Track Changes

See where ‘Go Set a Watchman’ overlaps with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ word-for-word

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Go Set a Watchman, released worldwide this week, was initially portrayed as a long-lost second novel by Harper Lee. But reports leading up to its publication have made clear that Watchman is more accurately seen as the early first draft of Lee’s classic work, To Kill a Mockingbird, which won the Pulitzer Prize for its depiction of racism in the deep south of the United States during the Great Depression.

As it turns out, many passages can be found in both of the books, almost word-for-word.

Watchman takes place two decades after Mockingbird, featuring many of the same characters but a different narrator and some starkly divergent themes. Most notably, Atticus Finch, the moral hero of Mockingbird, turns out to be an unapologetic racist in Watchman. Lee handed in the manuscript of Watchman in 1957; her editor, Tay Hohoff, described it as “more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel,” guiding a wholesale revision of the novel into Mockingbird, which was published in 1960. It’s not clear that Lee, now 89 and ailing, ever intended to publish Watchman as a separate book.

But now that both texts are available to the public, we can get a better sense of what they share beyond characters and provenance. Our analysis identifies many passages in Watchman that survived the transformation into Mockingbird, both revised and nearly untouched. The commonalities help illuminate the relationship between the two books, which will surely be studied for decades to come. Here are just a few, with nearly identical phrasings highlighted in yellow:

How the town got its name

Lee relates the story of how the fictional town of Maycomb, where both books take place, got its name. It appears in the first chapter of Watchman, though not until much later in Mockingbird.

From Go Set a Watchman, chapter 1:

The county and the town were named for a Colonel Mason Maycomb, a man whose misplaced self-confidence and overweening willfulness brought confusion and confoundment to all who rode with him in the Creek Indian Wars.

From To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 28:

Andrew Jackson appointed him to a position of authority, and Colonel Maycomb’s misplaced self-confidence and slender sense of direction brought disaster to all who rode with him in the Creek Indian Wars.

Aunt Alexandra’s corsets

Jean Louise Finch, more recognizable as “Scout,” wonders about the corsets she sees her Aunt Alexandra wearing. Lee describes the effect they have on Alexandra’s figure. In Watchman, an omniscient narrator conveys Scout’s perspective, but Mockingbird is written in her voice.

Go Set a Watchman, chapter 3:

Jean Louise had often wondered, but never asked, where she got her corsets. They drew up her bosom to giddy heights, pinched in her waist, flared out her rear, and managed to suggest that Alexandra’s had once been an hourglass figure.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 13:

I guess it was [Aunt Alexandra’s] Sunday corset. She was not fat, but solid, and she chose protective garments that drew up her bosom to giddy heights, pinched in her waist, flared out her rear, and managed to suggest that Aunt Alexandra’s was once an hour-glass figure. From any angle, it was formidable.

The novels of Harper Lee.
The novels of Harper Lee.(HarperCollins)

The quaint confidence of Aunt Alexandra

Though the perspectives of the two books are different, some passages remain exactly the same. Here the narrator—a third-person observer in Watchman and Scout in Mockingbird—describes Aunt Alexandra’s old-fashioned sensibilities. Amid the litany of descriptions “she was a disapprover” becomes “she was born in the objective case.”

Go Set a Watchman, chapter 3:

To all parties present and participating in the life of the county, however, Alexandra was the last of her kind: she had river-boat, boarding-school manners; let any moral come along and she would uphold it; she was a disapprover; she was an incurable gossip. When Alexandra went to finishing school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not its meaning; she was never bored, and given the slightest chance she would exercise her royal prerogative: she would arrange, advise, caution, and warn.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 13:

To all parties present and participating in the life of the county, Aunt Alexandra was one of the last of her kind: she had river-boat, boarding-school manners; let any moral come along and she would uphold it; she was born in the objective case; she was an incurable gossip. When Aunt Alexandra went to school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not its meaning. She was never bored, and given the slightest chance she would exercise her royal prerogative: she would arrange, advise, caution, and warn.

Coningham v. Cunningham

Both books also contain a charming anecdote about a dispute between the Coninghams and the Cunninghams. Mockingbird drops the word “jape,” which means to jest but had fallen out of usage at the time.

