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The Reflection

Controversy over Go Set a Watchman upsets Harper Lee’s fans

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Many people are familiar with the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee. However, most people are not familiar with her second novel published 55 years later, or the controversy that accompanies it.  

Go Set a Watchman cover shows a black tree with sparse yellow leaves and a train approaching from the distance. Photo by Maiya Wimbley

Go Set a Watchman cover shows a black tree with sparse yellow leaves and a train approaching from the distance. Photo by Maiya Wimbley

Author Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama. She attended Huntingdon College for a period of time before transferring to the University of Alabama to study law. Lee was known for being an individualist due to her reserved nature and preference for solitude. She contributed to University of Alabama’s newspaper and humor magazine but eventually had to quit both.

Lee realized that law was not a path she wanted to continue, leading her to drop out of law school and move to New York where she followed her dreams and become a writer.

Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee originally tried to publish. The story follows the late lives of the characters seen To Kill a Mockingbird. After Lee’s unsuccessful attempt at getting the novel published, she revised the story, taking her original characters and making them younger. It eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird and was published in 1960.

To Kill a Mockingbird examines the lives of Scout, Jem and their father Atticus Finch in Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus Finch is a lawyer in the town defending a black man for falsely accused rape charges. Throughout the story the children are exposed to the negative and violent actions around them, racism and other evils. The novel was highly acclaimed because of the number of tough issues it touches on, such as racism and sexual assault. While To Kill a Mockingbird was not based on true events, Lee once stated that she wrote the novel with the help of details and observations she made about the people surrounding her, like family and neighbors.

Now over 50 years later, Go Set a Watchman, Lee’s second novel has been published, and has received a lot of negative attention. There are two main reasons for this attention. The first reason is that Go Set a Watchman is just not a great novel. It falls flat of what readers expect from an author as exceptional and articulate as Harper Lee. It lacks the depth that was found in To Kill a Mockingbird. The second reason for the excess of negative attention is that there are many people who don’t believe Lee has chosen to publish the novel.

The reason for this disbelief stems from Lee’s notoriety for being extremely reclusive and that she vowed to never publish another novel after the major success of her first. The manuscript was said to have been discovered by Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter. Publishers of Go Set a Watchman never directly spoke to Lee, but communicated exclusively through Carter.

Even more alarming, the book was announced to come out shortly after the death of Alice Lee, Harper Lee’s sister and longtime caretaker. Harper Lee has been living in an assisted living home since 2007, the year that she experienced a major stroke. Alice Lee has been quoted saying that since the event of her sisters stroke Lee will “sign anything put in front of her” and “doesn’t remember anything that’s ever been said”.

The main concern for the publication of the novel is that Lee was taken advantage of in her poor health and has unknowingly consented to the release of Go Set a Watchman.


My name is Maiya Wimbley and this is my first year in Newspaper. I am interested in writing news and review articles.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Dylan Grosser

    Good work, Maiya.
    Very detailed reporting, it was interesting to read.


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