes in the blink of an eye, and it’s usually not for the better.  Betrayal, dark secrets coming out into the open, and so many other things have sometimes caused me to almost despair of there being any decency left in anyone outside my immediate family.  Every few months, it hits me all over again, and I get depressed about someone or other’s sudden flight, and it’s hard.  It’s really hard.  The last time that happened, I wrote something down in one of my notebooks about how “at least fictional characters don’t change”.

And now this.  The irony is sickening.

So, that’s why I’m not going to read Go Set A Watchman.  I don’t think I could handle it; it would really hurt, and for what?  From all accounts, the book isn’t even very well written, and it’s turned out to be a major disappointment for many.  Maybe I’m being a coward, but I want my perspective of Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird, and fictional characters in general to remain constant.  Right now, I don’t need any more upheavals in my life.  I need to remember Atticus as “the bravest man who ever lived”, not a racist bigot.

However, if you’ve read GSAW, I’d like to hear your thoughts – just because I’m not going to read it doesn’t mean I don’t want anyone else to.


9 thoughts on “why I won’t read go set a watchman

  1. I’m not going to read it either. It’s a cheap cash-grab capitalizing on a famous author’s name the notoriety garnered by controversy. Low, very low.

    But here’s what keeps me from being angry: I’m a writer, and so I fully understand that the first draft of a novel can be a very different creature from the final draft. First drafts of characters can too. And so I look at this as the initial effort, with characters not fully-formed yet. I firmly believe that the Atticus we know from TKAM is the true Atticus, the one we are supposed to know, and that if Harper Lee were not old and pliable, we would never have read this.

    However, on another level, it does serve as a reminder that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We all have secret sins, we all have parts of us we don’t want coming to light, and no one is perfect.

    I’m still not gonna read it, though.


  2. Oh, I so understand! Great post. 🙂

    I had no idea Atticus was portrayed as a racist in this book! WHY? He was so perfect in TKAM!

    I still want to read it, but my expectations aren’t high. :-/


  3. There’s mainly one thing that I have felt like saying through all this:
    “People. What part of EARLY DRAFT don’t you understand?”

    I’m currently rewriting an entire novel manuscript I first wrote four years ago. I’ve added new characters, I’ve expanded existing ones who were nonentities before. I’ve rewritten some characters’ entire personalities; I’ve rewritten scenes and conversations to have entirely different meanings; I’ve cut out plot elements that no longer fit. So what everybody seems to be ignoring is that (going on the assumption that this is indeed a genuine early draft actually written by Harper Lee) at some point Lee decided that a different version of the Atticus Finch character than this early one would be better and would better suit the purpose of her story. So the idea that the Atticus Finch we know was “secretly” someone else all along is just illogical.

    I don’t think the publication of this book was considerate of whoever decided to push it through, knowing what a bitter issue it would create. But if you want my raw and honest opinion, I think they probably knew it would make a ton of trouble, and deliberately published it anyway. Because trouble and controversy sells.


  4. Hello! I have read GSAW, and I can sympathize with your feelings, because I felt all of that! Consider, though, that there may still be a heroine in the novel.

    I ended the book feeling hopeful, after a whole lot of emotion. It’s incredibly intense, but there is a character in the novel who shines, and there are facets of Atticus which are very much the same. There is even a sense that he could get to where we want him. (I had that sense.) x


  5. I know. It’s soooooo hard to admire somebody and then be disappointed in them. It’s happened to me several times and I always hate it.

    I read the New York Times and the USA Today stuff too and was a little shocked . . . I’ve never actually read or watched TKAM, but obviously I’ve heard a ton about it and I’ve always had a high opinion of Atticus Finch.

    I decided, though, that I’m not going to worry about it, because the way I look at it, the “Atticus Finch” in that book is not the same person as “Atticus Finch” from TKAM. They have the same name, but they’re not the same character. Because TKAM is such a great, moving book about a great hero, I honestly don’t think that Harper Lee could have written something like that while regarding Atticus Finch as a secret racist or as somebody who was about to turn racist in later life. I think that, after writing GSAW and moving on to TKAM, she just decided that she had been wrong and that Atticus Finch was not, and would never be, a bigot.


    1. Yes, I thought of the “they’re two different characters” thing, too, and I think it makes a lot of sense. I think GSAW was a first draft that never really should have been published, and therefore, I don’t think people should take it as seriously as if Harper Lee had penned a real, honest-to-goodness sequel.


      1. Absolutely! I think they should never have asked Harper Lee if they could publish it in the first place. I mean, I know she technically said “yes,” but she’s EIGHTY-NINE and I’m not really convinced that she is actually capable of weighing the consequences of having GSAW published.


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