Reading Harper Lee

Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman

by Claudia Durst Johnson


Harper Lee's recently published Go Set a Watchman offers students a new opportunity to study themes originally presented in her renowned first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

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Cover image for Reading Harper Lee

May 2018


Pages 183
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics The Arts/American Literature
  American History/Race and Ethnicity

The first book-length study of Harper Lee's two novels, this is the ultimate reference for those interested in Harper Lee's writing, most notably as it considers race, class, and gender.

To Kill a Mockingbird is timeless, continuing to be a favorite among both students and adults. One million copies are sold every year, and it remains one of the books most often taught in school. This companion guide helps students to better understand the complex themes of race, class, and gender that were first introduced in To Kill a Mockingbird and remain relevant in Go Set a Watchman, which both challenges and mirrors the topics discussed in Lee's first novel.

A literary scholar and a friend of Harper Lee herself, author Claudia Durst Johnson brings a unique perspective to Lee's texts. The book provides a historical background of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement as well as an analysis of the widespread censorship of Lee's works. Chapters provide important context for topics such as racial issues, women's issues, and class divisions in the Deep South and serve as discussion points that give students a starting point for their research; similarly, teachers who struggle with how to introduce students to these challenging but timely topics will appreciate the wealth of knowledge this companion guide will deliver.


  • Assists students as they strive to better understand complex issues of race, class, and gender that remain relevant topics of discussion
  • Provides a needed and updated student guide on Harper Lee's writing
  • Assesses Lee's iconic characters and helps readers to comprehend the controversy surrounding the character flaws of Atticus Finch
  • Offers a personal perspective written by a friend of Harper Lee
Author Info

Claudia Durst Johnson, PhD, is a writer and professor emeritus from the University of Alabama. Her books include To Kill a Mockingbird: Threatening Boundaries, Understanding to Kill a Mockingbird, and numerous other works on subjects such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, daily life in colonial America, and American theatre. She won a Choice Award for her book American Actress: Perspective on the Nineteenth Century.

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