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Go Set A Watchman And 55th Anniversary Of "To Kill A Mockingbird"

Updated on April 25, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has been a professional writer and critic of films, books, music and theater for over 20 years.

Mockingbird | Source

Another Lawyer and the Mockingbird

Nelle Harper Lee came form a family filled with lawyers, it seems.

Her sister, unfortunately now deceased but having lived past 100, practiced until the age of about 100. Their father was an attorney as well. Nell did not turn to the law.

Harper's last attorney, Tonja B. Carter, was not only her lawyer, but also her spokesperson, and perhaps her guardian, although that is not clear.

Ms. Carter found the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman and many are glad that she did. A few do not like the book, but that makes the controversy surrounding the second book more interesting.

In July 2015, Ms. Carter found the Monroeville, Alabama courthouse museum selling a small cookbook based on the Mockingbird of the stories and complained to a judge, whop personally carted out all 280+ copies of it and took them to Carter (The New York Times, August 23, 2015). She had already sued the museum for selling too many Mockingbird themed items.

The judge, Judge Greg Norris of the Probate Court, said that he did not want any more litigation (about Lee and Mockingbirds).

On July 14, 2015 Nelle Harper Lee's first book from long ago, "Go Set a Watchman" from the point of view of an adult Scout, was finally published in an initial print run of 2,000,000 copies. In the late 1950s, her editor had asked her to write a sequel that became her first book. Thus, the worldwide phenomenon of "To Kill a Mockingbird" in print, on stage, and on screen began in the early 1960s. Millions love the story and its characters.

Brilliant Books, an independent bookstore in Traverse City, Michigan, is offering free refunds to customers that purchased Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee...“We suggest you view this work as an academic insight rather than as a nice summer novel.”

— Dianna Dilworth for Galley Cat

Listen to the Mockingbird

Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. - Atticus Finch

Who is the mockingbird?

The mockingbird lives in other birds' nests and copies other birds' songs, never singing one of its own. Harmless, it hurts no one, but it never really lives free. As an icon of American mediocrity in the South of the 1930s-1950s, the mockingbird people do not rock the boat. They stick with the majority report and express no outstandingly unique ideas or ambitions. They are born, live, and die in the same house. But they're nice enough.

Who is the mockingbird?

Anyone who is very different from the middle of the horridly misapplied Bell Curve is a mockingbird: the agoraphobic, the genius, the feminist, the Downs child, the black man in the Depression Era South. None of these people is doing humanity harm and it is too harsh and heartless an action to kill any of them. This includes Arthur (Boo) Radley and Tom Robinson.

The Mockingbirds

Mr. Arthur Radley was a man that spent most of his life indoors with his parents, and later, his adult brother. He harmed no one, but was taunted by some of the town's children from outside his home. Adult gossip spread that he was dead or that his ghost haunted that part of the block of local homes. He was attacked for minding his own business; people didn't like that - thought it was strange and what they did was in justice.

Mr. Robinson was wrongly convicted of rape in the face of a landslide of evidence in his favor. Southern mythology of the time required that a Black man be hanged for a white man's transgression against a white woman. Tom escaped, but was killed. This was injustice that actually occurred rather often in this period of American History.

Mockingbirds and Cold Blood

"Watchman" is so different from "Mockingbird" that some readers fall back on the old rumor that Truman Capote wrote the second book. Incorrect! Nelle Harper wrote large sections of "In Cold Blood:" as well as having taken almost all of the notes, accompanying Truman on his research trips. She received almost no acknowledgement for this, another reason she chose not to write full novels after "Mockingbird." Too much work, too little appreciation.

Go Set a Watchman, a much awaited book.

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
Scout is an adult in this sequel set 20 years after "To Kill a Mockingbird." Unfortunately, her father Atticus might have become a bigot - or it might just be the pain of arthritis.

Watchman and Its Public Reactions

Many readers have not enjoyed Go Set a Watchman. Their disappointment and ire have been raised by shades of racism, belittling African Americans in the South from a stance of paternalism, and violence against a woman.

The flashbacks that the adult Scout relates are probably the best parts of the narrative and provide ample reason for Nelle Harper Lee's editor in the early 1960s to request another book, this time from the child Scout's viewpoint. Mockingbird resulted and is the superior work. It is a masterpiece that likely exhausted the author from writing another full length novel, although she wrote other materials.

Popular actress Reese Witherspoon narrates the unabridged audiobook of Harper Lee’s "Go Set a Watchman", the prequel that Ms. Lee wrote before she wrote her ultimate best seller. "Watchman" was released during Summer 2015.

Old Monroe County Courthouse

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Lee family of Monroe County included several lawyers who tried cases in this courthouse.The Courthouse
The Lee family of Monroe County included several lawyers who tried cases in this courthouse.
The Lee family of Monroe County included several lawyers who tried cases in this courthouse. | Source
The Courthouse
The Courthouse | Source

Anyone who is very different from the middle of the horridly misapplied Bell Curve is a mockingbird: the agoraphobic, the genius, the feminist, the Downs child, the black man in the Depression Era South

Inequality By Design: A Bell Curve Misapplied

Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth
Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth
I learned by personal experience that IQ tests are biased. As 200 white students took an African American slang-language based IQ test, I received the third highest score - 35%. The highest score was under 70%.
Nelle Harper Lee about 1960, when "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published.
Nelle Harper Lee about 1960, when "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published.

