The Harper Lee Cover-Up

Much has been written about Harper Lee’s lost companion to To Kill A Mockingbird, titled Go Set a Watchman, and its transformation of Atticus Finch from a symbol of liberal humanism into a dyed in the wool Jim Crow racist. Every word and even the book’s jacket has been scrutinized. So, here’s my two cents.

I recently received a call from the son of a ’40s–’50s-era jacket designer who believed that the new jacket was influenced by his father’s recognizable work. In fact, there appears to be two significant influences—that of Shirley Smith, designer of the first edition (below, top) published in 1960, and George Salter, whose calligraphic lettering and airbrush rendering defined the jacket style of the postwar era until Paul Bacon’s “big book” style took hold.

The Watchman cover, designed by Jarrod Taylor at HarperCollins, is clearly an homage to the original, from its calligraphic title to the old tree (presumably where Boo Radley left gifts for Scout). The recreation has a nostalgic quality that also suggests continuity, although it is not clear whether this is a prequel, sequel or first draft. More confusing, however, is the symbolism of the title Go Set a Watchman, which derives from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in the King James Bible: “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” (Isaiah 21:6.)

 

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