I was one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been hotly anticipating the release of Harper Lee’s second novel, ‘Go Set a Watchman’, which hit shelves on Wednesday last week.
I first read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in Standard Grade English at Rothesay Academy and instantly fell in love with the novel and the character of Scout Finch.
It’s one of those books which I try to re-read once a year, and as soon as I’ve finished the first chapter wonder why I wait a year each time.
For those who haven’t read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (and I strongly urge you to!), or perhaps haven’t seen the Oscar-winning 1962 film by the same name, it tells the story of young Scout Finch and her brother Jem, both of whom are raised by their lawyer father Atticus Finch and in part by housemaid Calpurnia in 1930s Alabama.
Racial tensions are high in the small town of Maycomb, and the Finch family find themselves at the centre of a row in the white community when Atticus takes on the case of Tom Robinson, a local black man accused of the rape of a white woman.
The reason why this book is number one on my most-loved novels list is, in part, due to this section, which explains why Atticus took on Tom’s case:
“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy...but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Defending the innocent and those who only do good for others is a theme which rings true as much today as it did back in the 1960s when Harper Lee first wrote those words. And they ring true again in ‘Go Set a Watchman’ when those ideals are challenged once more, albeit in a very different way.
Now 26-years old, Scout returns from New York City to Maycomb to discover a few home truths which could potentially destroy the world she’s come to understand, and as a result her place in it.
Everyone will have their own moment where they’ve felt the sudden loss of innocence, where we discover that our heroes have flaws and aren’t superhuman after all. For Scout, her hero is her father, and finding out that he isn’t the same man with the same values she knew as a child is about the most devastating revelation imaginable.
For the reader, discovering that Atticus is not the man we loved and respected turns the whole text of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ on its head. Why has he changed? How has he changed? And what will it mean for a father-daughter relationship which has endured through the ages for generations of fans?
I couldn’t help but feel a bit devastated on finishing the novel. Atticus, and even Calpurnia, weren’t the same people I’d once held them to be.
The relationships between the characters had changed, and so had they as people. And yet there was something cathartic about the story - I finally learned what became of Scout, and the kind of woman she’s become. She’s a strong, fiercely independent woman who isn’t scared to say what’s important to her, no matter the consequences. A person who stands up for what she believes is right.
She has grown up to become the kind of person I always though Atticus was, and that in itself is satisfaction enough.
* We’ve got a copy of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ up for grabs for one lucky reader. To be in with a chance of winning, just answer this simple question: ‘Which US state does ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘Go Set a Watchman’ take place in? ‘
Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org or to The Buteman, 5 Victoria Street, Rothesay, Isle of Bute PA20 0AJ with your name, address and a daytime telephone number by Tuesday, July 28 at noon.