Review: ‘Go Set a Watchman’ by Harper Lee

(Warning: this contains spoilers to ‘Go Set a Watchman’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’)

It’s pretty hard to talk about this novel without talking about the author herself. Harper Lee became famous when she published her first and (until recently) only novel named ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in 1960. This was perfectly published in a time when racial tensions in the US were heavily tensioned. People fell instantly in love with it, and has since become a massively iconic piece of literature addressing both childhood, prejudice, and loss of innocence in the world. Even today, it still captivates readers and has become the definition of a perfect novel over the decades. The protagonists (specifically Atticus Finch, Scout, and Jem), are perfect, the story timeless, and the novel an amazing experience.

Like everyone else though, I felt very conflicted when it was revealed an older Harper Lee decided to release the sequel she wrote for it decades ago. On one hand, it would be nice to see our favorite characters again, but on the other hand it may ruin our view on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. And after reading it only three weeks after being published my opinion may anger future readers of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ to the point of them spamming me with hate mail.

I thought it was okay.

Twenty years after the events of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Scout Finch has changed from a tomboyish six year-old into a tomboyish twenty-six year-old. Living in an apartment in New York City, Scout (now referred throughout the novel as her birth name, Jean Louise) visits her hometown of Maycomb County, Alabama to say hello to her aging father, the iconic protagonist Atticus Finch. While staying for the week, she meets up with an old childhood friend and lover named Henry ‘Hank’ Clinton (who keeps proposing to her throughout the novel), does her best to tolerate her aging Southern belle Aunty Alexandra, and discovers how much Maycomb County has changed, but remained the same since her departure.

I knew people were polarized about ‘Go Set a Watchman’ but this is ridiculous.

Before going on with this, I should bring up two things that may shock the reader(s). Firstly, ‘Go Set a Watchman’ is the original draft of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, and some argue whether or not Harper Lee, who now lives blind and deaf in a nursing home, would have allowed this to be published. I could go on and on about this in another post, but I have to bring up the second most shocking thing about this: in the end of the novel, most reviewers see the beloved Atticus character as a bigot.

I said it, but let me explain: in the second half of the novel, Jean Louise learns that her father is part of a Citizens’ Councils meeting in Maycomb, and she witnesses him in a meeting. And after seeing a local politician at the meeting give an atrociously racist speech, she grows horrified and confused when Atticus defends himself for going. On one hand, he explains that he uses it to know his opponents, and even speaks that everyone is entitled to his own opinions, which leads to Jean Louise looking at Atticus as less of a perfect person and more of a human being.

While I do like the idea they were going for, it could’ve been presented in a better light. Atticus is remembered throughout literature because he is the character that was so compassionate, so inspiring, so powerful, that he redefined what makes a character human. And to see him do something like that, even if it could’ve been for good intentions, made him seem a bit off.

The novel has more continuity errors that the publishers should’ve looked at. In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Atticus was able to prove Tom Robinson’s innocence, but the jury still convicted him, and it ended up with Tom being killed trying to escape prison. In ‘Go Set a Watchman’ however, it’s stated that Tom was acquitted and that’s it.

Okay, I’ve vented off all my angry attitudes to the problems of this novel, so what is good about it. Honestly, everything else. ‘Go Set a Watchman’ does a fantastic job at characterizing Scout into an older young woman in the 1950’s. Instead of a tomboyish girl in Depression-era Alabama under Jim Crow, we see a tomboyish woman in post-WWII America in the midst of the sexual revolution and the Civil Rights movement. I really love how we still see the Scout in Jean Louise, but still see her as a more mature person. It’s very new and refreshing to read.

Probably my most favorite sections of the novel involve the flashbacks to her growing up. We watch Scout, Dill, and Jem transform into teenagers, and see them interact with others in school. We see Scout have her first kiss and think she’s pregnant, then accidentally become part of a prank (these situations make me barely breathe due to me laughing so hard XD). These flashbacks are nostalgic and probably the greatest parts of ‘Go Set a Watchman’. If the entire novel were like this, I would not be reviewing this book.

So do I hate the novel? Absolutely not. While the situations the characters go through are contradictory to their personalities, everyone in the entire world has to admit it is wonderful to read the characters we knew and love in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, especially in a different time. While this novel doesn’t have a good plot, I didn’t mind it for the most part. Some would argue otherwise, but to me, I felt like going to a family reunion. While ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is superior in every way to this novel, it wouldn’t hurt the average fan to read this and form their own conclusion. After all, I do like the message this novel was going for: no matter what the issue is, everyone is entitled to their opinion.


If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

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