Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Review: Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

If you don’t want Atticus Finch shoved from his pedestal, put this book down.

You may wonder once you’ve read this post, why I gave Go Set a Watchman four stars on Goodreads. I gave it that because for the first 60% it made me feel, and for the last 40% it made me angry and it made me think. So, while I may not love it for what I’ve detailed below, I love it for making me feel.

There be spoilers ahead.

Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her. Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic.”

Go Set A Watchman is emotional, punchy, well-written… It’s also a patronising argument over the rights of people of colour.

It broke me.

It’s a novel of two halves: one that shouts down racism, and one that is still racists despite ‘liberal’ views.

Scout – I think – supports racial equality, although I did not get the sense that she thought all races are equal. Atticus is a racist, who believes people of colour are intellectually inferior to white people. He is representative of the colonial mindset.

Scout came so close to being revolutionary, she says some fantastic things to her father – compares him to Hitler! However, she isn’t a liberal angel.

It was devastating when she went to see Calpernica, I cried as she was (understandably) rejected. Yet, visiting Calpernica is all almost all you read of anyone who isn’t white. Scout complains about the ignored voiced of the black community, yet Harper Lee silences them in favour of Scout’s ranting. It’s hard to appreciate this as a novel about family when so much of it sits on a base of race, one where only the white get their say.

Scout is forced into a position where she needs to accept the views of her community even when she is so vehemently against them. That it is her job to stay and rile against them. She is treated like a child by every single person in Maycomb and it enraged me. I am Angry that her views were patronised and angry that Scout decided she had been unfair in her outbursts. When it comes to something as severe as Atticus’s racism, he deserved what he got.

I wanted Go Set A Watchman to feel like To Kill a Mockingbird, but I wasn’t reading the innocent mind of a child anymore. Much like Scout breaks from Atticus, my conscience has broken from Harper Lee.

There is so much to love in this book, but it’s all clouded by the racism. If I were being optimistic, I would say Scout was on her journey to be truly inclusive, but she isn’t there yet.

I don’t think the ‘of its time’ argument can be applied here as ‘we’ve’ chosen to publish it now. If it would have been radical to a 50s world perhaps it should stay there.

I want to read it again, and I don’t. I feel conflicted. Am I the only one?

11 thoughts on “Review: Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

  1. This is a great review. I have been on the fence as to whether or not I should read it, but I think I will. I find it interesting that this was written BEFORE To Kill a Mockingbird, and respect Harper Lee’s vision for the characters, even if it is disappointing. It seems realistic for the time and place. I still love TKAM for what it is, and don’t find it any less pure or innocent. It is the world (albeit a very small world) seen through the eyes of a child, and this includes her perception of her beloved father.
    Perhaps I will feel differently about all of this once I have read it. It’s not out here yet, unfortunately. 😦


  2. The part with Calpurnia sounds just devastating but also really thought-provoking — I’m excited to get to that bit. From what I’ve read so far (about a third of the book at the front, plus the last two chapters), and what other people have said, I think the book’s going to be less finished in its thought than I want it to be. But perhaps a useful corrective to the white-savior-story trope.


  3. I’ve been hearing so much about Watchman and I’ll probably get around to reading it when the noise has died down a bit. I’ve been interested in people’s reactions to the racism. I heard someone on an American podcast say that because she ‘trusted’ Mockingbird Atticus, she thought that Watchman Atticus must have had a good reason for holding his views on race, and just because he holds ‘traditional views’, that doesn’t make him racist. All of that made me recoil in horror. I think Mockingbird Atticus is kind of imprinted on our minds and some people find it hard to see Watchman as the first draft of a whole other novel? If people can’t SEE the racism for themselves, well, that’s a bit scary.


    1. I read that too! I was horrified. I think that maybe, Lee could actually be saying that, but it doesn’t – as a reader – make it excusable. Which totally spins my view of Harper Lee on its head.

      I will look forward to your review!


  4. Really interesting review. I’m enjoying reading / hearing peoples thought on this novel. I am unsure how I feel about it even being published, many arguments for and against I know…


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