Questions We Hope Get Answered in Harper Lee’s "Go Set a Watchman"

Posted by Dan Sigward on February 12, 2015

Facing History's offices have been abuzz since Harper Lee's "new" novel was announced earlier this month.

This literary event—taking place 55 years after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird and about six months after Facing History published Teaching Mockingbird, its study guide to the novel—comes at a time when we have been diving deep into the themes of Lee's classic novel, both as a staff and with educators around the world.

The media reports that Watchman features an adult Scout returning to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father 20 years after the events of the original book. Unlike the first novel, it is purportedly told in the third person, and therefore is not limited by Scout's point of view. Like many Mockingbird fans, we are curious to find out what happened to the characters, and also how the town of Maycomb changed (or not) in the ensuing years.

When Facing History developed its study guide for Mockingbird, we focused on the factors that influence Scout's—and our—moral growth. What kinds of experiences help us learn how to judge right from wrong? Told from Scout's eight-year-old point of view, the story challenges her sense of right and wrong, as she grapples with events, people, and societal rules she does not fully understand. What was the long-term impact? Who did she become? Did she remain curious, determined, and stubborn?

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As we look forward to the July release of Go Set a Watchman, here are a few guiding questions we will be asking ourselves when we read the new book. If you are planning to teach Watchman next year, these can help guide your reading as well.

  • How did the events of her childhood ultimately shape Scout's adult identity and moral compass? How does the trial of Tom Robinson continue to reverberate through the choices she has made as an adult? How did the trial and subsequent events impact Jem over the years?
  • At the end of Mockingbird, Scout says, "Maycomb was itself again." Twenty years later, how has Maycomb fared? Has it progressed? How does Lee pick up the themes of belonging—who belongs and who doesn't—that are so central to Mockingbird?
  • Does Lee situate Maycomb and the events of Mockingbird more explicitly in the context of the civil rights movement? In Watchman, how much is Scout's perspective on her childhood in Maycomb filtered through her adult experiences in the north?

The underlying themes of To Kill a Mockingbird—including race and justice, the inconsistent nature of social change, the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy—represent ongoing cultural conversations that remain unresolved. They reverberate as much today as they did when Lee wrote both novels. How will her new book continue the conversation about what role laws and individuals play in creating a just society?

Download a free copy of Facing History's Teaching Mockingbird guide and sign up for professional development to help you transform how you teach To Kill a Mockingbird.

What are you most hoping to see in the new book? What questions do you hope get answered? Comment below.

Topics: To Kill a Mockingbird, Books, English Language Arts, Facing History Resources, Teaching, Teaching Resources, Civil Rights

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