How can Harper Lee’s newly published novel Go Set a Watchman deepen students’ engagement with To Kill a Mockingbird?
Watchman is not a sequel to Mockingbird, but it is a companion work that can shed light on the characters, context, and themes that Lee explores in To Kill a Mockingbird and that Facing History examines in the Teaching Mockingbird study guide.
In these lessons, we offer two approaches for integrating Go Set a Watchman into the teaching of Mockingbird, by featuring excerpts of both novels, historical sources, poetry, discussion questions, and activities that connect the two books, the world of the novels, and our own world today.
Setting the Context for Watchman
Any approach to examining Go Set a Watchman in the classroom should begin with an understanding of how the new novel relates to To Kill a Mockingbird. Watchman has been described as a first draft, a “parent,” and a “practice run” for Mockingbird. Lee’s publishers have said that Watchman is not an “early version” of Mockingbird but rather a separate, independent work, albeit with the same characters.
Inconsistencies in plot also suggest that the world of the two stories is not quite the same: Henry Clinton, a pivotal figure in Watchman who is presented as a childhood friend of Scout’s, appears nowhere in Mockingbird, and the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman, which is at the heart of Mockingbird, is mentioned only peripherally in Watchman, where it results in an acquittal, not a conviction.
Some critics have also questioned whether we should read the characters in the two novels as continuous: Did Harper Lee intend for us to see the 26-year-old Jean Louise and 72-year-old Atticus of Watchman as older versions of Scout and her father, or are they independent, distinct fictional creations?
Despite these complexities, we believe that students can learn a great deal from putting the two novels in conversation. Among many possible avenues, we’ve selected two issues to explore through novel excerpts and primary source documents: