When it comes to being a girl, To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout is more spice than sugar. In fact, she is particularly sugar-free. No frilly pink dresses, pretty baby dolls, or sweet make-believe tea parties for her. She is more likely to punch you in the face than smile sweetly at you, especially if you’re being a Grade-A jerk. And that is why most readers love her: she’s a spunky, rambunctious tomboy with a good heart—just don’t call her a girl. To Scout, being a girl is a lot in life she’d rather not have. After all, what use are dresses to her when she wants to climb, play, and fight? Girls just wanna have fun! A dress is a liability; she prefers pants. At least no one can accuse her of being impractical.
Many literary critics are quick to point out the similarities between Scout and To Kill a Mocking Bird author Harper Lee’s life. Whether or not Lee was a rowdy tomboy like good ole Scout, Lee was certainly able to get inside the mind of a motherless little girl constantly running with the boys. In fact, a close analysis of some select To Kill a Mockingbird quotes will show Scout to struggle with being a girl. To her, it’s a “pink cotton penitentiary.” Yet, as the novel progresses, Scout starts to see the value and skill in being a woman, despite what her father Atticus calls the Southern environment that follows the “polite fiction” that female subservience and inferiority are a given. Scout symbolically overcomes this notion in the coming-of-age story near the end of the novel when she follows in Aunt Alexandra in assuming a polite decorum in spite of the death of Tom, the black man Atticus represented in a controversial rape trial. She says: “After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I.” Scout sees there is strength and value in being a female, in bravely carrying on in face of trying situations. And she doesn’t have to give anyone a bloody nose to prove it.
However, the idea of feminine strength and endurance in oppressive times is actually a theme that has been woven into literature for well over a thousand years—from Sophocles’s Antigone to Nathanial Hawthornes’s Scarlet Leter. In fact, Antigone, the daughter of notorious motherlover and Sigmund-Freud-darling Oedipus, is a prominent literary paragon of female strength in face of adversity. Scout could learn a lot from her. In spite of the tyrannous King Creon’s decree that her brother Polyneices be left out like a sun-dried tomato instead of given a proper burial, Antigone does the moral, humane thing and buries him. The badass Antigone doesn’t even flinch when Creon chastises and imprisons her for her supposed crime, sticking to her moral guns—or swords, if you want to be historically accurate in your expressions. She’s got nerves of steel, that one. She accepts her punishment and then kills herself, arguably dying on her own terms to spite her impending death sentence ordered by Creon.
Sticking to your moral principles when the popular, much easier option is to abandon them takes some serious guts—something that Scout also learns in the novel’s tense, racially motivated rape trial, the one Atticus refuses to quit because he believes representing Tom is is the right thing to do. Scout learns that men are not the only ones who have this moral ability to persevere—women have it too. Girl power for the win.