To Kill a Mockingbird/Go Set a Watchman Discussion

The first time I read this book, I was in 10th grade, so about 15 — Jesus that was six years ago now. It was a book that we all knew that we were going to read that year. I mean, it was the book you read in 10th grade no matter what in my school district. A student teacher taught us the book. She annoyed me, so the book annoyed me. I grudgingly liked the book, just because I liked it and I didn’t want to like it because the teacher liked it. Not a good motto to have, but oh well. I missed a ton of things the first time I read it and I wasn’t old enough to get the rest of it.

The most prominent theme of this book is the metaphorical death of childhood. I mean, that’s how I interpret the title and the big saying that’s put down once. A sin to kill a mockingbird. To me (and many other literary analysts), the mockingbird represents childhood. And, furthermore, the death of childhood is learning the realities of life.

One of those realities is prejudice. This book presents it in many ways; religion, race, and class are the big ones. Kids are so innocent and unknowing that they don’t understand what they say when they’re parroting what other kids or adults have said around them. I mean, I remember the first time I got in trouble for saying something that could be construed as racist. I was about six or seven. And it was the last time I said anything like that. Kids also have a blind faith that people are good and that adults are right.

Adults are seen through a child’s lens. Especially Atticus. He’s all good, all loyal, all correct. I always think of Oscar Wilde’s quote about parents with Atticus — and most other books with parents as main characters with their kids telling the story: “Children begin by loving their parents; after time they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” Scout sees him as a child does, which is far different than Jean Louise, the woman she becomes in Go Set a Watchman.

I feel like To Kill a Mockingbird has been read by most people who have gone to a public school in America in the last fifty years. I also read this in school. I honestly couldn’t tell you what grade I was in because I don’t remember, and it’s very possible that when I read this in school I didn’t finish it. That’s what I did with 1984 by George Orwell because let’s be honest, reading for class sucks. I decided to finally read To Kill a Mockingbird again because I wanted to see if my thoughts on the book had changed at all. Oh boy, did they. This book is incredible and I wish I had appreciated it more when I first read it.

I listened to the audiobook of Mockingbird because I knew the story. Oftentimes I tune out during audiobooks and that’s the main reason I don’t listen to them often. That being said, I don’t regret listening to the audiobook at all. I’d probably listen to it again because Sissy Spacek is the perfect narrator for this book. If you don’t know who she is, that’s fine, she’s an actress but she read this perfectly. I would highly recommend.

There are three characters I really clung to Scout, the mouthy girl who did what she wanted and gave no shits, Jem, her older brother who had no trouble bossing her around even if she could beat him up, and Dill, the pathological liar who visited them every summer. Honestly, Scout and Dill were my favorites. I loved that Scout rebelled against the gender roles that were being forced upon her. Instead of wearing a dress, she wore overalls and went out to play in the mud. She had an unconventional upbringing and Scout never doubts that she’s doing anything wrong except with her various encounters with Aunt Alexandra who constantly berates her for not being a proper lady. This is a war that frankly, Alexandra is going to lose, Scout is stubborn and set in her ways. She will only change if she wants to. Not under the influence of someone else. My main point to this was that Scout was influenced by her peers and her father most of all. Atticus was very determined to instill values in his children, and he wanted to make sure that he could practice what he preached.

Throughout the book, the myth of Boo Radley follows the three children through the summers as they get more and more curious about the mysterious person who lives down the street. They tell tall tales and turn Boo into a legend rather than see him as a person who never comes outside. This is something children do. When they don’t know the truth about something, they make things up. More than anything, this is a coming of age story and I think that it’s beautiful. Telling the story from the point of view of a child is the reason this book is a classic.

