Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” was declared a classic almost immediately upon its publication in 1960, and it has been a staple in high school and college English courses ever since.
The story of Atticus Finch and his confrontation of racial injustice in Alabama has been hailed as one of the great literary works of the 20th century, as well as the book that has most contributed to a frank discussion of civil rights struggles.
However, the novel has always functioned well as a stand-alone work which wraps up tidily at the conclusion and leaves few loose ends. Thus, she raised quite a few eyebrows when Lee announced in 2014 that she was going to release a sequel to her only novel.
Reactions have been mixed among literary academia and the main stream media, with some people insinuating that Lee is being taken advantage of in her old age. This sentiment has been echoed by some students at The University of Southern Mississippi.
“While I’m sure that many people here in the South, as well as the United States, would love a sequel to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ we have to be aware of the suspicious circumstances of this manuscript’s release,” said Meredith McPhail, a junior English major.
“Essentially, we must take steps to establish the validity of this manuscript and, most importantly, ensure that Harper Lee has not been exploited in any way.”
Other students were much more positive in their reaction to the news that “Go Set a Watchman” may finally be released.
Though characterized as a sequel in press releases and set 30 years after “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the book was reputedly written in the 1950s, before “To Kill a Mockingbird” was anything more than a rough draft.
Joshua von Herrmann, a senior double majoring in political science and communications studies, was excited by the prospect.
“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a classic work of literature, ranking with ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ as far as books that helped to advance civil rights in America. I think that a sequel – or even just another novel written by Harper Lee – would be an excellent addition to the canon of great progressive works.”
Other students were simply interested in how the new novel would function as a sequel – intentional or not – to such a classic work.
“(Personally) I’m interested to see how this sequel plays out. The last book ended so completely that it’s hard to imagine where this next book could go,” said Lakelyn Taylor, a sophomore double majoring in communications studies and Spanish.
“Historically, sequels have always had a hard time following an original work, even when that sequel is part of a series. Therefore, successfully writing a sequel that follows a book that was meant to stand alone would be quite the feat.”
This question of meeting expectations was echoed by senior English major Mary Beth Wolverton.
“I know that ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has a special place in the canon, and while I love Atticus Finch as much as the next English major and the classic ‘gotcha’ moment with Tom in the courthouse, I’m not a huge fan of Scout. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to read the sequel; I don’t know what a sequel can give me that the first book didn’t.”
Regardless of how the book itself ends up turning out, it appears that “Go Set a Watchman” will certainly have everyone talking this June.