Essay on Gender Stereotypes in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

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The novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee takes place in country Alabama during the aftermath of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Gender roles and the marginalization of women are a recurring and significant element in the novel. During this time people began to examine their roles in society, one of which is the moral obligation of a woman, especially the proper manners of both young girls and women. Lee perceptively shines a constructive light on the issue of societal expectations and how degrading forcing feminine behaviors on girls from a young age is. Lee represents the societal issues through the eyes and experiences of a young, naïve girl. The main character of which the novel revolves around is a six-year-old girl: Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout. Scout refuses the frills and flounces that match the elegance of young girls. Rather, she prefers boyish attires, games, and fights. This is not expected of her in this society. Since the passing of her mother, Scout seems to be absent when it comes to being in touch with herself and her emotions, so in response to that, she juggles from one corner to the other, essentially challenging dominant gender roles; which creates issues between Scout and the people of Maycomb.

Lee’s depiction of different marginalized groups within Maycomb’s society immediately intrigues and antagonizes the readers. Events throughout the book are narrated by both a young and an older, more retrospective Scout reflecting on her childhood. Accustomed to a quiet and relatively monotonous routine, Scout finds adjusting to an ever-changing society difficult and alienating. Scout has very prominent male characteristics. A significant moment in the novel where this trait is shown is her involvement and initiation of physical altercations with her classmates. 'Catching Walter Cunningham in the schoolyard gave [Scout] some pleasure, but when I was rubbing his nose in the dirt Jem came by and told me to stop. 'You're bigger than he is,' he said. Traditionally, young girls do not participate in fistfights. Instead, there are assumptions that girls play with dolls and wear dresses. However, Scout participates in many brawls and finds joy in beating her classmates. When Scout fights with Walter Cunningham, Jem, her older brother, feels obligated to discipline Scout and stop the fight. The reaction Jem had is significant because usually, it is the women who rebuke men for fighting. The importance of this moment in the novel was Lee’s use of fist fighting to create a masculine aura for Scout.

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Scout doesn’t conform to gender roles and is upset when she is made to. As she grows up, she has to begin attending Maycomb’s local school. On her first day, she is forced to wear a dress, much to her displeasure. She feels uncomfortable in it and unlike herself. However, she did not get a choice in what to wear because feminine clothing was what was deemed appropriate. Scout is almost always in the presence of Jem and Dill, and as they all grow, Scout finds herself on the receiving end of the comments from the others, “Scout, I’m telling you for the last time, shut your trap or go home – I declare to the lord you’re gettin’ more like a girl every day”. When she warns her brother against sneaking out at night and accepting foolish dares, he retaliates with negative comments, fuelled by gender prejudices insinuating that girls are frail and easily frightened. Scout ensures she stays silent and to not voice any more concerns in case she is prevented from hanging out with the boys. As time passes, she is further distanced from Jem and Dill, who begin to reject her from their adventures and spend all their time together. This brings Scout into closer development with another female character featured in the novel, Miss Maudie Atkinson.

Miss Maudie is the children’s neighbor who becomes friends with Scout after she begins to be left out of games. Miss Maudie is incredibly optimistic and sees the good in every moment. When Miss Maudie’s house is involved in a housefire, she states, “Always wanted a smaller house, Jem Finch. Gives me more yard. Just think, I’ll have more room for my azaleas now!” She is a strong female figure whom Scout respects and trusts for advice, unlike the other ladies in the town, who spend their time negatively discussing others’ lives and problems. Further, in the novel, Miss Maudie supports Scout in understanding the world better, and does not treat her as a naïve child; Scout confides in her and values her opinions, and Miss Maudie becomes the mother figure that Scout has been longing for. Miss Maudie is disgusted by the prejudiced opinions of people and does not subscribe to them. She supports Scout when she is faced by her Aunt who knowingly forces Scout into stereotypical assumptions about being a woman.

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Essay on Gender Stereotypes in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. (2024, February 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
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