The Harper Lee sequel not meant to be

Conor K.

Staff Writer

Acclaimed American writer Harper Lee has been in the news recently due to the sequel to her world-famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  The sequel, currently titled Go Set a Watchman, is now on preorder from major book sellers and will be available on July 14th of this year.  Lee has been dormant since her massive success with Mockingbird, and many are celebrating her return to the literary world.  However, a large controversy is now surrounding the release of the sequel almost sixty years in the making.

Many questions have been raised over the breaking of the nearly half century of silence. A report in Time Magazine claims that Lee’s “unmanageable success forced her to vanish,” and led the writer to exile. Since that time of leaving, Lee had spent her time engaging in local book stores and coffee shops, doing her best to not draw unwanted attention to herself. Lee never published anything after the original tale of the Finch family, telling reporters back in the sixties that the original manuscript to the sequel was taken when a burglar broke in and stole it from Lee.

Now Lee, currently the wise age of 88, is publishing the long-lost manuscript for the elusive Go Set a Watchman. Allegedly, while Harper Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter, was leafing through Lee’s secure archive trying to confirm the condition of the original Mockingbird manuscript, she stumbled onto the miraculously found manuscript of Watchman, assumed to be lost for over fifty years.  Lee was quite surprised by this finding, and now, according to current news, the release date is set. Watchman is supposed to take place decades after the events of Mockingbird, and Scout is all grown up.  She returns back home to Macomb, Alabama, where she finds her father unable to adapt to changing times. Not much more is known about the plot of the novel. Mockingbird has been read and enjoyed by students. Junior Benji Tompkins said, “I enjoyed the book, and I think a sequel will be cool! “

The real question is how willing Lee is to publish Watchman.  In direct opposition to those who feel genuine joy for the novel’s release, there are others who feel that Lee is being pressured and coerced into the publishing of her long-lost manuscript.  Local art instructor John Horne said, “The circumstances are suspicious.  While her sister was alive, she had nothing to say, but all of a sudden she’s willing to publish a sequel?“ A report in the local newspaper Arkansas Online says that after Lee’s stroke in 2007, her mental state has declined, and her short-term memory is erratic. Alice Lee, Harper Lee’s sister, defended her after the publishing of Mockingbird and kept her away from the pressures of the press. Alice felt that her sister did not need to be exposed to constant media attention and may have stopped her sister from falling into some of the pitfalls that come with major fame. Alice died in November at age 103, and three months later, the manuscript found light.  So the question stands, does Lee want to even publish this novel?

Lee has made her stance public recently, attacking journalists who question her desire to publish the sequel. From public comments to acerbic letters, Lee wants the world to know that she is as much as a part of the book’s publishing as anyone else is.  After a request for an interview with an Alabama newspaper, she wrote a short note to the reporters in response to the journalist’s request: Go away! One could argue that Lee’s “erratic short-term memory” is responsible to her bitter response, but her angry note was written on the letter for the interview.  Her anger toward those who think she is being exploited is genuine.  One reporter after another claim that she is being used, or harassed, or exploited by her publishing company into presenting this new sequel for the ravenous hordes of book lovers.  The facts suggest otherwise.

The manuscript was found as Carter was checking up on the original copy of Mockingbird.  When she stumbled upon it, even Carter thought it was another copy of Mockingbird.  When the realization that it was Watchman was made, both Carter and Lee were surprised at the finding. Watchman was rejected fifty years ago because during that time, a sequel to Mockingbird felt rushed to the publisher, and Lee just stored it away.  There was no way Carter could know that a sequel was even in motion, so the assertion that she would suddenly betray her loyal client and friend is quite shocking.

Harper Lee is in control of her life’s past, and weathered or not, Watchman will be published.  Imagine if a student here writes a draft for an essay but realizes it is not up to the level that the prompt demands.  The student stores it away for later and publishes a better one.  Now imagine a friend finds the dismissed essay and forces the student to publish it as a college thesis.  Unless the threats were strikingly lethal, this would never happen in a normal case. To assume that Lee is being forced into this is as ridiculous as the above case.  Someone as exemplary and as renowned as Lee would not allow any form of exploitation to control her.  Somehow, our society has forgotten that those who are famous are also people too.  They have feelings too, but reporters and the occasional naysayer have forgotten this.  The reporters who show her weak and senile have been reduced to a pack of bullies, picking on an 88 year old woman.



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