Scout Finch Lives On?

Literature lovers everywhere rejoiced last week as Harper Lee, author of the renowned 1960 classic To Kill a Mockingbird, announced that she would be publishing a sort-of sequel entitled Go Set a Watchman, to be released in July of 2015. Go Set a Watchman is said to be about To Kill a Mockingbird’s young heroine, Scout Finch, all grown up. Lee is currently 88 years old and living in an assisted living home near her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Until now, To Kill a Mockingbird has been her only book, and she has declined to speak publicly for decades, which is why this announcement has come as a shock to the literature community and beyond. The statement was released by Lee's attorney, Tonja Carter, who quotes Lee stating she is "alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions [to] Go Set a Watchman."

Harper Lee, photo by Associated Press

Harper Lee, photo by Associated Press

Yet there is some controversy concerning Lee's intentions about the book. The manuscript for Watchman had resurfaced recently, which led many to question if the discovery is one way for publishing company HarperCollins to reap the rewards of the reclusive renowned writer. Though many Harper Lee fans were excited, many were worried whether Lee really wanted to release the book. They are worried that Tonja Carter is not treating Lee's work suitably. Many also became concerned when Lee's editor, Hugh Van Dusen in an interview appeared to have no inkling where the manuscript came from or if it had been, or would be, edited. Therefore many are hoping that HarperCollins will decide to not publish Watchman at all.

Though Carter relayed that Lee was indeed alive, fully functioning, and happy about the public's response to the release, Lee’s personal state of well-being has been questioned in the past. In 2007 she suffered a stroke that forced her to move to the assisted living home. Several months later she sued her agent for stealing royalties from To Kill a Mockingbird. Then in 2011 she declared that Marja Mills' biography of Lee's life was unauthorized even though Mills insisted that she had Lee's blessing and cooperation.

Connor Sheets reported on Wednesday that “Tonja Carter has long represented Lee and has power of attorney over her affairs. But area residents who know the writer say that Carter has in recent years taken steps to keep her from seeing her friends and family, and become increasingly litigious on her behalf in a way that they do not believe Lee would have supported when she was younger and more alert.” One woman Sheets spoke to, Janet Sawyer, described Carter as “greedy,” a predatory presence who “isolated [Lee] from the world in order to manipulate her.”

However, Cynthia McMillan, a resident assistant at The Meadows assisted living facility who has taken care of Ms. Lee for several years, said in an interview that Ms. Lee was alert, understood what was happening with the newly found manuscript and seemed invigorated by the prospect of publishing again. “She seems excited about it, and it has given her something to focus on since her sister died,” Ms. McMillan said, describing Ms. Lee as “sharp as a tack.”

With multiple sources and views it is hard to fully know Lee's intentions. What should be a triumphant literary discovery — a find that could dramatically add to the legacy of one of the country’s most cherished authors — has quickly morphed into a puzzling controversy, and leads us to ask how do we as readers respond to such claims? What if Lee in her sound state would have wanted Go Set a Watchman hidden in a box rather than in our eager outstretched hands? Lee's reclusive life surely testifies that she would not have wanted this book published; she has concealed the manuscript for 60 years. Go Set a Watchman is undoubtedly a newfound piece of art, yet is it wrong for the public to view it? Hopefully Harper Lee will release a new statement concerning the book that will help us better understand her intentions so we can enjoy Go Set a Watchmen this July with her full blessing.