Deep within this coming of age story is a tragedy as well. We see racism from the eyes of a child, someone who doesn’t understand the concept or why it exists. Instead, slurs are thrown around without any thought to how harmful and hateful those words are. However, the biggest example of racism, I believe, comes in the tragedy of Tom Robinson. He is accused of rape by the Ewells. Now, the Ewells are not looked upon favorably in the community of Maycomb and yet, Tom is convicted of this crime despite Atticus’s attempt to discredit the Ewells (which he does) and prove that Tom is incapable of doing the crime (which he was). Unfortunately, despite Atticus’s best effort, Tom is found guilty even when he’s not. It’s a serious injustice that, believe it or not, still goes on today. In addition to that stab in the gut, we are told a story later (that I doubt the truth of), that Tom tried to escape from jail and as a result, he was shot and killed. If he had lost the appeal of the case, he would’ve been sentenced to death for his crime. However, the point is the system failed him because twelve white men did not believe him. The result of the trial upsets Scout and Jem considerably because of the injustice of it all. Their father made sure they knew that those who spat insults at them were wrong. In their eyes, Atticus was a hero.

I’d like to focus on another hero, however. I felt the end where Boo saved Scout and Jem was just a wonderful way to end the story. Finally, Boo materialized in front of them, and Scout specifically saw him as a person. He was no longer a myth or a legend. When Boo asks her to walk him home, my heart did jumping jacks. It was such a sweet moment. He had just saved Scout and Jem from a man who was trying to kill them and was a hero for doing such but he also needed Scout’s strength in that moment. It was a gut punch for me when after that, Scout says that she never saw him again, and then starts to picture things from his point of view echoing what Atticus had told her before. Walk a mile in someone’s shoes to understand them. It’s a lesson I think we are taught, especially at a young age, to not judge someone so quickly. Which is something I think we could benefit in our time, in this moment.

Most people focus on Atticus as the hero — which I agree that he is in this book, but I don’t want us to discuss him yet until we have the full context of the story through Go Set a Watchman — but I like that you bring Boo in. He’s a childhood myth, a legend, the person who has tons of things said about him but no one really knows. I’m not shy about saying that I grew up in a small town. I think that, currently, we have maybe 20,000 people living here. Tops. And, I’ve lived in the neighborhood I was raised in since I was about five. We have someone like Boo Radley who lives there.

The rumor growing up was that he killed his daughter. If I remember right, that is. He killed his daughter and, maybe, her boyfriend and went to jail and is a dangerous recluse. He very rarely leaves the house and he used to be a huge part of a very social neighborhood. It was years later that I found out that he had (again if I remember right) killed someone accidentally in a fight. He had gone to jail for a short time, but that was it.

I could go into great depths about the concept of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, but I know I got emotional at the end of the book because of how beautifully it was described. Lee really captured the transition from childhood to adulthood in one single swoop. You suddenly realize it and see it as very separate from who you are now.

As for Tom Robinson’s case, I don’t see that much has changed from then to now. These miscarriages of justice happen often, as we’re finding out. However, the racism in it has changed. It’s not so overt as it was back then. It’s harder to find, but still present.

Considering that we are seeing the world through the eyes of a young girl, Atticus is absolutely the hero of the story. Scout and Jem idolize him and everything he’s taught them. Then there’s Tom Robinson’s trial which we see him working very hard to prove his innocence. When it ultimately fails, we don’t look at Atticus for the failure. Instead, we blame the system and the jury for their conviction. Atticus did all he could and still, Tom was found guilty.

The unfortunate thing about reading this book in 2017 is how little things have changed when it comes to racism. It hasn’t gone away. I also thought it was interesting that rape was the crime Tom was charged for. I definitely got concerned that there might be some sort of shaming of the girl, that she was asking for it, and that she deserved it. However, it was more than Atticus was discrediting her word rather than insisting it happened and it was consensual. It’s one of those delicate topics and it’s such a huge deal now because women and men aren’t believed when they accuse someone of sexual assault or rape. I wonder if Lee chose rape intentionally because that included the harshest punishment for a black man.

Atticus’ defense of Tom Robinson came down to his ability to actually do the crime, not that she was wrong or lying or anything. Technically, she was lying, but he didn’t take the defense that most defense lawyers do. I think that he wouldn’t have taken the case if he had, to be honest. And, I agree that rape was purposefully chosen. She could have taken murder, but that would have probably ended up in a lynch mob right away. Rape, to me, seems to tie into childhood as well. A type of new adulthood with Scout understanding it.

