A Sin to Kill a Mockingbird?


In 2015 I wrote an article anticipating the publication of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, written before but set after To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s death, soon after its appearance, raised concerns about whether the novel she hid for 55 years should have been printed in her old age, suggesting that she had been coerced into publication. The book itself did not meet with universal praise, although most criticism was aimed not at the quality of the writing but at the change in the character Atticus Finch.

Now that the dust has settled, I thought it would be worth taking another look. It is, undoubtedly, a ‘good read’, although this time it is not narrated by youthful, naïve ‘Scout’ but by her older self, Jean Louise, who lives away and is only visiting Maycomb. She sees through adult eyes and judges in a way that her younger self did not. Now, being critical of the attitudes of others, she is unaware of her own shortcomings.

The biggest and most difficult aspect to come to terms with is indeed the alteration in Atticus Finch. Scout’s view of him as a learned, wise and compassionate father became ours. Now Atticus is infirm, and even worse, he is attending white supremacy meetings. There is some attempt to contextualise, but Lee does not satisfactorily explain how the man who defended Tom Robinson with such empathy and eloquence could now be his inverse. Similarly, Calpurnia, the reliable housekeeper and important influence on the young Scout, is now hostile towards her. Change came to Maycomb County, as everywhere, but it does not make easy reading.

In some ways, Watchman is the novel where the characters are more rounded and the flaws are out in the open but there was something very special about the view of the world which Lee gave us through the eyes of an inquisitive young girl and I can’t help wishing that she had preserved that.

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I have been working for Oxford Open Learning since 2010 and love helping my students with their English and History courses. As a teacher and personal tutor, I have taught pupils from all around the world, aged from three to adult. I am often to be found with my head in a book and sometimes I have four or five on the go at the same time. I love learning about History and Art and am passionate about literature.

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