Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman: Diving Into The First Chapter

Image courtesy of HarperCollins
Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the sequel to 1960’s To Kill a Mockingbird, begins on a winding train from New York City to Maycomb, Alabama, the place where Jean Louise Finch — a character readers know better as Scout — was born and raised.

Watchman is set 20 years after Mockingbird, so the story takes place circa 1955, and our heroine is now a woman. We learn that she has lived away from home for five years, and grown from “an overalled, fractious, gun-slinging creature into a reasonable facsimile of a human being.” We learn that the South is shifting before her eyes, and that she is speeding toward her father, the now 72-year-old Atticus Finch, who does not arrive at the station to collect his daughter. Atticus is now suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, and can no longer button his own shirts or drive on a bad day.

Jeremy Finch, perhaps better known as Jem, isn’t there to meet his sister either. Lee informs readers that he “dropped dead in his tracks one day,” a fact written plainly and without further explanation, though we expect the details will spill out in pages to come. The man waiting at the tracks for Jean Louise is Henry “Hank” Clinton, her childhood friend and Maycomb-based beau. Henry took over Atticus’s law practice after returning from WWII, and he has every intention of marrying Jean Louise as soon as she accepts his proposal. It is in the passages chronicling her conversation with Henry that we learn Jean Louise is still the same old Scout: She’s not quite sold on the engagement idea, and thinks she might just continue to “pursue the stony path of spinsterhood.”

The announcement in February that HarperCollins would be publishing Watchman caused a frenzy of controversy. Many wondered whether or not the 89-year-old author was of sound enough mind to approve the publication of the book she wrote 60 years ago — before Mockingbird. That question still lingers, but fans concerned about a new novel tarnishing the legacy of Scout, Jem, Atticus, Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson can breathe a sigh of relief. Jean Louise is just as earnest and lively as the day we first read about her and Lee’s prose is as dazzling as ever. There is a certain thrill in reuniting with such iconic characters in a new setting all these decades later; Go Set a Watchman offers us the opportunity to do something we never thought we could: Discover the woman Scout became after To Kill a Mockingbird. We can’t wait to see what the next chapters bring.

Go Set a Watchman, published by HarperCollins, comes out on July 14, 2015. It is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee’s second published book.

Check back here for a full review of the novel on July 14.


More from Books & Art