I just finished reading Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, and I find myself more confused than anything else about what to make of the Atticus Finch and Scout characters we meet in the book. To me, I couldn’t tell if Watchman is meant to be read as a sequel / companion to To Kill a Mockingbird, or if it is meant to be read as a novel on its own, in which the author gave us quite different versions of the characters who also appear in Mockingbird.
In Watchman we read that Atticus once defended a black man (presumably the Tom Robinson character in Mockingbird?) against unjust charges, and that the man was acquitted. Of course, in Mockingbird Tom Robinson is found guilty and then shot to death by the police during an escape attempt. So given that the two novels present different versions of that key event, I lean towards reading Watchman as a book set in the same fictional world as Mockingbird, but in which the two central characters are different people. If you read Watchman that way, and then read Mockingbird alongside it, you end up with a body of work by Harper Lee that explores different possibilities and digs into the issues of race, the South, etc. in different ways.
As a rabbi, I’m curious about Lee’s use of a verse from Isaiah as the book’s title. The phrase “Go set a watchman” is part of Isaiah 21:6, and the entire verse reads like this:
I’m just messin’ with ya. In English translation:
“Because my Lord said this to me: ‘Go, set a watchman. Let him tell what he will see.'”