Exactly. He was trying to prove that it was impossible for Tom Robinson to do the crime, but the blame wasn’t shifted to her. I felt almost as if it was very deliberate and very careful that Atticus chose that as his defense instead of calling her a liar. I remember a passage where it’s mentioned that rape carries a sentence of death, and I thought that was pretty shocking for that time, but I wonder if that was exclusive to this situation. As in, a black man rapes a white woman so he is sentenced to death. I don’t know anything about Alabama law, but I feel like that sentence might not have carried as much weight if it hadn’t been a black man on trial.

I don’t think so. I want to say that it wasn’t until the 60s or 70s that rape was taken off as a death sentence punishment in some cases. Black men were more likely to get it than white, sure, but it was open for everyone. I do think that Atticus was the hero, but I don’t think that his choice to try it came down to him being anti-racism. He was more about justice, as we’ve found out from Go Set a Watchman.

Wonder why that was changed. It was just a thought, but again it was just a guess. I think it’s true that Atticus took the case because he knew Tom was innocent, not because he was a black man. He would’ve defended anyone he thought was innocent and felt it was most important to get justice. That’s probably why he didn’t seem concerned about what people thought about him. They likely knew what he truly believed and that once this case was over, he wouldn’t change in his views. Scout saw her father through rose-colored glasses for her whole life until she turned twenty-six and found out that her father wasn’t the epitome of anti-racism she thought.

I think that’s Atticus’ obsession. Keep things fair and just. You can see that in his racist perspective. I mean, it’s so paternalistic and benevolent. Just like there’s a difference with sexism between hostile and benevolent, there’s a difference with racism. He wants it to all be just. One quote that really stood out to me from TKaM was one that Atticus said at the end of the book:

“Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him… if I connived at something like this, frankly I couldn’t meet his eye, and the day I can’t do that I’ll know I’ve lost him. I don’t want to lose him and Scout because they’re all I’ve got.”

Am I the only one who really takes that quote and spins it in a new way for Watchman? I feel that Watchman is all about this quote in some ways. He’s lost something for Scout/Jean Louise. He can’t look her square in the face and his worry is coming true thanks to the revelation that he’s, well, a racist.

I think that quote says a lot about him especially in the context of Go Set a Watchman where we all come to the realization that he’s a racist when nobody else but Jean Louise is surprised. I find it very interesting that in Go Set a Watchman Atticus wins the case instead of Tom Robinson being convicted and ultimately dying. I thought that was an interesting change because he wins the case, he gets justice, and yet I feel like that doesn’t ultimately change anything. Jean Louise would still be pissed off if she found out her father was a racist no matter what happened then. I think the end of Watchman is very upsetting when Jean Louise is just yelling at him and slamming him for his views on race and he’s just so calm as if he expected this to happen one day. Then she leaves and all he says is, “I love you,” because he doesn’t want to lose her but if she’s going to walk away those are going to be his last words to her. At least, that was the way I interpreted it, but I can’t imagine that was easy for him and I think he understood how she was feeling.

The change Lee made to have Atticus lose the case was a very good choice. It’s more realistic for what would have happened. But, he’d probably have been lynched anyways. I think that she’s so shocked because, as her uncle told her, she confused her conscience and morality with Atticus’. And then Atticus became God. And then she had to destroy him to actually form a relationship with him as a person. Which is what she does now, and it is true. Atticus will love her forever and that whole scene where she was just reaming into him is so hard to read. It caused me acute pain since we’ve all had those moments with our parents, haven’t we? Where we just want to shout and make them understand how wrong they are. Atticus saw this coming.