Go Set a Watchman, chapter 4:

…there was a community called Old Sarum populated by two families, separate and apart in the beginning, but unfortunately bearing the same name. The Cunninghams and the Coninghams married each other until the spelling of the names was academic—­academic unless a Cunningham wished to jape with a Coningham over land titles and took to the law. During a controversy of this character, Jeems Cunningham testified that his mother spelled it Cunningham occasionally on deeds and things but she was really a Coningham, she was an uncertain speller, and she was given to looking far away sometimes when she sat on the front porch. After nine hours of listening to the vagaries of Old Sarum’s inhabitants, Judge Taylor threw the case out of court on grounds of frivolous pleading and declared he hoped to God the litigants were satisfied by each having had his public say. They were. That was all they had wanted in the first place.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 16:

Old Sarum, their stamping grounds, was populated by two families separate and apart in the beginning, but unfortunately bearing the same name. The Cunninghams married the Coninghams until the spelling of the names was academic- academic until a Cunningham disputed a Coningham over land titles and took to the law. The only time Jean Louise ever saw Judge Taylor at a dead standstill in open court was during a dispute of this kind. Jeems Cunningham testified that his mother spelled it Cunningham on deeds and things, but she was really a Coningham, she was an uncertain speller, a seldom reader, and was given to looking far away sometimes when she sat on the front gallery in the evening. After nine hours of listening to the eccentricities of Old Sarum’s inhabitants, Judge Taylor threw the case out of court. When asked upon what grounds, Judge Taylor said, “Champertous connivance,” and declared he hoped to God the litigants were satisfied by each having had their public say. They were. That was all they had wanted in the first place.

This March 14, 1963 file photo shows Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "To kill a Mockingbird." The head of a group for Alabama writers says the new book by Harper Lee will help other state authors. Alabama Writer’s Forum executive director Jeanie Thompson says the attention being given to Lee’s long-awaited second novel reflects on other writers in the state. (AP Photo, File)
Harper Lee in 1963.(AP/File Photo)

Mapping Maycomb

Many of the passages we identified give background on the characters and the world around them. We’ve seen the origin of the town’s name above. Here, Lee relates how townspeople tried to map Maycomb. First, the governor tries to find the center point of the town…

Go Set a Watchman, chapter 4:

Governor William Wyatt Bibb, with a view to promoting the domestic tranquillity of the new county, sent out a team of surveyors to locate its exact center and there establish its seat of government: had not Sinkfield made a bold stroke to preserve his holdings, Maycomb would have sat in the middle of Winston Swamp, a place totally devoid of interest.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 13:

Business was excellent when Governor William Wyatt Bibb, with a view to promoting the newly created county’s domestic tranquility, dispatched a team of surveyors to locate its exact center and there establish its seat of government.

…but in both books, he ends up defining it himself…

Go Set a Watchman, chapter 4:

Instead, Maycomb grew and sprawled out from its hub, Sinkfield’s Tavern, because Sinkfield made the surveyors drunk one evening, induced them to bring forward their maps and charts, lop off a little here, add a bit there, and adjust the center of the county to meet his requirements. He sent them packing the next day armed with their charts and five quarts of shinny in their saddlebags—­two apiece and one for the Governor.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 13:

Instead, Maycomb grew and sprawled out from its hub, Sinkfield’s Tavern, because Sinkfield reduced his guests to myopic drunkenness one evening, induced them to bring forward their maps and charts, lop off a little here, add a bit there, and adjust the center of the county to meet his requirements. He sent them packing next day armed with their charts and five quarts of shinny in their saddlebags-two apiece and one for the Governor.

…and it may not have ended up in the right spot after all. Interestingly, Watchman describes the town’s location in terms of travel from the south, whereas Mockingbird measures from the north.

Go Set a Watchman, chapter 4:

Jean Louise could never make up her mind whether Sinkfield’s maneuver was wise; he placed the young town twenty miles away from the only kind of public transportation in those days—­river-boat—and it took a man from the south end of the county two days to journey to Maycomb for store-bought goods. Consequently, the town remained the same size for over 150 years.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 13:

But the ultimate wisdom of Sinkfield’s maneuver is open to question. He placed the young town too far away from the only kind of public transportation in those days—river-boat—and it took a man from the north end of the county two days to travel to Maycomb for store-bought goods. As a result the town remained the same size for a hundred years, an island in a patchwork sea of cottonfields and timberland.

“Two-rut road”

Here the narrator describes Finch’s Landing, an old country house where, in Mockingbird, Atticus’s sister lives with her husband, and where Scout has run-ins with her extended family.

Go Set a Watchman, chapter 5:

One approached it by way of a great clearing some three hundred yards wide extending from the bluff’s edge back into the woods. A two-rut road ran from the far end of the clearing and vanished among dark trees. At the end of the road was a two-storied white house with porches extending around its four sides, upstairs and downstairs.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 9:

Farther down stream, beyond the bluff, were traces of an old cotton landing, where Finch Negroes had loaded bales and produce, unloaded blocks of ice, flour and sugar, farm equipment, and feminine apparel. A two-rut road ran from the riverside and vanished among dark trees. At the end of the road was a two-storied white house with porches circling it upstairs and downstairs.

This is just a sample of the similarities between the two books. To find these overlapping passages, we broke Watchman into chunks of words, and searched the entire text of Mockingbird for those same chunks, allowing for slight variations in spelling and phrasings. We identified several that haven’t been included above, and there are likely many passages with more subtle differences: where words and tenses differ but the meaning of the text is roughly the same.

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