Can ‘to kill a mockingbird’ have a sequel?
The announcement that Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, will be published in July is the biggest literature news in years. Not since the release of the last Harry Potter novel has the mainstream media spent so much time talking about a book. The revelation that Lee has had another novel hidden away was met with universal surprise and pleasure, as the story of a long-lost manuscript is the kind of thing that bibliophiles live for.
But it’s not just the mystery and intrigue that draws the attention of booklovers the world over, but also the prospect of finding out what became of Scout Finch.
55 years since its first publication date, To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the most loved books of all time. A large part of that is due to the beloved character of Scout, the six-year-old who narrates the tale. She is one of the best characters in literature. Her childish naivety is a lens through which to observe the injustices of racially segregated Alabama. As a child, she is ignored by the adults, and bears witness to grown-ups with their guards down.
Scout is also a feminist icon: she challenges the very idea of what it means to be a girl. Throughout the book she questions, ‘what it means to be a lady’, and is more comfortable in denim than in dresses. Her most significant relationships are male, and she views the women in her life with suspicion.
Scout can be contrasted to her Aunt Alexandra, who symbolises entrenched gender roles. Alexandra believes that women should express their individuality only within the strict confines of traditional femininity. This means dressing in the latest fashions, specifically dresses and skirts. She tells Scout off for wearing overalls instead of dresses, and for the regular scuffles she is involved in.
With the release of Go Set a Watchman, readers will see whether Scout stayed true to her six-year-old self. The young Scout is widely viewed as being a reflection of Harper Lee’s own childhood; Lee was also a tomboy and an independent spirit. By her early twenties, she had moved to New York and is said to have loved the vibrancy and diversity of the city. Similar to Scout, Lee defied convention, by never marrying. When her first novel was an immediate success, she shunned the spotlight and instead she chose to spend her life living a quiet life with one of her sisters. How will grown-up Scout reflect Harper Lee’s life?
Books like Mockingbird helped to bring about change in many facets of society. Whether in terms of gender or racial politics, the immediate impact of Lee’s classic was huge. Whether her new offering comes even close to having the same effect remains to be seen. But it may just introduce a new generation of readers to Scout Finch. And it will be worth it.