I absolutely agree. I think Mockingbird is far more compelling because Atticus lost the case. In Watchman, there is a brief mention of the case and that Atticus won but we never hear anything more about Tom Robinson. In both scenarios, it’s likely very true that he ends up dying which is just heartbreaking. Especially because we are led to believe that he is innocent. There is nothing that says otherwise. In order to have a true relationship with her father, it’s important that she knows who he is. We can accept that he’s a racist and a segregationist, but he’s still a good person. I know that’s very hard to think about and say in a time filled with black and white perspectives, but it’s true. Just because Atticus has views that I completely disagree with, doesn’t take away the fact that he’s a good person. I think Jean Louise has to recognize that and she does. Her relationship with her father and Maycomb as a whole change because she finally sees it and him for who they are.

If Atticus won, Tom likely would have still been lynched. I agree that it’s heartbreaking, but it’s the reality of the situation. Deep South in the 30s. What I disagree with you about is that Atticus is a good man. He’s done good things, but he still doesn’t want a section of the population to succeed in life because “they [white people] have given them enough already.” That’s what Atticus’ mindset is. However, I think that he’s like most people: A mix of good and bad. A human who has beliefs that are good and bad. And, Jean Louise does have to be that. She always thought that Maycomb wasn’t great, but now she sees that her father is a product of how he was raised. He was raised there and had that racist perspective around him, although his was better/more palatable. Jean Louise was raised in a house that wasn’t racist and taught people to love others. She just didn’t realize that this stopped at black people having the same opportunities white people did.

I also failed to mention that Atticus is proud of Jean Louise for coming to her own opinion on race and segregation and standing up for those views. I think that shows that he knew this was inevitable and was likely why he didn’t fight back with her. On the subject of Tom, I agree. I, unfortunately, think his fate was sealed the moment he was accused. The people of Maycomb didn’t care one way or the other. However, we as the audience through Scout’s perspective see them as the Other. As different from her family when it turns out they aren’t so different from the people they are surrounded by. I struggle to see Atticus as a bad person, and that’s why I said he was a good person. Perhaps that’s just me falling into the trap that people have to be one or the other. I don’t deny that he is a mix of both, but I felt he was written as a likable character because, despite his beliefs, I came out of Watchman still liking him as a person. This is despite the fact that if I lived in his lifetime, he would’ve thought of me as lesser. Is that because of the skewed point of view we got in Mockingbird, probably, but I still think he is a great character and a complex person.

I don’t struggle to see Atticus as a good person, but I struggle like you to see him as bad. However, I think he’s morally grey. Like all of us. He is a likable character, someone to admire. Even when you don’t admire him for his beliefs after Watchman, you can still admire him for allowing Jean Louise to form her own opinions even though he keeps his own. Or, perhaps, he’ll listen to her and change his mind. We don’t know, do we? All we know is that Jean Louise accepts him for who he is and loves him for being her father. I gain more of an appreciation for him in Watchman, although I keep the rose-tinted glasses of Mockingbird.

I think that’s the point, that Jean Louise accepts him horrible views and all, and that’s completely normal. We don’t choose our family and Atticus is in his 70’s, I think, so he’s likely not going to change, but Jean Louise might be able to change Hank’s mind and if she ever had children, she would teach them differently. I will always choose Mockingbird over Watchman, but I appreciate the discussions that came from Watchman. But why did she have to kill Jem?

See, I don’t see Hank (Jean Louise’s boyfriend for those reading this without any knowledge) as a racist. He’s only voting and going to those things for approval, but he doesn’t believe them himself. But, Atticus probably wouldn’t change his mind and they’d have to deal with it. I don’t know why she killed Jem!! I was so damn distressed over that one. Mainly because I forgot.

I would agree that Hank isn’t a racist, but he’s not willing to stand up for his beliefs and I understand why. He doesn’t want to be further ostracized, but it’s possible that could change if Jean Louise ended up marrying him. Which I have no idea whether that would happen or not, but I know that if she had any children she would instill values in them that she herself believes in. It’s really hard to change someone’s mind period, but especially if they are constantly surrounded by validation that their views are correct. Killing Jem was just cruel. Maybe the dynamic of the book would’ve been different with him around, but at least we have fond memories of him in Mockingbird.