Prejudice Scorned, but Still Prolific in America

In her one and only novel published until 2015, author Harper Lee examined and exposed racism, sexism, and class-ism in the South. To the extent that this trio of evils proliferated throughout the rest of 1960 America, she exposed it by implication. Immediately, school children in junior high classrooms began reading the novel for English classes, but school boards were worried.

The book was banned. In reply, Harper Lee stated that the banning authorities could not understand the book, even though there were no large words in it and that they should enroll in the 1st Grade at her expense.

In the early 21st Century a small remnant of the concerned have been holding to the notion that Southern Whites or any whites anywhere are superior to all other people everywhere.

This group does not enjoy having a Black US President. Some hitch a ride on the coat tails of one of the ultraconservative political parties, singing that group's song to agree with ousting the President, but they are mockingbirds in another party's nest.

The difference today is that greater numbers of individuals recognize these types of mockingbird people more clearly and more quickly than was done in the 1930s before To Kill a Mockingbird. These birds are harm-doing prejudicial birds, hiding in a crowd and parroting the chant.

Perhaps this type of mockingbird does need killing.

Medal of Freedom

President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harper Lee on Nov. 5, 2007.
President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harper Lee on Nov. 5, 2007.

I want to leave some record of small-town, middle-class Southern life.

— Nell Harper Lee

Shotgun House As a Doctor's Office in Monroe County

The William S. Moore Building was constructed in 1875 as a doctor's office and became a general store in the late 1920s.
The William S. Moore Building was constructed in 1875 as a doctor's office and became a general store in the late 1920s.

A shotgun house was one in which a person could fire a shotgun straight through the front door and have the bullet exit the back door. Elvis Presley lived in a shotgun house as an infant and child in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Outstanding Biography of Nelle Harper Lee

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee
I have read this book twice. In it, you can see the real life story behind the writing of Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman and other tales by Harper Lee - and neighbor Truman Capote - in Southern Alabama. This book comes from astronomical research done by the author all around Harper Lee, interviewing neighbors, friends, poring over correspondence, and going everywhere he could think to go that was useful. He even got an autograph.

Nationwide Celebration in 2010 and 2015

In the events leading up to June 2010, American news outlets were calling To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee "The National Novel" of the USA.

Its 50th anniversary of release was to be celebrated in the 6th month of 2010 and readers and critics had decided that the Pulitzer Prize winning novel was representative of America and its history.

To Kill a Mockingbird can be set into a historic trio of American novels that include Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which helped stimulate the start of the American Civil War and Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, the film of which particularly dramatizes the carnage of the war like no other representation. The filming of Rhett Butler proclaiming the word damn also led to the "profanification" of American film, radio, and television.

All three novels were written by female authors, although Harper Lee never wrote another.

At least 50 celebrations were scheduled around the United States in honor of the novel and Harper Lee, although it was not expected that the publicity-avoiding author would appear at any of them. At age 84 in 2010, Ms. Lee had expressed earlier in her career that authors should maintain some sense of anonymity and privacy. At age 89, she was overjoyed to have her first manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, published.

Banned Book

In 2010, authors and actors paid tribute to the classic novel that focused on American racial injustice in the 1930s and the loss of innocence in a small Southern town. All over the country, news personalities, actors, and writers were involved in reading passages from the book in the town square of countless places. many returned to their childhood hometowns in order to read from To Kill a Mockingbird.

For instance, Tom Brokaw chose to read from the book in his Montana hometown. Another town ensured that the entire novel was read aloud in public. Performances of the play derived from the book were also produced by local theatrical groups in several US States.

Harper Lee's novel has been one of the most often required on school reading lists and one of the most widely banned books in the US. At the same time, it was voted the Best Novel of the the 20th Century by America's librarians.

Profanity and Literacy

The profanity in To Kill a Mockingbird is mild, considering the spectrum possible today. I don't like the word n_ _ _ _ r, even in a historical explanation, but the word is a reality of the period. In middle school when I'd been required to read the book, I'd already heard the few expletives and name-calling that it contained.

The book became an immediate best seller after its July 1960 publication, but those that did not want to highlight racial, class, or gender injustice labeled the book "immoral." Ms. Lee suggested that the problem was illiteracy, not immorality, and suggested that school boards that banned her book should enroll in the first grade.

My middle school class was required to purchase the paperback edition some years later, when the book was unbanned. I somehow had a copy in which a black crayon had marked out words, phrases, and sentences throughout.

I could not make head or tail of the storyline. At school, when I could not read aloud from the book or participate in related discussions, I was given a clean copy for use at school. My opinion then and now is that the book should not have been banned.

Both of Ms. Lee's book will be available as eBooks.

Monroeville, Alabama

In Monroeville, Harper Lee's hometown and the place in which she still resides in 2010, the entire court scene is acted for the celebration. One resident wrote on Facebook that local actors were very good in the roles and the all-male jury was selected from audience members.

The play is, in fact, enacted avery May in Monroeville at the Old Couthouse Museum and not only for the 50th year celebration in 2010. The town is home to Harper Lee and was home to her childhood friend, Truman Capote as well. Speculation is that she might have been the model for the character Scout and he for the neighbor boy Dill. 

Monroeville, Southern Alabama

Monroeville AL:
Monroeville, AL 36460, USA

get directions

Whitley Lee park is named after the family.

Reference Map

Monroeville, AL 36460, USA

get directions

Huntsville, AL, USA

get directions

Pensacola, Florida:
Pensacola, FL, USA

get directions

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS


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