To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, is an ideal display of feminism that takes place during the period of depression in the south. It portrayed the two kinds of women found in the south during this time, the women who were pro the feminist movement, and the average Southern women. Sadly some women mistakenly rebelled against the ideals of society, by just being themselves. Men and women were to conduct themselves as ladies and gentlemen, were men were expected to dress in suit and ties and women were expected to wear dresses and be courteous. Since southern towns were so sheltered from the liberal views of the rest of the world they had no chose but to abide by these gender roles. Harper Lee writes about the life of Jean Louise Finch a girl being brought up in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama. She is an adolescent girl seeking individuality, and goes by the name of Scout. Jean is somewhat of a tomboy who is constantly being pressured by her elders to take on the customary role of a southern young lady.
However, throughout the story Jean’s exhibits masculinity through her nickname Scout, her hostile behavior towards her teachers Aunt Alexandra, Mrs. Dubose, fighting, and the wearing boy’s clothing. During the 1930’s the ideal young lady was supposed to be a spitting image of absolute femininity, so of course a lot of pressure was put on Jean to be “a proper Southern belle” (Johnson, 144). Girls were trained to speak, and dress like ladies. Learning how to speak many languages and playing female appropriate sports and instruments were a must. Women were to never wear pants, or jeans no matter the weather condition, only dresses, skirts, hats, and gloves were accepted. Even with all these rules posture was the most important of all, so rough housing was not tolerated. Instead, young ladies had to play with dolls, were they would play house, dress-up and had tea parties, even though this may seem innocent it was another way for girls to practice how to behave.
A suitable young woman was trained on how to dance accordingly in gloves and long dress, since short dresses where believed to be disgraceful and she also had to take part in many socialite clubs. It was expected that young ladies were to be very soft-spoken and sophisticated in their speech. They were not to use improper grammar or harsh languages. Often the mature women of town gave private teachings on how to speak properly, but Jean never attended a lesson because she was ignorant to all these things. Aside from Jean being the
contradictory southern lady, Aunt Alexandra is a picture-perfect Southern lady. She wears dresses, organizes tea parties, and gossips, she is everything a southern women is supposed to be. She believes that old, white families are the only ones of importance, and that every family has a streak, whether it was incestuous behavior or alcoholism. She held grudges against everyone and tried to fool everyone into believing she was perfect, but she was Jeans worst oppressor.
Aunt Alexandra constantly disputed with Atticus about Jeans boy like clothing as well as her attitude. However, Jean was also mocked by the other ladies, such as Mrs. Dubose another “perfect” Southern woman and other southern belles. One of the main issues in To Kill a Mockingbird is over Jeans failure to become a proper southern lady because she plays with boys she gets involved in fights and wear the same clothing as them. The only time Jean dresses properly is when there was a meeting at the Finch home with all of Maycomb’s Methodist ladies.
This is figurative of Atticus and Calpurnia’s lack of success in dressing Jean as a proper young lady. To Kill a Mockingbird undoubtedly portrays a period where gender stereotypes are existing in many societies. Harper Lee openly attempts to challenge most of these and demonstration to her readers what stereotypes are like in southern societies. Lee also includes people that represent the labels which express how society interacts with one another. Lee also outlines a southern town in the center of the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s. Lee paints vibrate depictions of the characters she created by stating the fact that gender roles is a key theme that is combined together during the story’s time period in Maycomb, Alabama.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1960.