He’s trash, so why be black-loving trash as well? I still am on the fence about whether she’ll stay in Maycomb. I don’t think she’d be able to do it, no matter how much she loves Atticus or Hank. I think that Dr. Finch, their uncle, filled Jem’s role in this. And having a much older person who knew Atticus was almost better than the bias of an older brother who lived with you. Jean Louise might not have listened to him as she did her uncle. And, what do you think of Aunt Alexandra?

She repeats over and over that she can’t beat them but she won’t join them and I think she’ll stick to that. It’s very likely that she’ll go back to New York when her time is up. I get that. She doesn’t fit in and I’d argue she never fit in. She was always meant to move away and I think that suits her. Dr. Finch, other than slapping the shit out of Jean Louise, provided some great advice in the end. I would agree that she had someone else who knew Atticus all his life to put things in perspective for her. Aunt Alexandra sucks. She’s very closed-minded, but a product of her time and age I suppose.

Dr. Finch was probably my favorite character. He also took Atticus’ role, honestly. And Aunt Alexandra totally is a mix between the prim southern woman and the oddities that the other Finch’s are. And, I still don’t know if she really buys some of the things she says or believes. Perhaps she’s trying to fit in since, as they repeated in both books, she was all about keeping the Finch name good and proper.

Scout/Jean Louise was still my favorite character in both books. I do wish that Watchman had been completely in first person perspective, but as it was basically a draft I don’t mind as much. Aunt Alexandra just got on my nerves, but I think ultimately she meant well. I think we both agreed that the scene with Calpurnia, the maid who raised the Finch children, in Watchman was heartbreaking.

I agree with you. She’s a great character no matter what age while Aunt Alexandra grates on you no matter what. Cal is another amazing character that doesn’t get analyzed nearly as much as she should. I mean, she is black, probably knew what Atticus thought deep down, and she raised those kids herself. And she still loved them, even though there was the power play based into the relationship.

I absolutely agree that Cal probably knew what Atticus really thought and I think it’s interesting that she stayed around so long, likely for Scout and Jem. I know it mentions in Watchman that she was devastated when Jem died. I think it’s very likely they spent more time with Calpurnia when they were children than their own father. She was the only motherly figure they had since their mother died. It was just really sad for her to shut Jean Louise out when she reached out to her even though I understand it. She was always an Other in their house and not part of the family.

Cal was their mom, honestly. Aunt Alexandra tried to replace that, but obviously couldn’t. Perhaps why Scout/Jean Louise has such empathy for black people. She was raised by one. If she had been raised by Aunt Alexandra from the start or her mother hadn’t died, it would be different. I can’t blame Cal for doing that, just like you. The racism in the town was getting worse and Atticus was at the center, the most prominent and respected individual in the town saying it’s okay to keep her and her grandchildren from reaching their full potential.

I agree. It would’ve been a lot different if Aunt Alexandra had raised them since they were small, but she didn’t. Cal did and I think it absolutely shaped Scout and Jem, even if Jem died young, I think that sometimes having someone close to you that is different than you helps you have empathy for them. It was telling how Jean Louise went to Cal after hearing about her grandson, and she went there to see if she was okay. But she wasn’t and I’m sure it hurt very much that Atticus was taking a stand against her and her family.

I thought it was interesting that the only reason why Atticus did help Cal – even slightly – was because Jean Louise was there. Did you catch that, too? Hank started saying that he thought Atticus told him that they weren’t going to help blacks anymore and Atticus shut him up because Jean Louise was there.

I actually missed that slip-up. I do think it’s odd now that I look back on it. It makes a lot of sense that he would change his tune now that Jean Louise was around. It makes sense that he would try and keep up the illusion for her.

Which makes me think that he already knew she had a differing opinion than him on this. And that the inevitable moment where they part beliefs (or supposed beliefs) was going to happen.

I agree with you. I think Watchman provides a good look at what Harper Lee’s original intentions were and how she viewed Atticus at the time. However, I’m so glad Mockingbird was the ultimate result.

As am I, although I’m happy that the manuscript was published so we could see the full view of the story.

5 thoughts on “To Kill a Mockingbird/Go Set a Watchman Discussion

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