Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of Atticus Finch, a small-town Alabama lawyer who risks ostracism and violence to defend an obviously innocent African American man against a false charge of rape; the tale is narrated by Finch’s tomboy daughter, Scout. More than half a century after its publication, it remains one of the most popular works in the American canon. Yet some readers have objected over the years to what they deemed to be an excessively saintly portrayal of Finch. It turns out that prior to writing To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee wrote a different novel—featuring most of the same characters but set about two decades later—in which she wrestles with some of the ambiguities and shadows she tiptoes around in To Kill a Mockingbird. In Go Set a Watchman, Scout is forced to face harsh realities about race relations and about her family’s complicity in an ugly system when she finds her father at a White Citizens’ Council meeting planning resistance to racial integration. William Faulkner and Ralph Ellison wrote more profoundly than Lee about race in America, and Flannery O’Connor had a sharper eye for the South. Still, the grace and sincerity of Lee’s fiction have helped sharpen the consciences of millions of readers; many writers have published far more to far less effect.
In This Review
In This Review
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