“To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting
the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.
It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but
you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
 — Atticus Finch

(As a side note: in “To Kill A Mockingbird” the reader sees Atticus as a quiet, slow to anger man. We are not aware that Atticus is a man who handles a gun very well. His children do not know that he can handle a gun either until a rabid dog comes into town, and Atticus has to shoot it – point-blank, one shot. Is this a precursor to the future? Do we really know Atticus Finch?)

This week I am reviewing two books: “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee. I read “To Kill A Mockingbird” last October (2015) and looked forward to reading “Go Set A Watchman” this month (January 2016).

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been watching a program on PBS called “Finding Your Roots.” The program covers the Genealogy search for family in the past of celebrities. So far, every person who takes this journey says the same thing, “We never talked about past generations in our family. I don’t know anything about my grandparents, great-grandparents (etc).”

The more I have thought about it, I also know every little about my grandparents and nothing about my great-grandparents and beyond. I don’t know how they survived during the Great Depression. Or who in my family went to war. I don’t know how many generations have lived in the United States or when they came here. (Except my father’s family came to the United States just after my father was born (1921) from Canada.)

What does Genealogy have to do with these two books? Like most of us who “think” we know our families, Scout also thinks she knows her father, Atticus Finch. But in “Go Set A Watchman” Scout has a surprise coming that will shake her world and her faith in her father.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
(Copyright 1960; publisher HarperCollins; Literary Awards: Pulitzer
Prize for Fiction (1961), National Book Award Finalist for Fiction
and Audie Award for Classic (2007); 324 pages)

“To Kill A Mockingbird” is a story of a quiet southern town during the Great Depression. Maycomb, Alabama has a typical small town atmosphere. Everybody knows everyone else. The community watches over all its children big and small. And everyone knows everyone elses’ business.

Even though I did not come from a small southern town, I did come from a small northern town that held the same qualities. One day I was driving home — going “a little faster” than I probably should have (definitely over the speed limit) — a neighbor about a mile from my family’s home saw me go by. By the time I pulled into the driveway — you guessed it — my father was standing on the front step waiting for me. How did that happen, you ask? The neighbor called my parents and told them I was driving too fast on a dangerous road and they needed to slow me down!  A conversation ensured between my father and I; I promised I would never drive by that house again going over the speed limit. And to this day (even though the lady no longer lives there) I still drive the speed limit by that house. However, that does not say I drove the speed limit anywhere else on that road. I salute those who keep an eye on the neighbors children!!

The life of Maycomb County is seen through the eyes of a little girl named Jean Louise Finch – better known as “Scout.” Scout is a precocious 11-year-old tomboy who loves Maycomb County and loves her family more. She idolizes her father Atticus Finch and sees him as perfect. 

Atticus is the town lawyer. Even though Maycomb County is slow-moving, there is always a case for Atticus to work on. In “To Kill A Mockingbird,” a good portion of the story is around the legal case of Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a young, white woman. Atticus takes the case using his knowledge of the law and ease of speech. And throughout the case, Harper Lee interweaves stories of a long, hot summer leading the reader to experience the wonderment and fear of an 11-year-old girl.

I have seen the movie “To Kill A Mockingbird” and it is quite good. But nothing replaces the reading of the book. If you want to see the movie, read the book first. My rating of “To Kill A Mockingbird” (please remember this is my opinion), is a five-star. I loved the book!

“Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee
(Copyright 2015; Published by HarperCollins on July 14, 2015; promoted as the sequel to
“To Kill A Mockingbird,” 275 pages)

I set unreasonable expectations on “Go Set A Watchman.” I expected to pick up the book and begin reading where “To Kill A Mockingbird” left off.  So I was disappointed when I began to read.

“Go Set a Watchman” begins with Jean Louise Finch a, 26-year-old, who has spent several years living and working in New York City. New York City has a much different atmosphere than Maycomb County. The hustle and bustle of a big city does not compare to a slow-paced southern town. While in New York City, Jean Louise experiences the backdrop of civil rights tensions and political turmoil. 

It becomes pretty clear at the beginning of “Go Set A Watchman” that life is not the same as Jean Louise remembers grewing up. Things are different. In fact, through the eyes of a 26-year-old, Jean Louise begins to view her father Atticus in a different way. Is Atticus still the same lawyer fighting for the rights of the blacks in Maycomb County? Or have things changed? 

Jean Louise becomes totally disillusioned by the bigotry in her little Maycomb County community. As a child, Jean Louise does not see the bigotry or violence that goes on around her. Atticus protects both Jean Louise and her brother Jem from the hatred that spreads to both sides of “the track.” So when Jean Louise is confronted by the hostility of the blacks she grew up with, she is surprised and confused. But her confusion increases when she finds a pamphlet called “The Black Plague” among her father’s papers. 

Jean Louise does not understand her father’s behavior or attitude toward the black community. When he leaves the house to go to a “meeting” on a Sunday afternoon, Jean Louise follows him. What she sees and hears turns her world upside-down.

I found “Go Set A Watchman” tiresome in places. I think Jean Louise had too many temper tantrums and fits of anger. She no longer respected her father Atticus, nor did she want to listen to him. I found myself wanting to tell Jean Louise to get “a grip.” I am not going to give away any parts of the story in case you have not read the book. 

Because of my disappointment of the book when I began, I put the book up for about a week. Then went back to it. I decided not to compare “Go Set A Watchman” and “To Kill A Mockingbird”  as a series. I read “Go Set A Watchman” as its own book – not trying to follow a story line, but just read it. For me that worked, and I found “Go Set A Watchman” more interesting. My rating of this book is 3 stars. I probably will not read this book again, but I may change my mind later.

A point of interest: I did some research to see how others viewed both books and found that I am not far off from the general thought. However, what I found interesting was that “Go Set A Watchman” (1957) was written before “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1960).  Over the next few years, Harper Lee began rewriting the book which became “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  Many years later, Harper Lee was encouraged to write a sequel to “To Kill A Mockingbird,” found the manuscript of  “Go Set a Watchman” and rewrote the story that was published in 2015. 

I am very interested in your thoughts about these two books. Drop me a comment.

Today do something that challenges you!


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