To Kill a Mockingbird was published forty-five years ago. This year Harper Lee, age 88, will release the sequel that no one expected. Unquestionably it will be well written, interesting, and probably, if not as important as her first, at least a well recognized piece of literature. But Go Set a Watchmen will be published into a very different world than To Kill a Mockingbird. Now, I’m not saying that this story is no longer relevant, far from it. I’m simply curious to see how today’s readers receive and perceive Lee’s work differently now than how it was perceived in 1960.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a book about racial injustice and the end of childhood innocence. Lee has been quoted as saying that the book was inspired by events in her own life, most importantly on an event she witnessed in 1936, as a ten year old child. The novel received a Pulitzer Prize, and though far from being the only novel tackling the race issue, it is probably the one most read.
In 1960, Brown v. Board of Education was not even a decade old and segregation was dying a slow death. The Civil Rights Movement was in the forefront of politics and nearly everyone had a heated opinion. Into this hotbed of controversy, Lee published her novel that told the story of Scout, a young girl living in the South. Through her eyes, Lee shows a small town where white men are believed and protected, even when the evidence against them is overwhelming. We felt Scout’s horror at the outcome of the trial against Tom Robinson. As her childish belief in the system of justice and in her father’s power are destroyed, we too were disenchanted with the system that would condemn an innocent man simply because of his skin color.
Now, those are the emotions that I felt reading that book in the early nineties, a time where segregation was an abhorrent tradition that ended long before my birth. I can well imagine that not everyone had that reaction when first reading this book in the sixties. But it was well received and I believe it aided the Civil Rights Movement.
Fast forward to July 14, 2015 and we will read Go Set a Watchman for the first time. I don’t know much about this book except that it features the same characters and is narrated by Scout as adult, visiting her father in her hometown in Alabama. That town was plagued by prejudice in 1960, will anything have changed?
Though far from perfect, we have come far on the issue of racial injustice, but America still suffers greatly from prejudice. Daily, people are bullied and persecuted for having different skin color, beliefs, or life styles. Will Lee tackle any of these issues in her book, or will she simply use it as a platform to show us where Scout, Atticus, and possibly Boo Radley are in their lives? Knowing Lee for the fearless writer that she is, I tend to think that once again, the earth will move.
What do you think? Will Harper Lee pull out another Pulitzer Prize? How do you think readers today differ from To Kill a Mockingbird’s generation?