Oh, the sensitivities that emerged this week when Go Set a Watchman was released! My social network feeds were clogged with declarations of betrayal by Harper Lee, refusals to read the book and assurances that Lee was taken advantage of in her old age: No wonder this was never published before. Harper Lee never would have destroyed our hero and icon Atticus Finch and all he has come to mean to us!
But if Mockingbird was a racial treatise in 1960 when it was published, Watchman is no less relevant in 2015. Rather than a pat on the back for how far us White Southerners have come, Watchman reminds us that our history with racism is complicated and the tendrils run deep. The racial attitude of Atticus Finch (and Jean Louise, if we are honest) are believable depictions of this world of 1950’s Maycomb, Alabama that Lee has so eloquently built. And the book provides the influences around it: junk science about the inferior intellect of African Americans, fear of sharing resources with them and anger at the Yankees for imposing their way of life on Southern America. If Mockingbird gave us a White Southern Racial hero, Watchman makes him more human.