The difference between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman is startling to say the least. The proclaimed hero in the first novel has completely changed to something almost unrecognizable. Sure, his fatherly relationship with Jean Louise is intact, but it threatens to fall several times throughout Go Set a Watchman. I almost feel as if this novel is a post apocalyptic version of the beloved original. Everything seems to have changed, lives have been lost. It’s a giant walk down memory lane for Jean Louise, and nothing is like she remembered.
The introduction of Atticus in this novel is very interesting. He is first written in as a frail old man anxiously awaiting his daughter’s arrival. “He had been a big man before age and arthritis reduced him to medium size. He was seventy-two last month, but Jean Louise always thought of him as hovering somewhere in his middle fifties—she could not remember him being any younger, and he seemed to grow no older” (Lee 13). From this, we sense no change in Atticus’s portrayal. Lee writes as if everything has remained the same, only the years have flickered by. Yet soon after their heartwarming embrace, Atticus’s changes are become noticeable.
In the To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch goes against societal views of racism. Representing a young black man, Atticus was not with the majority. This is how the novel frames him as a hero: he does what he believes is right, which puts his life and reputation in danger. However, when Jean Louise finds the pamphlet for the Maycomb citizens’ council, she is exposed to the racism that Maycomb still holds. When she asks Alexandra her thoughts on it, she states that “they’re hard to come by these days… there are a lot of truths in that book” (Lee 71). Disgusted, Jean Louise realizes that much has changed since she was the events of To Kill A Mockingbird.
The fact that this novel was potentially a first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird is incredibly confusing. Why change Atticus’s character so drastically between the two novels? I believe that Atticus really hasn’t changed much at all. During childhood, most kids view their parents as heroes. It’s impossible to see them as anything else, as parents are simply setting examples for their children, so children only assume it is the correct way to act. Given that most of the To Kill a Mockingbird was written in Scout (Jean Louise)’s point of view, I believe that this skewed her perspective, ultimately changing the whole perception Atticus in the novel. What if Atticus was just as racist in the To Kill a Mockingbird as in Go Set a Watchman, but was viewed by Jean Louise as a hero just because he was her father? Either way, Atticus’s decision to represent Tom Robinson was a bold act. An act, I believe, that was to keep the justice system intact. Atticus could have believed that every man, regardless of race, deserves a fair trial, thus justifying his decision to represent Robinson. He describes to Jean Louise that the only way to understand someone is to “climb into his skin and walk around in it” (Lee 30). One of life lessons, Jean Louise has held her fathers values from the first novel throughout the second. The fact that Atticus’s original values conflict with his “new” values separates Jean Louise. In fact, it destroys her relationship with her father, as they have both grown apart from each other.
Overall, this sequel is rather confusing, completely changing everything the reader learned about Atticus in the first novel. It prompts many questions about the motives of Atticus, and potentially the integrity of the people of Maycomb.
Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.