The most helpful negative review (1 star) chastises Harper Lee’s writing, dialog and character development while pointing out discrepancies between the two books and unresolved plot threads.
The most helpful positive review (4 stars) echoes my own sentiments on the book.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books of all time. Part of that is the author’s voice and writing, but most of it revolves around the characters. It’s hard not to be amused with Scout’s antics–especially for us tomboys–and who doesn’t love Atticus Finch for what he represents? A man who is willing to battle for the underdog and win.
Most of the controversy surrounding the book, and the primary reason why people don’t like it, is because we find out more about Atticus’s character. Just like Jean Louise (she’s mostly lost her nickname now that she’s 26), we are horrified when we think Atticus might be racist. Like Jean Louise, we have worshipped his character for years and years. We grew up thinking he was a hero. And he was a hero.
And here’s where the book really works, especially from a Christian standpoint. No person is perfect. We, like Jean Louise, have set Atticus Finch up as an idol. That is to say, we have in our heads who we think he is, so that when we find out more about him, it can only lead to disappointment.
People criticize Harper Lee for not being consistent to Atticus’s character. Are you kidding me? She created his character! She knows more about Atticus than any of us. And she knew that what Atticus loved more than anything else was the law and justice. It was his love for the law that led him to help Tom Robinson even though he was a black man, a noble thing for him to do at the time. Had he loved the law and justice less, he wouldn’t have done it.
My father was born in 1919. He died when I was little, but his views on race were based on his upbringing. He was no Atticus Finch. During the date and time Go Set a Watchman was written, race was a huge issue. It is a testament to Atticus’s legacy that Jean Louise was more color blind that he was. I think that’s we pass onto our children – for the next generation to be more color blind than ours.
Houston is the most culturally diverse city in the US (even more than NY, if you can believe it). Our schools reflect this – they are truly a melting pot of civilization. I love that when my oldest daughter was in first grade, she mentioned a boy in her class had celebrated Chinese New Year. When we asked her if he was Chinese, her answer was, “I don’t know. I’ve never heard him speak Spanish!”
Or when my children were sitting in the back of our car one day and one said to the other, “Hey, we’re black girls!” Swallowing, I asked them what they meant. The answer? “We’re both wearing black shirts and black pants.” Children are born colorblind and learn to be racist.
For me, the best parts of Go Set A Watchman was its testament to history. The things Harper Lee describes are places I’ve never been, and things I’d never seen. It’s a completely different culture and time for today, this little capsule of history that she’s created. Much better than any historical novelist could do trying to live today and go back and recreated what happened back then. She captures the pulse of small town American in a racially antagonistic time. And religion is part of that culture, integrated into the book as a whole.
While I have no way of knowing if she intended it to be, the Christian message is also there. Harper Lee reminds us through Scout that there was only one perfect man who lived on Earth, and His name wasn’t Atticus Finch. When our loved ones disappoint us, we have the choice to accept them for their fallibilities and move on. So for the people who can’t or won’t reconcile Atticus’s character, I wonder what that means when you encounter fallibilities in real life people? Something to consider…
NOW YOU: HAVE YOU READ GO SET A WATCHMAN? WHAT DID YOU THINK? OR ARE YOU SWEARING IT OFF? IF SO, HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL TO KNOW THAT THERE WAS MORE TO ATTICUS’S CHARACTER THAN MEETS THE EYE?