Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird & Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly. (Go Set a Watchman – Scout about Atticus) 

I feel the need to start this review off with just an overall observation – I believe To Kill a Mockingbird was required reading in high school.  But, having made the decision to re-read it before working on the sequel I was very surprised with how little of the book I remembered.  Namely, the language used.  I understand that it is reflective of the time in which the story is placed but I was just a little floored by it.  How did that not even make an impression on me as a teen? Are there censored versions out there for high school students? I’m not going to lie, through both of the books there were some passages that were just difficult to read, and I know race division is still very much prevalent in today’s society, I don’t know, the language just still affected me.

Anyhow, the books, obviously To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, it’s one of those books that everyone is expected to have read.  And now, at least, I remember reading it.  Having read the book in conjunction with Go Set a Watchman a couple of things came to light for me.

Apparently Harper Lee submitted Go Set a Watchman for publication before To Kill a Mockingbird, which is actually kind of interesting when you read the book.  I’m not sure which manuscript was ultimately written first, but when reading the sequel there are certain moments/people/locations where the description of such would have been maybe more appropriately placed in the first book.  Or, there was a little bit of repetition.  So, whether the descriptions in the first book are due to being published first or written second potentially I am unsure.  It was just interesting that the level of detail on certain things were found in the second and not the first book.

Also, character development was interesting.  All of a sudden you really wanted to understand Atticus a little bit better because of Scout’s revelations about her fathers character.  (Why does she never call him Dad, was that discussed and I missed it?).  The character of Henry kind of came out of the blue.  In the second books he is described as a close friend of Jem and Scout’s yet he is never mentioned in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I was also kind of bummed that Dill wasn’t in Go Set a Watchman – but he at least is mentioned.

I feel like a book review on these two books could just go on for ages, and I’m not really aiming to do that.  Ultimately, what is pretty intriguing about this is that while written and set decades ago, the race and class division found in these two books is something that is still being sorted through to this day.   You’d think that if Scout’s views of race and class were being developed back then we would have progressed further along as a world with regard to these issues.  But, no, we’ve improved (maybe?) but we’re certainly not as enlightened as the main protagonist was hoping for.

Anyhow, I’d definitely recommend reading or re-reading these books as they still have the ability to teach lessons to us even decades later.


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