First of: am I the only person who managed to get well into her twenties without reading To Kill a Mockingbird? I only noticed my failure to read this classic when the sequel was announced and everybody started talking about that. All of a sudden, I too wanted to know what the fuss is about, and also, I was more than a little intrigued: why would anyone write a sequel after more than fifty years? This better be good.
To Kill a Mockingbird turned out to be a book well deserving of the status attributed to it. Told by eight year old Scout Finch, the story unfolds from the fascinating point of view of someone who observes a great deal, but can’t quite make sense of everything just yet. The novel paints an interesting portrait of the societal structures in the South at the time, while Scout’s perspective prevents it from becoming overly serious. When the lawyer Atticus Finch, Scout’s and Jem’s father, defends the black Tom Robinson, who is on trial for allegedly raping a young white woman, the reactions of Scout and her brother Jem to the outcome of said trial are especially enlightening. While everyone else, including their father, who lost his case, seems to have accepted the workings of society a long time ago and are thus less shaken up when they are faced with its blatant unfairness, Scout and Jem are baffled and enraged by the injustice done to Tom Robinson.
It would have been interesting to see whether Scout and Jem can hang on to this innocent sense of right and wrong as time wears on or whether they too will eventually cave in and adopt the attitudes of those around them. Since To Kill a Mockingbird was an overall well written and enjoyable novel, I was looking forward to get started on reading the sequel after finishing it.
Unfortunately, my hopes were bitterly disappointed. While the sequel could probably also be called ‘well written’, this can partly be attributed to the fact that Harper Lee decided to copy and paste complete paragraphs from her previous novel into it. This would certainly have been less noticeable if I hadn’t read the two novels back to back, but I did, I noticed, and I didn’t like it.
Another thing that stood at odds with my expectations was the fact that many of the characters I had been looking forward to revisiting were cut from the sequel. Jem was killed off somewhere in-between the two parts of the story, Dill apparently moved to Italy and the other kids weren’t even mentioned any longer.
At this point, the only thing I had left to look forward to was Scout’s development as a character. But no such luck. Everybody else in Maycomb was allowed to grow up, age, or even die, but little Scout Finch stayed exactly the same and was not granted any of these developments. Hence, the story stays essentially the same: Scout watches in disbelief as she realises that Maycomb is still full of racists.
The only difference seems to be that she earnestly contemplates marriage and thinks about her plans for the future and whether or not she can imagine to ever go back to Maycomb. (In Go Set a Watchman she is just visiting from New York, where she moved a couple of years ago).
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout is set on one day marrying Dill. With him having disappeared to Italy, that plan is obviously off the table. Instead, she’s apparently been planning on marrying Henry for quite a while now. Apparently, Henry came to play a major role in the life of the Finches at some point between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. I couldn’t care less about Henry. I want Dill back. And Jem. And Boo Radley. About half way through I also wanted to burn the sequel (too bad I read it on my kindle).
In the end, all we learn is that Scout comes to accept the fact that her father is just a human being and not the Godlike figure she’s been looking up to all those years. Atticus himself is mighty proud of his daughter’s realisation and Scout may or may not decide to return to Maycomb after all. As I said, I honestly just stopped caring.
Back to my initial questions:
“What’s all the fuss about?”
“Why does one decide to publish a sequel more than fifty years after the original publication?”
My honest answer to both questions is: I don’t know, I just wish someone had prevented this from happening.
Did you read To Kill a Mockingbird / Go Set a Watchman? What did you think?
Have you ever been completely disappointed by a book sequel? If so – which one?