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Gender and Power in Harper Lee’s

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, charts the development of a young Southern girl from a childhood of innocence and freedom to an awareness of cruelty, evil, and the limitations and constraints of her position in her culture. The first-person narrative of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch reveals her unusually perceptive account of three significant years of her childhood.

The setting of the novel, a small town in Alabama during the mid-1930s, and the central conflict, the trial of a Black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, create an intersection of the issues of race, class, and gender as Lee explores the dynamics of racial prejudice, Depression-era poverty, and genteel Southern womanhood. The novel begins in the summer before Scout enters the first grade. Scout is a tough little tomboy who spends her days playing with her older brother Jem and her evenings reading with her father, Atticus Finch. Fiercely independent, Scout resists any kind of limitations placed upon her.

The author establishes Scout’s carefree existence in order to dramatize all that threatens to destabilize her protected view of herself and her community. Atticus Finch will defend Tom Robinson in his trial for the alleged rape of Mayella Ewell, and the events precipitated by the trial will destroy Scout’s illusions, forcing her to reconsider everything she holds to be true—about human nature, about individual power, and about justice. Scout’s primary identification with the masculine world of her brother Jem and her father stems in part from her mother’s death when Scout was only two.

She has no memory of her mother, so she looks to Jem and Atticus as her guides to appropriate behavior. According to Scout, power and authority are masculine attributes; to be a girl is to be marginalized and excluded. An important part of Scout’s development is her growing comprehension that she -286- Questia Media America, Inc. www. questia. com Publication Information.

Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender. Contributors: Jerilyn Fisher – editor, Ellen S. Silber – editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of Publication: Westport, CT. Publication Year: 2003. Page Number: 286

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