Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman Study Guide

Go Set a Watchman is Harper Lee's second published novel, after her award-winning To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960. Although there are some striking differences between Lee's two novels in terms of style and content, the continuity between the novels intrigues and encourages a wide audience to read and cherish Go Set a Watchman as they do To Kill a Mockingbird. This belated publication enables us to revisit cherished characters but also view the classic To Kill a Mockingbird in a new light.

The title comes from a verse in Isiah: "For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth." It relates to the themes of conscience an­­d exposing injustice, which are also heavily explored in To Kill a Mockingbird. Just as many characters in Lee's classic first novel are portrayed as mockingbirds, the timeless question that this novel poses is that of the watchman: which characters are the watchmen and which are the ones being watched over? Lee’s craft as a writer is undisputed (To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961), but our admiration is extended as she accessibly presents probing moral questions. As previously alluded to, many of the themes in Go Set a Watchman are also found in To Kill a Mockingbird. These include the universal and pressing issues of sexism and racism. Jean Louise never quite manages to fulfill Aunt Alexandra’s expectations of womanhood, nor does Maycomb truly rid itself of racial prejudice. The struggles and conflicts that permeate the book emphasizes the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement to make progress in deeply rooted Southern towns such as Maycomb.

Go Set a Watchman shows Jean Louise Finch coming to terms with the changing landscape around her: both of her beloved Maycomb County and of the attitudes of its citizens. To Kill a Mockingbird is often cited as a classic bildungsroman, a coming of age story relating to the protagonist's moral growth, but this description also applies to Go Set a Watchman. Even though Jean Louise is now in her twenties, the edification she receives here is possibly more profound than that which she received in To Kill a Mockingbird, reminding us that we are never too old to learn.

Go Set a Watchman is also not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird per se; it was actually the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, submitted to Lee's editor Tay Hohoff. As a first time writer, Lee listened to everything her agent/editor Hohoff told her; the two had a close working and personal relationship, and Hohoff guided Lee from the content and story of Go Set a Watchman to the final published version of To Kill a Mockingbird. The quality of craft in Go Set a Watchman is considerably less polished and refined than in To Kill a Mockingbird, yet provides insight into the author's creative process, especially if read in relation to Lee's earlier masterpiece.