This essay uses insights from Southern and childhood studies—particularly Robin Bernstein’s performative theories of racial innocence—to analyze Lee’s newly complicated contributions to understanding US racial histories. I argue that where To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), following American literary tradition, offers child-embodied racial innocence as a solution to injustice, Go Set a Watchman (2015) excoriates it as the problem. Deliberately and forcefully violating childlike trust in Atticus Finch’s racial paternalism, Lee in Watchman invites readers into what for many of her contemporaries, and ours, is uncharted territory: confronting racial injustice not as a black body in pain, or in a despised white Other, but as a system of white power embodied in the self. The extent to which childhood racial innocence is allowed to be ruined in each novel, and the manner of the rage this ruination occasions, offer an important lens into the desires, and the perceived needs, of contemporary readers in both 1960 and 2015.

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