To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the greatest novels of all time, and remains one of my favorite books. But it’s never had a sequel, and still doesn’t in my view, despite today’s publication of Go Set A Watchman (which is about an adult Scout returning to her hometown).
By all accounts, Lee wrote Watchman in the mid-1950s. Her editor at the time, however, didn’t want to publish it. Instead, he asked her to write a new novel based on the main character’s childhood. That is the story that became To Kill A Mockingbird, while Watchman was shelved for a half-century.
As every writer knows, a story changes as it is written, often metamorphosing into something very different than what the author originally envisioned. And the same is true for a story’s characters. In my own novel, there are characters who existed in early drafts that never even appear in the published book. My main character went through three name changes, had his origin story rewritten twice, and was sired by three different fathers, depending on the day. My antagonist was no different. He changed names, jobs, and mannerisms throughout my writing journey. I doubt the antagonist from my early drafts would even recognize the villain from the published novel.
Given the changes that occur during the writing journey, it’s no surprise that a character who began as a racist in the author’s mind later evolved into a moral hero by the final draft. By the time Lee finished Mockingbird, Atticus Finch had completely transformed into the character so many readers admire today. Mockingbird’s Atticus never shared the poisonous views of Watchman’s Atticus because that Atticus disappeared somewhere along the way. He was lost in the writing journey that gave us Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch.
At least that’s the way I like to think of it. I don’t want to believe a hero like Mockingbird’s Atticus could turn into the man apparently portrayed in Watchman. I’d rather believe that Watchman is some alternate reality where Mockingbird’s Atticus never existed. Because that’s essentially what Harper Lee did. After she wrote Watchman, she created a whole new reality for the six-year-old Scout, one where her father, Atticus Finch, was a hero we could all believe in.
PS – Yesterday The Passive Voice posted an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal that suggests Lee’s father was the model for Atticus Finch. Apparently, he was a segregationist who changed his views while Lee was writing Mockingbird. That may help explain how Watchman’s Atticus transformed into Mockingbird’s Atticus during her writing journey. Here’s a link.