This is part two of my commentary on Harper Lee’s novels.  You can read the first part here.  The first post focused on Mockingbird’s themes of prejudice.   This post will focus on the differences and/or similarities between To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman.  

Each of Harper Lee’s two novels are products of their time, by which I mean the time they were published.  Yes, it is not by design that Go Set A Watchman was published nearly fifty-five years to the day that To Kill a Mockingbird was, but they each seem to match their tones to the times that we are living in.  Dealing with Scout Finch as an adult, we see her return to Macomb after living for some time in New York.  She is there exposed to her family and friends, who have not changed, but who she can now see are far different from herself.  This has a profound impact on her throughout the book.

When I set out to read this novel, it was with the full intention of writing a compare and contrast post.  I was slightly dampened in my enthusiasm by the foreknowledge that Atticus was portrayed as a racist.  My first thought, as I wrote in the previous blog post on To Kill a Mocking bird, was that perhaps he had always been so, but his behaviour in the first novel was such that he was trying to set a good example for his children.  I seem to have, in part, been proven right.  Atticus is very much the same character we saw in To Kill a Mockingbird, a force for justice.  Unfortunately. we can see him not only from the sense of several children, but working within the scope of a rapidly changing political climate.  Such change is never easy, nor is it without its detractors.  Atticus says to Scout (or Jean Louise as she prefers to be called) that he is all for change, but it is coming too fast.  This is a viewpoint that I cannot share with him, but am a tad more understanding of it because he is seventy-two.

Scout is very much as she has always been, stubbornly independent and not afraid to speak her mind.  Yes, she might have unwillingly embraced her womanhood, and even considered marriage, but she is still someone who will do the right thing, and what she wants.  She will not just adhere to the status quo.  This causes problems for her in the latter part of the book when she finds out that her father is consorting with racists and Citizen’s Boards. It is a rude awakening for her, and for us, the reader.  She has always seen her father as a good man who would never be involved with these people, but she is wrong.  She has the hardest time dealing with this because of her own views on the matter, fixed in childhood, that everyone should be treated equally.

It is very funny to hear the phrase “State’s rights’ in this context as it is something that we are still hearing a lot about regarding other contemporary controversial issues (same sex marriage, abortion rights, voting rights), but it underlines the connection between the times that such stories are published.  In 1960 when Mockingbird was first published, it was a time of great hope for civil rights. Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King was still about, spreading his word and leading marches.  Less than half a decade later, the Civil Rights Amendment was passed.  This was the decade that probably most exemplifies that now defunct idea of “American exceptionalism.’  JFK, RFK, the moon landing, great strides in human rights . . . It makes sense that Mockingbird left us with a sort of hopeful feeling.  No, Tom Robinson did not win his trial, but the parts were moving to where a black man on trial was not automatically presumed guilty.  Things were getting better, if slowly.  Watchman, on the other hand, shows that there is still a great struggle to overcome before equality would be a foregone conclusion.  If the treatment of black people by police is any indication, there is still a long way to go.


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