Harper Lee creates a cast of vivid women characters in the novel: Calpurnia, Aunt Alexandra, Miss Maudie, Miss Stephanie, Mrs. Dubose, and the matrons of the missionary circle. How do their varying attitudes towards such issues as race, religion and education add to the novel?
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Though it is the 1930s, Maycomb, like many Southern towns, is slow to accept change. The women of the novel represent several generations of women and their various beliefs. On one end is the ancient Mrs. Dubose, whose own outlook on life has not changed since the Civil War. She is an unrepentant racist, angry at the changing world as she attempts to kick her morphine addiction before dying. But Atticus admires her old fashioned determination, and he passes on this message to Jem by making his son read to the old woman--a learning experience Jem will never forget. On the far spectrum, Miss Maudie represents the more progressive-minded women of Maycomb: an independent woman who has chosen (like Atticus) not to remarry after being widowed. Like most of the women in the novel, Maudie is a bit eccentric, with her removable gold teeth, "crisp" speech, and hatred of nut grass. She proves to be an excellent role model for Scout, who feels comfortable spending early summer evenings on Maudie's front porch. Scout recognizes that Maudie is different from her other neighbors, disdaining gossip and respecting the children's privacy. Calpurnia becomes closer to Scout as time passes, and Cal's secret life with her friends in the Quarters both intrigues and educates Scout. Cal still adheres to the racial traditions of the day--working for white people and speaking in their manner during the day before returning to the Quarters and her all-black world. Scout makes it clear that "I was more at home in my father's world"--the world of men--and she describes most of the other women characters in a less-than-positive light. Scout's female school teachers aren't very good teachers; the devout women of the missionary circle are "hypocrites"; Miss Stephanie and Aunt Rachel spend all day gossiping; and women such as the Misses Tutti & Frutti represent outsiders who will never be fully accepted by the Maycomb majority. Their different views do suggest that change is coming to Maycomb, even if it is one "baby-step" at a time.
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